Helpful sites for large scale meals?

rockmanorSeptember 13, 2010

Can anyone suggest websites that might be useful when planning larger meals? I've just been asked to host over three dozen for a luncheon next week and am trying not to panic. I've managed casual holiday parties and open houses for twice as many, but have never entertained more than 20 for a sit-down meal. We'll have 5 - 6 tables, seating 6 - 8 each, depending on the final head count.

I'm concerned about how long it could take that many people to serve themselves and get seated. Would it be a good idea to have salads plated and on the tables when the guests arrive? (If so, I'll need to buy some more glass cruets to put dressings on the tables.) I could also place bread baskets and butter dishes on the tables.

Any tips for buffet set-up would be appreciated, as well as any other advice. Thanks!

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Don't panic! It will be fine, and you'll have fun.

My first piece of advice, even if it is buffet style, is to GET A HELPER or two. It's not that you, or you and a friend or two, couldn't do it yourselves. But one of the hardest parts of entertaining is keeping your guests from helping -- which, as you probably know, can really mess you up, in addition to breaking up the party. They make a bottleneck in the doorway, they put down a dirty dish or two right where you need some prep space, they mess up your clean-up system -- you get the picture. And no matter how many times you ask people not to, they insist. They want to be helpful, they want to feel like an insider -- whatever. But when I hire a helper, that does it -- they stay out of the kitchen. I swear, even if she doesn't wash a single dish, she's worth it just for that!

Next best solution is to say, "I know you all want to help, but we are going to have all kinds of traffic jams if I have more than one helper at a time. So, Thusnelda, will you help me with the soup plates, and then Jerome, you help with the next course, okay?"

If you have enough space to put tables far enough apart that people can serve themselves from a buffet without squeezing through, go for it. I have an island in my kitchen, and I sometimes put the buffet there. If I don't want to use the kitchen, I use a table in the front hall. Send the tables one at a time; no one wants to stand in line. A two-sided buffet is quickest, but you need a lot of space.

But I like your idea of a salad already on the table -- maybe you were thinking of that only as the first course, but it may be your solution. If you make the main course a substantial salad, maybe with chicken or salmon on top, you don't need a buffet at all. Often at a catered luncheon on a weekday, where there isn't much time, that's how they do it. Salads are out at each place, there's a basket of interesting rolls, a thermos pot of coffee, and a pitcher of iced tea. Even the desserts -- like, a slice of pie or cake -- are already out on the table at each place. Would that work for you?

If you don't want to buy more cruets, you can put dressing in bowls with spoons.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 3:19PM
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Gellchom, thanks for your advice and encouragement. It truly helps. I think that my panic attack has passed. This will be a solo operation, and I'm not counting on dh to make it home early to assist, so I want to be extremely organized.

I think we'll need to go with a two-sided buffet, but fortunately the kitchen island is over 4 ft. X 10 ft. with plenty of room on either side. Sending in folks one table at a time is a great idea.

Thanks also for the idea of simply using small bowls for salad dressing. When I read your post, I thought, "Of course!", but odds are that never would have occurred to me. Rolls, butter, S&P and pitchers of sweet tea on the tables will be a help, too.

I like your suggestion of salmon or chicken salad, but dh wants something more substantial. We may need to hash that out some more, because it's still quite warm here and his idea of lasagna seems more suited to late fall or winter.

Dessert will be served after lunch, mainly because dh wants a couple of bakery cakes decorated to fit the theme of the event. At least I won't have to bake as well as cook this time. Afterwards, he'll announce that everyone has the rest of the afternoon off. I plan to tell him that includes *me* so he can take care of KP.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 5:09PM
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Is it over yet? I have some ideas....If I am having lots for a serve yourself meal I often put a bowl of salad on each table either with another bowl or pitcher of dressing, or I dress the salad just before putting on the table.
Then people are not all finished with their salad at the same time and there isn't a line at the buffet...but.
I don't know how your party works, but when I do something like that, there will be a cocktail or social hour before...serving drinks and nibbles and when I put the food on the buffet and announce 'dinner is served"...actually I quietly go from group to group and say dinner is ready whenever you are ready to eat....
People finish their conversations and drink and wander to the table.
And then I am careful not to have a million choices on the buffet. Enough to provide a variety but not 9 or 10 things to choose from. A meat or 2, a starch and 2 veggies and bread or a roll are enough....and the bread could be on the tables.
I do very large after a funeral meal for my church and have found that the more items you have the longer it takes to go through the line. I put condiments on each table and have a separate table for drinks and dessert.
Good luck and have fun!
Linda C

    Bookmark   September 24, 2010 at 3:16PM
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Thanks, Linda. I'll keep your ideas in mind for the next time. I put salads w/ several dressings plus two kinds of rolls and butter on each table, which helped a great deal. As you stated, we had "enough to provide variety" on the buffet without getting bogged down in too many choices. Dh was sure that I hadn't prepared sufficient food, but there was more than enough. The only item we were short of was dietCoke, but there were several other choices when it ran out (an hour and a half into the luncheon.)

Dh is still stunned at the cost, but that's mainly because I decided to purchase additional dishes and flatware since I had given much of mine to our children when they moved into their own homes. I learned there's still an American manufacturer of flatware and ordered several large sets plus serving pieces; the retailer got them to me just in time. After pricing extra plates and bowls for my stoneware and china patterns, I decided to buy Corelle instead. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that they now make their mugs in China (& they're stoneware instead of Vitrelle) and not in the U.S.

The one bargain we scored was American-made glasses at Costco; a box of 16 (8 lg./8 sm.) was just $5. We bought five boxes and now wish we'd gotten more.

The Chowhound site was a big help on recipes for dishes that could safely be held at room temperature. I need to spend some more time there before our Christmas parties.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 1:38PM
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I'm sorry I didn't see your post until now. Here is a very helpful site for quantity cooking: themes, recipes & a chart of ingredient sizes for 25, 50 and 100 servings.

Best wishes for your next one!

Here is a link that might be useful: Quantity cooking - amounts and recipes

    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 4:57PM
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