How to plan & organise your event

    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.

    Dishing out food on dinner party table


    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.

    Large table of people eating at dinner party outdoors, under fairy lights

    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."


    Well-stocked fridge

    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

    Blank notepad infront of yellow and white background

    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.

    Get ahead

    Malt chocolate cheesecake topped with white chocolate balls

    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."

    Food safety

    • 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.
    • 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.

    Catering tips from Lin Neillands, from Food Unlimited, and Anna Duttson, from Anna Duttson Events.

    Comments, questions and tips

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    6th Oct, 2015
    Thank you for these useful tips! I haven't started my career yet but I would like to create my own events later. I am now working for an events promotion startup and I see that organizing events requires many skills. As I am starting from scratch, articles like yours are really helpful. I particularly liked your point on writing a time plan, I think it is the most convenient way to do everything that should be done, and not to forget anything! Your article is full of ideas. Sarah @
    31st Jul, 2015
    Good ideas here. But these days if you have a party coming over of more than , say 6 I would always do half and half on the catering side of things. We have an annual summer party for friends and family and since we started using a delivered caterer it’s much easier. You could always juts go out to Marks and Spencer and get what you need but its real expensive and actually kind of obvious you are buying in if you go there. Just use a supplier like Kudos delivered and then buy in your own booze (there’s, like all delivered caterers, are a tad on the expensive side). If you have a gig coming up and there’s more than say 10 people coming save yourself the hassle and the head ache, just check out a Kudos menu ( and then pop to Asda and stock up on the Booze, that’s job done with a lot less head ache, I used to cook and do these recipes but it’s getting harder and harder to impress at these parties. Mind you I still knock out a jelly or Eaton-mess to appear personal.
    30th Apr, 2015
    agree with the last comment that catering for many must be a serious head ache, but disagree with what he says about the expense side of things, just use site like ven res ( and you will always be able to find a half decent venue to have a event at, depends on your needs but these days these companies are so desperate to fill their shelves, so to speak, that you should be able barter a deal down (always ask for 30% off and let then push u back to 20%) ven res are actually pretty cool as well for all sorts of sized party venues and wedding ideas, basically if you are after an event place and can’t be doing with the expense of holding your own gig just give any venue a buzz, they are all desperate these days.
    30th Apr, 2015
    some pretty good tips here. I own a catering company and luxury events is where the market is these days so I know how hard it is to keep 400 people fed and watered almost all at once in these circumstances, the fact is the more people you have to cater for the more quality will dip just that little bit. The one thing missing from this list is the attention you need to give to décor, or and display you intend to put up, that could be plants, linen, even music! I would recommend checking out this site ( for some cool ideas on this front, basically if you are managing a party you don’t want to be too detracted from the food and drink side of things but you will need something to show your guests that they are not just in someone’s living room or garden, and it adds a splendid sense of occasion, and don’t forget if it’s an evening gig then what you going to do with the lights? In my experience these factors can make or break a sense of quality catering.
    30th Apr, 2015
    Lots of common sense stuff listed here, but as a professional caterer of 20 years I can tell you that that is exactly were most private diners and actually catering agencies go wrong. The most important thing people screw up is their time management, event experienced chefs get this bit wrong – companies like Kudos Delivery get it right because they prepare most of the meals beforehand so get the luxury of a simple lunch delivery service while dressing it up all posh, but in the real world us caterings and private diners have a menacing clock ticking away and ultimately catching you out. One tip that I always give people is check everything before you start. For example is the number of times people preparing fish don’t realise that most places don’t descale anymore ! things like that really help to know not just catering staff but the individual panicking in their kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. Oh check this site out for loads of other professional tip - they have loads of tip at their back end page as its for training chefs.
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