by Betty Thompson


Serving food for large gatherings such as weddings may look simple and easy to do but time, effort and know-how are needed to achieve that end result. Here are a few guidelines if you would like to do the food for a large party without a caterer.


Consider the occasion for the party (formal or informal), the location (inside or outside) and the time of day (snacks, lunch or dinner) and the number of people to be served. This will dictate the menu.

Make a list of the things you might like, then test it with some of the following questions.

Labor-intensive dishes should be reserved for smaller parties, unless this is what you want and you have plenty of labor.

Balance, contrast, color and harmony are key elements of menu planning. To balance a menu, think in terms of categories: cheese, seafood, meat, vegetable and fruit. It isn't necessary to use all. Consider fresh uncooked foods as well as cooked.

Contrasting color, texture, flavor and temperature make for a more interesting meal. Choose something crunchy, smooth, spicy, light and refreshing. Flavors in the dishes should rarely be duplicated. The final combination of dishes served should be compatible.

Attractive presentation is important.

Already prepared foods are helpful time and labor savers. Order large sealed bags of mixed salad greens. These are washed, dried and ready to serve. Serve dressing separately. No mixing labor is involved, guests can use the quantity they like, and leftovers are not wasted.

Purchase large bags of cooked meatballs and add a personal touch by simmering them in a savory homemade sauce. Buy large boxes of frozen miniature quiche. They can be heated as needed. Many foods items such as these are available at the grocery store in quantity.

Order fresh specialty breads or rolls to be picked up the day of the wedding. It's filling, inexpensive and a good buffer for extending the quantity of food.

For a full meal, cook the entrée on the spot. Engage someone to take charge of the grill. Fresh tuna, salmon or chicken breasts are good suggestions. For portion control, have someone serve. Add one or two salads and/or fresh fruit and bread to complete the menu. Keep it simple.

Engage lots of help for service, replenishing the serving table, clearing up dishes and cleanup. Better to have too much help than not enough. Collect serving pieces ahead of time. They should not be too large and should be replenished frequently so that the 50th guest in line, for example, is not confronted with a dish that looks as though it had been waded through. Make up two dishes of the same item and when one is almost empty replace it with a full one while the finished one is refilled.

Amounts can be tricky. Quantity usually depends on what is served and the number of dishes. More food is needed for self-serve meals. Weather can also be an influence. In cold weather people tend to eat more and in hot weather drink more.

The size of side dishes does not need to be the same. For example, when preparing three salads for a crowd of 225 people prepare black bean salad for 50, rice salad for 75 and potato salad for 100. The thinking is that more people would be likely to take potato salad.

When increasing a standard favorite recipe to quantity, the rule is never double the seasoning. Many good books exist with help in quantity cooking. One is "Food for Fifty" by Fowler and West.

In the end you may decide to hire a caterer!


(Yield: 1/3 cup servings for 50)
15 pounds new potatoes, boiled and cut chunky
2 cups vinaigrette dressing
1 1/3 cups oil
2/3 cup vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/2 pound red onions, peeled and finely chopped
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/3 cups sour cream
2 bunches fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons celery seed

Marinate potatoes in vinaigrette dressing for two hours. Carefully mix in remaining ingredients to avoid mashing potatoes. Keep thoroughly chilled until serving.


about 50 servings
5 pounds black beans, washed and soaked
6 each red, green and yellow bell peppers, diced
4 large red onions, peeled and diced
2 2/3 cup corn oil
1 1/3 cups lime juice or red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup diced pickled jalapeño peppers (optional)
4 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 teaspoons cumin
2 bunches cilantro, chopped

Cook black beans until tender. Drain thoroughly and cool slightly. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix gently.

Let marinate several hours before serving.

Betty Thompson is a food writer, traveller and teaches cooking classes locally.

The North Coast Journal Table of Contents