In-Flight Catering Tips: Hors d’Oeuvres – Try Something New

PT 4 M minute read
In-Flight Catering Tips: Hors d’Oeuvres - Try Something New

In-Flight Catering Tips: Hors d’Oeuvres - Try Something New

This is a post by author Richard Peterson. Richard is the general manager and executive chef for Air Culinaire Worldwide, with the headquartered kitchen in Tampa, Florida. Air Culinaire Worldwide also has kitchens in Aspen; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Las Vegas; London; Long Beach; Miami; New York; Paris; San Francisco; Seattle; Van Nuys; West Palm Beach; and Washington, D.C. In addition, Air Culinaire Worldwide provides in-flight catering services at airports around the world via hundreds of catering partners. Richard is an expert in catering for business aviation and can be contacted at

Hors d’oeuvres – or gourmet appetizers – are probably the number-one food item your passengers are going to consume onboard a business aircraft flight. Think of hors d’oeuvres as the "ice breakers" that will set the tone for the rest of the flight. Catering is the one aspect of the flight that hits all five passenger senses, so appetizers should exceed expectations to make a good first impression.

1. How frequently are appetizers served in-flight?

Depending on the time of day, appetizers are a part of most flights – whether a short or long trip. Beyond just nourishing passengers, appetizers can act as a form for in-flight entertainment to help make the flight experience more memorable.

2. What exactly are hors d’oeuvres, or appetizers?

Unlike fruit and cheese trays, chips or cookies – which are considered static food accessories – appetizers are more along the lines of gourmet starter courses. They can be hot or cold and include such items as canapes, seafood-related starters, fingerling potatoes, meat skewers or vegetarian options, to name a few. The size and number of appetizers vary depending on flight length, time of day and meals being served. In general, caterers plan on 2.5 appetizers per person. On longer flights, when passengers choose not to have full meals, a wider selection of appetizers may be available over the course of the flight.

3. How are appetizers prepared and delivered to the aircraft?

In some cases, appetizers are delivered by the caterer pre-assembled and ready to serve. In other cases – in order for appetizers to stay crisp or fresh – the ingredients may be delivered separately. For example, the ingredients going into salmon on wonton chips with wasabi aioli are usually delivered separately, so that taste will be as fresh as possible.

4. What are some appetizer considerations?

Passenger food allergies, food dislikes and religious or dietary requirements such as Halal or vegetarian restrictions should always be considered upfront. Passengers may prefer certain foods – such as seafood over meat – or certain flavor profiles and preparation styles (perhaps French or Asian.) There are many healthy appetizer options to consider, including watermelon with aged balsamic vinaigrette, soba noodle salads, ahi tuna tartar, grilled skewers of meat and/or vegetables or even liquid appetizers, such as tomato water with shrimp or a squash soup shooter.

5. How much advance notice should be provided to in-flight caterers?

While 24 hours’ advance notification is ideal, most caterers can fulfill short-notice appetizer requests, depending on the time of day and ingredients involved. There are, however, limitations to keep in mind: For example, kosher foods are usually not available for pick up on Saturdays, and fresh sushi dishes may not always be possible to source for early-morning departures. Out-of-season ingredients may need to be specially sourced, which takes additional time.

6. Should we consider ordering local ingredients/cuisine?

It’s always best to talk with your caterer to find out what local or seasonal options are available for appetizers. Ordering something out of season, or not from the region, will increase in-flight catering costs, and quality may be an issue. If you’re on a small Caribbean island, for example, you’ll likely have better local options in terms of seafood as opposed to prime beef steaks.

7. What are some food safety considerations?

Always use a reliable in-flight caterer and ensure that food is handled in a controlled and safe manner – both within the kitchen and during the delivery period to the aircraft. Appetizers should be refrigerated to 41oF or less up until delivered.

8. Is there a trend toward more use of appetizers over full-course meals?

There seems to be a move away from large heavier meals and more toward appetizer or tapas-style food choices. If you’re catering for an onboard meeting, for example, best bet is often a selection of "one-bite" appetizers that are not likely to spill or become messy. For longer flights, you might consider breaking down a traditional meal into a selection of appetizer starters that may be served, and available, throughout the flight.

9. What are some other appetizer considerations?

Many corporate flight attendants like to pair appetizers with main courses while ensuring that the correlation between appetizers and meals does not tire the passenger’s pallet. If you’re planning a heavier meal, you may do well with lighter appetizers designed to enhance and complement the meal to come. Consider between-course appetizer options – perhaps mid-meal salad appetizers, sorbets or vegetable waters to cleanse the pallet.

10. What about pre-packaged onboard appetizer options?

It’s always a good idea to have back-up appetizer options onboard in the event you’re not able to obtain in-flight catering from your departure point. Corporate flight attendants can create appetizers using shelf stable onboard supplies such as Italian canned tuna on water crackers or even popcorn with Asiago cheese and bacon.


Appetizers and assorted starter dishes set the tone for a flight, and this is your opportunity to make a statement and create a memorable passenger experience. Best practice, when considering appetizer options, is to provide the caterer with passenger preferences and food requirements, to think locally when ordering appetizer and seasonal ingredients and to use the expertise of local chefs in sourcing new and exquisite appetizer possibilities.


If you have any questions about this article or have other questions about in-flight catering, contact me at

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