Catering for Eighty!

So, I've recently taken on a big project that I hope to write more about in this space, with two goals: to solicit advice from you wise readers out there, and to share my experience in case others are going to be taking on a similar task at some point.

Big Project: Two of our closest Madison friends are getting married in about five weeks, and I've agreed to do most of the catering for their wedding, with 80 guests! Whew.

I have lots of cooking experience, but no experience preparing for a group of this size, so I think there will be a lot to figure out.  We have a tentative menu set, so in the next few days, I'll be reviewing the resources I found and the thought processes I went through in order to come to this menu. But I'll also be trying to figure out things like delegating tasks, buying produce, keeping the entrees hot, transporting the supplies to the venue, and more!

The basics of the situation are thus:
  • All-vegetarian menu
  • Some vegan and gluten-free options needed
  • Focus on appetizers, salads, sides that can be made ahead and can be kept at room temperature
  • Entrees that have wide appeal and can be prepared relatively easily (but tastily!)
  • No kitchen facilities of any sort on site at their venue (an partly-enclosed park pavilion)
  • Buffet style
  • Questions: How to keep things hot? Where to refrigerate all the supplies? What to use as servingware? How to serve all the food?
So, what kinds of advice are out there? Anyone done something like this before? What do I need to consider that I might not yet have taken into account? Suggestions for menu ideas?

I'll take all the help I can get!


  1. Wow, this is a big undertaking! I volunteered at an art fair not too long ago, and the board members provided dinner for the artists at a park pavilion. A big key seemed to be the insulated food pan carrier they used like this:

    Not too cheap, I know, but very useful. It fits in a car, and the trays (sold separately?) can just be taken out and put on a folding table, then back in again when you're done.

    They did tacos, rice, beans, salads, and various desserts & dips, and it worked out really well.

    We kept vegetables and cheese and things that needed to stay cool in big coolers under the tables, refilling as necessary.

    Can you have a keg in the park? I love those little glass beverage dispensers for things like sangria and lemonade, but you'd probably have to refill them often.

    And are you goint to use biodegradable (disposable) plates & utensils? I think the stuff made out of sugarcane is called bagasse - you probably know better than I do. Lots of people like to roll up bambooo utensils in napkins and put them in baskets or buckets too.

    Yay wedding planning!

  2. MC! This is all very useful. Upon your suggestion, I found some food pan carriers like that at a rental place in town, so I may very well be making use of them (maybe along with those sterno burner chafing dishes?) The menu I'm thinking through right now actually looks something like the one from the art fair. I think we are going with a keg of beer, and wine bottles (though glass isn't technically allowed in the park), and jugs of water. Easy is the keyword, I think. We're still researching plates and utensils, but if we do go with disposable, I have a big document from our wedding planning somewhere with details on all that (though I never ended up using any of that info). Thanks for the help--I'll probably be soliciting more soon!

  3. Hey Anna,

    As I said, I'd love to help out. If I have any thoughts on the issues you raised above, I'll let you know. (-:

  4. Hi Anna, I used to help set-up parties part-time when I was in school in Chicago, but never worked on the catering end of it. Although I do know you can get some really decent, even organic wines in a box now-a-days, if you're concerned about having glass in the park.

    My best,


Post a Comment