How Much Food Should I Cater For My Event?
The million dollar question. How much food should you provide when hosting an event...
Let’s get the main worry out on the table: no one wants to run out of food. We’ve all heard the horror stories of that time when so-and-so went to a party and had to stop on the way back to eat something. That is not the story we want told about our event. However, this has to be weighed up against the opposite end of the spectrum, over-catering. We all hate waste (thank you David Attenborough), so let’s have a look through things and see how we can walk this tricky line.
Do not, under any circumstance, skip the canapés. Yes, there’s the argument that a great host would offer canapés on arrival, but this is about more than being a good host. This is about providing sustenance to prevent your guests getting more tipsy than they, or you, bargained for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-tipsy. I’m anti the party peaking too early and everyone being packed into taxis before the music starts. Canapés slow down the getting tipsy process. They’re also fun, interesting, a point of conversation, and an opportunity for people who are talking to shift about a bit. They just work.
The questions to ask here are:
When is the last time that your guests are likely to have eaten? Anything over 4 hours and we’re getting into starter territory. Particularly in the late afternoon/evening.
How important is sitting down to eat to my event? It might be that this is the time that people get to talk to the people that you think they’ll get along with most. Or that the image of a relaxed and extended dining period is what is most important to you. In that case, add the starters in.
If the budget doesn’t allow for starters then add on a few more canapés choices and extend the canapé service period.
The Main Event
The linchpin. Think about adding breads if you have skipped the starter. Or add another vegetable element if you’re on the anti-gluten team.
Lots of your guests will have a sweet tooth, so this is not really up for discussion. It’s the part that everyone really looks forward to. Delving into the folded whipped cream and crunchy meringues of an Eton Mess, or feeling the intense chocolate-y hit of a rich chocolate brownie <takes break to get brownie out of fridge>. If you have a celebration cake and want it to be eaten (should be a silly question) think about asking your caterer to cut and serve it with berries and cream, it’s a good way of keeping your costs down and minimising waste. If you must bring providing a dessert into question, think about offering something else that is sweet. If you want to get everybody up and out of their seats before they’ve had a chance to watch their main plate disappear into the distance, then offer a small sweet. Our toasted marshmallows with a chunk of chocolate brownie are an absolute winner for this, but I’m biased and I’m sure your caterer will have their own alternative.
Ok, so I’m going to throw this out there, I’m with Mary Berry, serve the cheese before the dessert. Why? Red wine. That should be reason enough.
That’s if you’re going to serve it with the main meal at all. I really love it when events have a cheese stack as a centre-piece, for guests to nibble on throughout the night. Just make sure you put it in a location that they’re going to be passing by – don’t tuck it in a no-mans land where no-one will venture.
There’s also not much waste worry here, cheese will last. Cheese can be molten toasties on a Tuesday night, an opulent “5-cheese” creamy cauliflower cheese on a Wednesday, or just a lazy no-cook dinner on a Sunday.
This is where timing is queen.
Do you even offer it? If you’re entertaining your guests for 6 hours or less then one round of eating is enough. Any longer and people will start to get hungry again.
Will people have left by the time it’s served? Hopefully not!! Ok, so that’s a bit black and white, naturally there are some who will make their farewells and tear themselves away for a multitude of perfectly acceptable reasons, but they will be few and far between. As humans, we love to gather, it’s in our history and heritage. So when we gather together we like to stay that way!
Here, one savoury option is fine, a sweet option on top is a bonus.
The last thing that you want when hosting an event is to be plagued by worry that you haven’t ordered or provided enough food. So if you’re on the edge in the planning stages and prone to a bit of worry (ok so that’s just about everyone then…) then go with what makes you feel comfortable. You know your guests better than anyone. All we can tell you is what we’ve learned from previous events!
Full disclosure: we run a catering company and therefore have a vested interest. However we also share this world with you and are passionately anti-waste. For example, we haven’t recycled a jam jar since 2016, instead we have a very large collection of jars which are re-usable for a whole host of jobs!