Cooking For a Crowd: Catering Meal Ideas for Your Upcoming Event

When the weather starts to cool down, it becomes an excellent opportunity to host an outdoor event, such as a company picnic or family reunion. These types of events can be fun, but preparing food for a crowd of 50+ can be difficult. Fortunately, we came up with some helpful tips and recipe ideas that you can make in bulk and at an affordable price. We'll break your catered meal down by courses from appetizers to desserts, ensuring that you have all of your bases covered, and that your family reunion or picnic goes off without a hitch.

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How Much Food Do You Need for Your Event?

The amount of food you need for your event will depend on how many people are planning to attend. We've created a sample menu, though, with recommended portion sizes that you can use as a guideline to ensure that you have enough food for all of your guests.

People taking food from a buffet on a picnic table
  • Appetizer: Barbecue meatballs, 3 meatballs per person
  • Salad: Caesar salad, 3 oz. or 1 cup per person
  • Side dish: Potato salad, 5 oz. per person
  • Entree: Grilled chicken, 6 oz. per person
  • Drink: Lemonade, 14 fl. oz. per person
  • Dessert: Apple pie, 1 slice per person

Additionally, you can plug your recipes into our handy recipe resizer to double check your calculations and make sure you have enough food for your customers.

Meal Ideas for a Crowd

It can be difficult to decide what dishes you want to prepare for guests at your event. You may be limited by price or, if you're holding your event outside, there may be minimal access to cooking equipment. So, we created a list of meal ideas that are cost-effective, crowd pleasing, and easy to prepare, which makes them perfect for your catered event, family reunion, or company picnic.

  • Appetizers: pigs in a blanket, charcuterie, fried wontons
  • Salads: caesar salad, pasta salad, house salad
  • Side Dishes: french fries, potato salad, mac and cheese
  • Entrees: barbecue ribs, hamburgers, grilled chicken, pork chops
  • Beverages: margaritas, sangria, wine, lemonade, iced tea, water
  • Desserts: chocolate sheet cake, apple pie, chocolate chip cookies

Buffet or Portioned Plates?

People talking while holding food outdoors

Should you serve your food from a buffet or should you serve portioned plates at your family reunion or catered event? The answer will depend on whether you prioritize customer happiness or cost and food waste. Buffet style service is a great way to please guests because it gives them a variety of options to choose from and allows them to eat as much as they want. The downsides of buffet service at your catered event is that it's more expensive because you need to prepare more types of food and in larger quantities. Additionally, buffet service can lead to increased food waste, especially if you have several dishes that are more popular than others.

Serving portioned plates allows you to perfectly control the amount of food that you use, which can help you reduce food waste and cut food costs. But, if you choose to offer portioned plates at your family reunion or company picnic, you may have some guests who will be displeased with what you're offering. One way to counteract this is to ask guests before the event which meal they want to choose.

Tips for Planning a Meal for a Crowd

Here are some tips and things to keep in mind when planning your event to ensure things go smoothly:

  • When designing your menu, think about the demographics of your event. For example, if there will be a lot of teenagers and young adults, you might want to increase your portion sizes.
  • Make sure to have items that can accommodate people with alternative diets, such as vegetarians, vegans, and people who are gluten-free.
  • During the planning stage, don't forget drinks. Decide if you want to hire a bartender for your event to mix drinks or if you'd rather mix drinks like sangria or vodka punch ahead of time and serve them in beverage dispensers.

Planning a large event like a big family reunion or a company picnic can be a lot of fun, but making sure that you have enough food that will satisfy everyone can be difficult. So, when you're planning on cooking for a crowd, be sure to plan meticulously and design your menu with crowd-pleasing and easy-to-prepare meals to make the process go more smoothly.

Posted in: Catering Tips|By Richard Traylor
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.
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