Updated: Feb 29
So you've got a lot of mouths to feed? This means lot of people to keep happy, all with different tastes appetites and dietary requirements. With these sometimes overwhelming numbers, you may also be worrying about working it all in to your budget and time period.
Don't panic, here are our top tips for catering for groups of 200+ people, and keeping every stomach satisfied!
Be Clever with your Cuisine
One of the initial things you need to decide on is what kind of food you want to make available. If you pick wisely, you can cover a lot of bases within just one type of cuisine. You want is exciting yet accessible, with options for the more health-conscious as well as those with "get in my belly" appetites!
Foods such as Mexican, American BBQ and modern takes on well-loved classics such as burgers and hot dogs actually tick a lot of boxes. They offer your guests something everyone is familiar with but with options to add in unbelievable flavours that people won't forget in a hurry.
For example, with an American BBQ inspired menu you can offer your universally popular cheese burger with all the trimmings as well as tempting vegan options such as BBQ pulled jack fruit with sweetcorn salsa or smoky beans.
You want to aim for 3-4 menu options, keeping it fairly simple but also having something that will appeal to every single one of your guests. Going solely with something like pizza or Thai food already alienates a few.
And of course, without being bias, we think hot dogs are a great shout. You can keep them super simple if you have children to feed and you can make them, super special by adding tempting toppings such as beef brisket or truffle mayo.
Things to consider when choosing cuisine:
Do they offer decent vegetarian, vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free options?
Are they easy to eat with minimal cutlery and seating?
Is there enough choice?
Is the menu simple enough for guests to order and be served in a matter of seconds?
Keep It Casual
One of the main issues people find with catering for large groups is finding and creating a suitable space for everyone to eat.
Our advice is to skip any sort of seating plan and actually skip formal seating all together. Instead, offer a more casual dining experience for your guests where they can come up and get their food whenever they fancy and enjoy it with whoever they like, wherever they like.
Create casual seating areas throughout the venue. Furniture such as picnic tables, old sofas, poseur tables bean bags and even hay bales can be a fun way to create places for people to eat. These can all be hired, borrowed or purchased at a relatively low expense.
You can also save money on crockery and tableware hire and offer instead, biodegradable cutlery and napkins.
Stagger Your Guests
If possible, it is a good idea to stagger the timings in which guests go up for their food. This helps prevent large queues which is often something not given much thought. There is nothing quite as grump-inducing than waiting in line to be fed. Trust me, hangry guests are to be avoided!
This could be done by something as simple as announcing children go up to eat first or even pick out something silly such as those wearing red (underwear?!).
If it is a bit easier to formalise this, such as at a corporate event, perhaps you could think about giving certain groups or teams a time in which they go up for food.
Alternatively, just having lots going on at the event with cause a natural trickle of people coming for food as others are more enticed by the tiki bar or bucking bronco!
Tokens are something to consider to help stagger timings and keep track of numbers and special requests.
Some caterers will insist on knowing exactly how many of each dish you require. One of the easiest ways to do this is to give out tokens, either before the event or on the day itself. These can be colour co-ordinated and signify a certain dish or dietary requirement. The caterer then takes these and knows how many people they have served and can pre-plan any 'special' dishes such as nut-free.
Here at ChilliDogs, we're pretty easy when it comes to this and will work to whatever system you decide. We can serve over 400 people per hour if necessary so worrying about staggering 'feeding times' isn't so much of an issue!
Have a Help-Yourself Option
If you are concerned some people may arrive hungry or there is perhaps a longer gap between food later on at the event, it may be an idea to have a food station people can help themselves to.
You should aim to have food available every 3-4 hours at an event.
Setting up an attractive looking food station will give guests the to option to help themselves to food if they start to run on empty. Sometimes it is hard to predict the hunger levels of guests but the last thing you want is for people to leave hungry.
Focus on laying out food that can be enjoyed cold and doesn't spoil easily. Food such as colourful crudités with various dips, scotch eggs, roasted nuts, olives and Italian meats can create an interesting spread and don't go soggy or cold if left out for an hour or so.
Why not use this idea to create an indulgent dessert table which guests can help themselves to later on in the event.
Offering a 'build-your-own' cheesecake, donut wall or brownie Jenga stack are fun ways to make it interactive.
Cheese boards are also a great idea to appeal to those with more savoury cravings.
Speed Is Of The Essence
Lastly, with large groups, you do really want to consider speed of service. As mentioned previously, there is nothing worse that hangry guests waiting in line to be served.
Here's our top 5 ways to keep things swift.
Keep it simple stupid! Keep the menu and serving processes as simple as possible. One confused guest is one too many!
Add-in a 'help-your-self' element. This may be something as simple as adding your own sauces or toppings, but helps give people a sense of choice as well as decreasing the time it takes to serve each individual.
Processes, processes, processes. It is super important there are well planned out processes to every part of the food preparation and serving. Everyone should be given a specific role and should be familiar with the processes, from the point of taking the order to handing it over.
Pre-prep as much as you can before the guests arrive. Anything that can be done in advance, make sure it is. You don't want to be cutting rolls or topping up sauce bottles when guests are waiting to eat.
Let guests know what's on the menu. Prevent any Umming and ahing at the front of the queue by making the menu options super clear and visible whilst people are waiting. If you can circulate the menu before the event, even better.
Hopefully this has given you a few nice nuggets of info to get you thinking about all the things you can do to make catering for lots of people a breeze.
If you can at all, get as much feedback as you can from everyone at the event (including suppliers). This is the best way to understand how people felt about the catering and get any advice for if you were to run it again.
Best of luck and feel free to share any pearls of wisdom below.