First large catering gig

Joined Dec 25, 2006
Hi all. Looking for a little advice on my first catering gig. I do run a small seasonal restaurant and this year I wanted to try catering in the off season. So, I just got my first gig and it's for 250-400 people. Yikes!( i will know 1 week in advance for sure.) I'm a little nervous about pulling this off but I didn't want to turn the job down.

The party will last for 4 hours, from 1-5pm with people stopping by. I expect that people will stay for 1-2 hours.

I've been reading up and have found most people say to provide 8-10 or so pieces per person. My question is, if I do mostly finger food, how many people will I need to help me get this food out? We will be heating and replenishing the platters constantly which I don't mind but I want to have enough help. How much do I charge for prep help?

On the other hand, is this idea crazy?

Should I forget finger foods altogether for this many people and suggest doing a hot buffet instead?

Thank you in advance for any thoughts on this!!
Joined May 29, 2006
Seeing as this is your first gig and it is big. I would strongly suggest finger food both cold and hot. If you do a hot buffet , you will get murdered and most likely run out of food. You are dealing with plenty of variables here. .Like young people or old? all woman or mixed? economic class of guest? Dont forget you are talking over if 8 to 10 each 4000 peices. I would buy many already made as this first gig in particular the cold canapes. Mini egg rolls, quiche, cheese puffs things like this hot .Do not even try to guess how long they will stay, as it depends on day of week and weather. If you want them to leave quick turn the A/C cold. In the summer turn it warm.(McDonalds does same thing)and it works. I hope you have adaquate refrig and freezer space as well as trays to pass etc. Most important Do not be afraid to charge and do not say unlimited Hors D ourves. Tell the host or hostess you are figuring 10 pp. so she or he knows. Get enough deposit to cover all your cost and balance due day of function. I wish you luck and give you credit for tackleing a gig this bib. YOU WILL LEARN QUICK for the next time.:chef:
Joined Feb 3, 2010
I had my first cater not too long ago so I think I know how you feel. There was some issue over 'how much' the customer wanted; she wanted only 6 pp for 70 people, but at the same time wanted variety enough that would have meant only partial batches of a lot of the items.

In the end, because she was a friend of my mother's, I agreed to make full batches of everything she wanted with the understanding that she would only pay for what they ate... for whatever made it to the trays. Happily they liked the food so well that they laid claim to the 'leftovers' as well and paid for all.

Myself and two others worked the back room heating and plating, and while it seemed a bit rushed it worked out. We cheated a bit by serving in a buffet style on large platters, but each platter was covered with smaller decorative plates that were easier to switch out and refill. Aside from the one guy who planted himself next to the stuffed mushrooms and wolfed 'em as soon as they came out, everything was maintained fairly well. The customer was thrilled with everything (though there were some issues I was not at all happy with... fix em for the next one... )

Good luck!! And, of course, don't forget to put out little pamphlets or cards so the happy party-goers know how to get ahold of you for future caters :)

** Oh, I don't know if it will apply, but I found that the cheese tray got hit pretty hard early. The other finger foods were 'strange' enough (not to me, but to them apparently) that it took a while for ppl to work up the nerve to try them lol It provided us enough time to get a good amount prepped for refilling before the refilling was needed :rolleyes: which was good, 'cause when they got going it was pretty steady scarfing.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
this is from 1-5pm.....reads like an open house, ie people coming and going.

Depends on their budget......

One of the open houses I had a few years ago, same timing.....private home... 150 guests. Decided instead of having "finger savories" to have
desserts, fruits/cheeses/crackers......sparkling wine & rosemary lemonade.

Nothing hot, it was fall so I didn't have to worry about shtuff melting.

Menu read something like this:
rhubarb strawberry tartlets
Chambord mousse in chocolate snobinettes
lemon curd brulee tartlets
dark rich brownies
pecan pie bars
poppyseed lemon shortbread
spice shortbread

D'affinoise with raisin/ rosemary crackers....may have had fig jam on side
Maytag Blue with dried cherries and whole wheat biscuits
Fresh Chevre with pesto, pita crackers
Brie with passion cranberry goo.....water crackers
Manchengo with quince paste, maracona almonds and spainish crackers
roasted pecans
Lots of beautiful fruit on the table.....various bunches of grapes, apricots, leaves....signage for everything with pretty script.
ChefTalk Cooking Forums
is a picture of the table, not a great one sorry but at least it gives you a sense of what it looked like.
Small ap plates.

Anyway the limited menu with some assembly at the event site pretty much garanteed there'd be limited waste. With 2 beverages, one in a punch bowl and disposable plates/glasses the bar was self serve with us closely monitoring.

No messing with an oven, chafers, butler passing, etc....
2 staff, a third would have been ok too.....we stayed busy.

I can not emphasize enough the need to assemble as needed that way you don't have soggy pastry nor product loss. the only things needing to stay chilled were the mousse, lemon curd, rhubarb/strawberry goo....Punch was in a cambro until it went into a punch bowl.

If you limit beverages to punch or wine and soda. you'd need 2 bars, 2 people @ each
Staff # depends on your menu and style of butler pass=you can manage amounts better

stationary & butler pass= I prefer this type of event because you can have vegetable platters, cheese trays, shrimp & dips, bruschetta station, mediterranean selection, etc....then pass the fancier shtuff that take time to assemble or have $$$ ingredients.

just stationary= seems like some people plant themselves at the table, either holding long conversations blocking flow or someone decides that there will never be another shrimp in this world....grabbing all they can eat+ more.

4 hours. you've got 2+ hour setup, 1+ hour event time is now about 8 hours.

Sometimes it's a lot easier to not have mega offerings. When I'm asked to look at menus for events, 99% of the time varieties of food are cut.
Joined Dec 25, 2006
 Thanks to all of you who replied! Great tips. It's a small town but with foodies!

One of the people throwing the party wants to make her famous Paella, so that is one big dish that I won't have to worry about. My menu which I just dropped off the to client is as follows...

Spicy Jicama, Orange and Pineapple Salad
Spanish platter-marcona almonds, fig jam, manchego cheese, spanish chorizo, serrano ham, goat cheese, mama lil's pickled peppers and freshly baked bread/crackers/flatbreads
Empanadas-2 kinds
Tamales-2 kinds
Mini brioche pulled pork sandwiches with slaw
Tortillas chips and 3 salsas

Mexican chocolate cake squares
Bizchochitos-new mexican butter cookies with anise and cinnamon
Tropical fruit pavloa or mini Cream Puffs

Hibiscus Coolers plus wine and beer which they are taking care of themselves.

My partner was a professional pastry chef so she will do making the breads and desserts. She had not done much catering either though. So, the tough part now is how much to make of each item? I do have plenty of platters and the place they rented out is pretty well equiped. I think this is a pretty well planned menu, most of the work can be done ahead, well just be constantly heating the empanadas in the oven, steaming the tamales and assembling the pork sandwiches. Platters will be ready to go, chips and salsa easy to refill.

Geez, I'm getting worried about platters...I better go to the venue and check out their kitchen again. It's be awhile since I was there.

Thanks again! I love this site!

Joined Aug 11, 2000
Great menu.

WE'd typically have platters pre-made and just replace.

Thanks for sharing your menu.
Joined Dec 25, 2006
 Ah-ha! Pre- made platters for antipasto. Great idea. I will do that, not sure I would have thought of that but it does make perfect sense. I will do that with all the desserts too. Now I really have to make sure we have enough platters.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
Having a large event was an excuse for me to purchase equipment.
Rental Companies carry platters too.
Joined Dec 25, 2006
 so my clients cut down the menu to only:

2 types tamales
2 types empanadas
mini pulled pork sandwiches
chips and 1 kind of salsa

1-5pm, drop in, for 250 people, does 6 pieces per person sound like enough? It's going to be a simple, casual event...I'm thinking it might be but I dunno! There is also going to be some paella that I'm not making.
Joined Aug 11, 2000
Reads heavy, with little vegetation.

I don't understand 6 big are your tamales, empanadas, sandwiches?

How are you charging, by the person or by the amount of food?  Make it worth your while.

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