Delicious Ideas For a "Mm, Mm Good" Open House

Get recipe ideas and etiquette tips for serving food at your next open house.

June 1, 2006

Free appetizers won't sell a listing on their own, but offering tasty treats at your open house encourages buyers to linger longer and creates a positive atmosphere.

However, food can also be a huge hassle — creating a mess and distracting potential buyers from falling in love with the home. That’s why I’ve prepared this list of 10 rules you should follow when serving food at an open house. It includes tips that will impress potential buyers while cutting down on cleanup.

I’ve also shared my four favorite open-house recipes below. They’re hassle free and perfect for visitors who want to nibble as they explore the house. Bon appetite!

10 Rules for a Delectable Open House

  • Forget silverware. If a guest at your open house needs to use a spoon, fork, or knife to graze at your buffet, the food is too fussy. Finger foods are always best.
  • Stage a pretty food and beverage station. Cut some flowers from your yard or buy a seasonal bouquet to serve as the focal point. You can use a tablecloth but make sure it's not too formal. Quality disposable cups and plates are ideal, especially if you can find colorful ones that match the theme of the room.
  • Think small with cocktail-size plates. Smaller-size plates and napkins send the signal that you’re not serving a meal. It also helps control portion sizes so guests don't monopolize what you’ve prepared.
  • Use candles to set the right mood. Place some scented votive candles around the table to make it feel extra special. But make sure the candles are in a safe place where they won’t be bumped into, and don’t forget to blow them out when the open house is over.
  • Bottled water is a must. Visiting open houses can feel like a marathon for home buyers. Your guests on-the-go will appreciate the portable pick-me-up.
  • Coffee is natural with house hunters. If you don't want coffee consumed away from the station, don't provide covers and sleeves. However, your visitors may appreciate being able to take the coffee on the road.
  • Have enough to offer, but not too much. Gauge your food needs based on the average attendance at an open house in your area. Plan for one beverage and three hors d’oeuvres per person with some extra set aside in the refrigerator in case of an unexpected rush. Be careful not to go overboard; lavish spreads could signal desperation to savvy home buyers.
  • Choose low-maintenance menu items. You should be able to spend your day talking to visitors and answering questions about the house, not tending to the food. Visitors should be able to easily serve themselves. If you feel the need to explain certain ingredients or identify food items, you can do so by using attractive placecards at the station.
  • Don’t provide alcohol. Open houses are business events, not parties. If people drink they are inclined to stay too long and lose focus on the most important thing — the house. You also want to make sure your visitors will be able to safely drive themselves home.
  • Cut down on cleanup. Place a waste container in a very visible place adjacent to the food and beverage station. If visitors can’t easily find a place to dispose of their garbage, they may leave it in other rooms of the house.

4 Easy and Tasty Open-House Menu Ideas

Mark's Turn-key Turkey Roll-ups

Portable and easy to eat with one hand. Healthy, too. You’ll need:

  • 1 8-ounce package light cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup light sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • 2 teaspoons died basil leaves
  • 8 10-inch flour tortillas, warmed
  • 8 1-ounce slices turkey breast
  • 1 10-ounce package broccoli slaw mix
  • 8 1-ounce sliced provolone cheese
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onion
  • 1/2 sliced black olives

How to make it: Combine cream cheese and mustard in small bowl, mix at medium speed, occasionally scraping bowl, until the mixture is smooth. Stir in basil. In a separate bowl, combine broccoli slaw, onions, and olives. Place slices of provolone cheese on tortilla. Spread 1/4 cup of cream cheese mixture on top of provolone cheese almost to the edge of tortilla. Place turkey on top of cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle broccoli slaw mixture on top of turkey. Roll tightly; secure with toothpick. To serve, cut each roll-up into thirds. Place toothpick in each third to hold together. You can make these up to four hours ahead. Makes 24 roll-ups.

Mark's Condo Chocolate Chip Raisin Cookies

The bread and butter, so to speak, of open house food. You’ll need:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 cup raisins

How to make it: Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small mixing bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, and beat well; gradually beat in flour mixture. Add milk and beat for one minute. Stir in morsels and raisins. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake in 375-degree oven for nine to eleven minutes, cookies should be golden brown. Makes 24 cookies.

Mark's Lofty Cranberry-Lemonade

A great make-ahead that's always a hit. You’ll need:

  • 12 ounces lemonade
  • 4 ounces cranberry cocktail juice
  • 1 cup sliced lemons
  • Cold mineral water to taste
  • Ice cubes

How to make it: Combine lemonade and cranberry cocktail juice. Add chilled mineral water to taste. Repeat recipe until you’ve made the desired amount for your open house. Serve in a pretty pitcher or punch bowl, and garnish with lemon slices. Mark usually makes 4 batches or 64 ounces for eight 8-ounce servings.

Mark's High-Rise Hot Chocolate

A twist on the old standby. You’ll need:

  • 4 cups whole or reduced-fat milk
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 cup mineral water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

How to make it: In a medium saucepan combine water, chocolate, and sugar. Stir while cooking on medium-low heat until chocolate melts. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Remove from heat, do not boil. Beat with a whisk until frothy. Makes six 6-ounce servings.

Effortless Extras

  • Snack-size single serve bags of corn, potato, or tortilla chips. But no dips — unless you plan on cleaning up drips.
  • The new 8-ounce soda cans chilled and ready to go.
  • Washed whole fresh fruit. Pick varieties that don't need to be peeled or cut.
  • Miniature wrapped candy bars. A home run at open houses.

Mark Nash is the author of Reaching Out: The Financial Power of Niche Marketing and The Original New Agent’s Guide to Starting & Succeeding in Real Estate. He is a broker associate with Coldwell Banker Residential, Central Street Office, in Evanston, Ill. He can be reached by e-mail at


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