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Catering in for 50 people

My future inlaws offered to throw us an engagement party at their home, and asked what we wanted them to serve. Thinking we were keeping the price down, we said deli platters would be fine. Turns out deli for 50 people is about $500... which I'm told is too much.

What now? We don't need anything fancy, but the party's in the evening, and we need to serve dinner. Any thoughts on how to feed 50 people inexpensively? Pot luck's not a good option because many people are coming from out of town. I don't mind doing some cooking, but I think it's a better option to bring something in for that many people. Any thoughts?

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  1. Oh.... and it'll be in Bergen county, NJ, if that helps....

    1 Reply
    1. re: Nalega

      What about getting salad, baked ziti and one other entree (chicken dish)from a local italian joint? You could bring a crudite or fruit salad and dessert. I would think, albeit not fancy, it may keep the cost down and it's pretty simple.

    2. Check out your local grocery's deli department (Wegman's, Shop Rite, Stop N Shop), it might be well within your budget. Also, check out Costco, BJ's, Sam's. Their prepared food has solved many a catering crisis!

      1. That's $10 a head. It's going to be hard to serve dinner for less than that. I agree with checking out the local grocery store. Or making your own salad/dessert (enlist a few friends who aren't traveling) and order entrees.

        1. Try Costco, BJ's or Sam's club for some platters such as crudites, shrimp cocktail, ready-made salads, rolls, cake/cookies and wraps. Also, large trays of ziti, lasagna, eggplant that just need cooking in an oven is also quite convenient. A large package of frozen h'or d'oerves, especially hot dogs are always a favorite. If you do not belong to the above stores, they sometimes have one-day memberships, or a friend can take you in. You should be able to stay under the $10/head.

          1. Where are you? What kind of food are you looking for?

            Ethnic restaurants are great places to try. Not sure where you are, but I've gone to my local mexican place for catered lunches for work. I buy the meat and sides in bulk, and they throw in the sauces, tortillas, etc. I know other latin places will do something similar if you are so interested. I know at my place, I could get plenty of food for 50 people for around $150 dollars, and that includes sides and all.

            Anyhow, good luck and let us know more specifically what you need/want.

            1. HI, We are having a surprise b-day party for a family member and there are going to be about 50 people there. We are having penne pasta with a pesto sauce (from Costco) and a red sauce with marinara, italian sausage, ricotta and mozzerella cheeses. We are making garlic bread on good bread, two nice salads, and having italian style appetizers i.e. olive tapanade (also from Costco) on baguette (well, I don't know if that's italian), and bruschetta. All of this is only coming to about $100-$150 dollars. Pasta can be made so many different ways and then kept warm on those warmer things from Party City. Well this is just an idea, GOOD LUCK!

              1. I don't know what their prices are like, but try The Catering Kitchen in Oradell, NJ

                1. Waldbaum's, Pathmark and Stop & Shop all do deli platters for $50 or under to feed approx. 10 people, so that's only $5/head. Waldbaum's doesn't include side salads. The others do. Stop & Shop uses Boar's Head, the others use other, lesser-known brands. You can see photos on their websites.

                  BJ's and Costco also do platters, but they too use lesser-known brands. Not sure of the prices and I could not find prices on their site. They probably also sell cold salads in 2-3-4-pound tubs. You might be able to get some dips in 2-pound containers, chips and stuff like that from BJ's or Costco. I think they both do crudite platters, but the dips that come on the platters aren't that great.

                  Sometimes you can do pretty well with a hero, maybe half Italian/half American, from a local deli. The last time I did something like this (about a year ago) it cost under $75, with side salads, feeding about 20-25 people. Ziti would be a nice addition (especially if dinner) and you can do that pretty cheaply yourself-- put it together at your home and just do the final heating at your future in-laws' place. Hot food, even from local places, especially meat, costs more than you would think and while not expensive, would probably run things past the already too $$$ $10/head.

                  If you want a cake or other sweets, the sheet cakes at Costco are really pretty good and are a bargain at about $16.00. Other baked goods at Costco are more than decent, so if you think their sheet cake isn't enough, you could supplement with a couple of pies, cookies or coffee cakes. I don't like the BJ's baked goods as much.

                  You can get cheap paper goods at either BJ's or Costco (I think Party City will run more) but Costco has these fabulous hot/cold cups that are paper covered with a thin layer of foam, so they don't tip over as easy as styrofoam, but are a bit insulated, so you don't burn your fingers if they are filled with hot coffee. I think both places also sell the wire racks and sterno to keep things hot, but you may end up with more sterno than you need.

                  If looking to economize, go with an inexpensive sheet cake and make a fruit salad and skip any extra desserts.

                  Don't forget about the cost of hot and cold drinks in the equation. You may be able to watch sales and volume-buy when a local market is running a special.

                  Frankly, unless you do salad and pasta only, and homemade at that (and there is nothing wrong with that, but it does take some work and you have to have the oven space to do 2-3 big trays of ziti), I do not see your in-laws getting out for less than $350.00, if you consider "main course," light dessert, drinks (and that's no alcohol...) and paper goods.

                  Do not knock yourself out trying to do too much on your own, especially if you are not used to volume cooking. It can get overwhelming and quickly get more expensive than you first thought. You might want to make a master "supply list" to get a handle on cost, before things get out of control cost-wise and to help keep you organized.

                  Congratulations and good luck!

                  1. $500 is dirt cheap for 50 people. I would try Trader Joes. Frozen apps, soup stocks etc. If you have any cash left over, hire a culinary student to heat everything up for you. Good luck.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: groover8

                      I can't tell how serious you are about "catering" via TJ's. I could not imagine feeding a houseful of close friends and family out the freezer section at the local market. That said, I agree that $500 is not a lot of money to feed 50 people. And of course, that's only the "main course" and does not include all of the peripheral expenses. But there are ways to do it on the "budget-saver side," without much home cooking and with a little creativity. Maybe there is a way to find out how much the hosts are willing to spend and that could planning easier. If not, I would do some legwork getting supermarket deli catering prices and present new figures to the future in-laws and/or just ask them if they have a place or places within their budget...It is entirely possible that they have no idea what a party for 50 can cost.