Planning a party can seem like a daunting task but with our simple guide, plus tips from successful caterers Lin Neillands, from Food Unlimited, and Anna Duttson, from Anna Duttson Events, we've got all bases covered.
Consider how many people you can fit in your space - if you're planning an outdoor event, remember everyone might end up inside if it rains! If you want to have large numbers in a small area, suggesting people drop in between certain hours rather than all arriving at a designated time can ease the crowds.
What type of event will it be?
For a large crowd Lin suggests making it simple with a buffet: "A fork buffet is a lot less fuss on the day than fingerfood, where you're continually heating nibbles up and passing them around."
"A cold fork menu is easier than hot and can be prepared in advance leaving you free to talk to guests."
You don't just need space for your guests, you also need to think carefully about what your kitchen can cope with. Consider...
How big is your fridge? Clear out anything that you don't need for the day by depleting stocks beforehand or asking a neighbour to store a few items. For hygiene reasons, you do need to make sure food is refrigerated. Think about ways you can stack items, using trays, plastic tubs or clean cardboard boxes. Drinks can take up a lot of room, so chill them well in advance then transfer them to ice-filled cool bags.
Do you have big enough work surfaces? Canapés are particularly challenging if you have a small surface to work on so if necessary temporarily set up a dinner table as a work station prior to the party.
Oven and hob space. If you're providing a hot buffet or planning any last-minute cooking make sure you haven't got more items vying for space than you have provision for. Again this is where clever planning and preparing ahead is key.
Anna's top tip: Don't make the bar area too close to the front door as this always creates a bottle neck when guests arrive.
Equipment & staff
Make life easier by having big enough equipment for cooking, and sufficient serving dishes, plates and glassware. Borrow these from friends if necessary. This saves time, space and washing up. Lin suggests:
"If you can, hire crockery, cutlery and glasses from a company that provides a 'return dirty' service. The small charge they make is well worth it when you do NOT have to wash up after the guests are gone."
"If you're planning a canapé party it's always worth considering hiring a few staff or asking your neighbours kids to help out. They can replenish plates and do the serving, allowing you time to talk and mingle with your guests."
Anna's top tip: If you've got help coming, get them in early so you have enough time to go through your requirements with them.
Write a time plan
A time plan is a really useful tool to stay on top of your plans. Write a list of everything that needs to be ordered or arranged - flowers, helping hands, food, drinks, equipment, decorations. Assign days and check them off when they're completed. The food, drink and home preparation will need a more detailed plan and it's worth assigning times as well as days to these.
Be realistic, it's better to give yourself too much time. If reading through your time plan makes you feel unduly stressed, you may have taken on too much so look at ways you can simplify your choices. Providing a relaxed and fun event with a small selection of different but well cooked dishes is better than an overambitious spread which turns out to be hit and miss.
Work out quantities
Having sufficient or way too much food is always a concern. Here are the guidelines Anna uses, per person, in her business:
- 225g meat
- 200g fish
- 60g vegetables
- 85 - 115g potatoes
- 60g rice
- 30g cheese
Bear in mind that for large numbers, you can cater for a few less. Lin says, "When working out quantities you do not need to multiply everything by 40 - the more people there are the less they eat! To avoid waste and expense work to feeding about 34 people if 40 attending."
Remember if you're doing a number of dishes, you don't need to provide enough for people to have a full portion of each.
If you're worried about running out, bulk up on cheaper items like potatoes, bread and salad.
The ideal situation is to have everything prepared in advance. Take a look at our selection of recipes you can prepare or freeze ahead.
Lin suggests: "Cook, chop and prepare all the different components of your dishes that can't be made fully in advance, then seal and store. On the day of your party you'll only need to combine the components and add dressings. Dressings for leaf salads are best left to the very last minute to avoid wilting."
- Take food out of the fridge just before serving. If people are grazing over a long period, it's best to put out smaller quantities and replenish them once they've run out.
- If you're serving hot food, ensure it stays hot while you're serving it.
- When the party is over, if food has been out for 1 1/2 hours, it will have to go in the bin. Read more about leftovers.
- Before you cater for large numbers, it's worth brushing up on your food safety knowledge, find out about storing food safely and 10 ways to prevent food poisoning. You'll find more information on the NHS Live Well website.