Catering a party requires lots and lots of planning, planning, planning, and just in case you missed it, planning. You can never have too much planning, because, whenever you think you’ve planned for every possible contingency, rest assured, you’ve missed something. There will always be unforeseen problems cropping up no matter how well you try to avoid them or plan around them.

The first step to being a true professional is to be utterly unflappable. Don’t let anything throw you off your game. Roll with the punches and deal with whatever comes up. Does someone throw a last minute request at you for some low cholesterol Mexican food? Smile as if it’s the easiest thing in the world then get to it.

You probably won’t run into anything like that, but be prepared to encounter the unexpected. That way, when it happens you won’t be caught off guard.

The Walk-Through

As part of your planning, schedule a walk-through of the house where the party will be held, even if the house is yours. Examine it not as a house, but as a venue for a party. Look at it for traffic flow. Is there enough room for guests to move easily from one area to another? Are there any choke points where you’ll have difficulty moving the food from the kitchen to the dining area? What about transitions from hardwood floors to carpets that might trip you when you’re carrying a tray full of food?

How big is the kitchen? Where is the sink located in relation to the stove? How much room is available in the refrigerator and freezer to store food that is prepared ahead of time? How much counter space is there? How many people can comfortably cook in the kitchen at one time?

You need to answer all these questions – in writing – before you sit down to plan your menu.

How Many People Are Coming?

Cooking for 20 people is very different than cooking for three or four. You’ll probably need extra catering equipment such as rolling carts, extra-large pots, pans, mixing bowls, kettles, tureens, ladles, and other equipment. You’ll probably need extra tables and chairs too. The more people who are coming, the more attention you’ll have to pay to the menu and the food.

Food Safety

Use separate chopping boards for meats and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination. You don’t want to make anyone sick. That means you also need to cook everything the right temperature. Don’t try to rush the food by overheating it or cut corners by under-cooking it. If you have to store the food before the guests arrive, make sure it is kept in airtight containers, preferably transparent ones that are clearly labeled.

Hot and Cold Foods

Don’t try to serve only hot food. For one thing, you’ll never get it all done at the same time or some of it will have to sit in warming pans for an extended period of time. That can dry it out and make it tough and leathery. Pro caterers always choose a combination of hot and cold food. Cold hors d'oeuvres and finger foods such as deviled eggs, cheese sticks, pigs in a blanket, shrimp, and so on are a popular way to keep people busy before it is time for the warm food at the dinner table.

Slicing the Meat

You can save money on the meat by slicing it very thin. People will always take several slices of meat no matter how thick or thin it is sliced. If they’re still hungry after the meal, they can go back for seconds or thirds. By that time though they’ll probably be full and won’t take very much. This makes the meat go further than you thought it would.

Think Of It As A Business

Think of your catering as if you were marketing a home business and the guests are your customers. You want to impress them and leave them wanting more. Approach it as a business proposition instead of merely a social event and your attitude toward it will undergo a decided change.

Make sure you have wine or pre-made cocktails ready to serve. Serve the drinks in moderation, but serve them. If you decide to serve the drinks in a punch bowl, keep the alcohol content low. Set out small cups or glasses and a small ladle for guests to use, then surround the bowl with the hors d'oeuvres and finger foods.

 

Published by Peter Garlow