is it possible to serve good food for 7,000 people?
I went to my Christmas office party the other night, at the Hilton Hotel in midtown Manhattan. I work for a massive company, and they must have spent $1 million on the party, attended by about 7k people. The buffet food was a different cuisine in each ballroom (asian, latin american, etc.) and it was uniformly appalling. The booze was flowing, there was lots of money spent on entertainment, gift bags, etc. But the food, my god, it was soooo bad. There was huge variety, but it was a variety of shit, so it didn't matter.
A debate ensued -- can you expect decent quality when feeding that many people?
Anybody from the catering/banquet industry have any thoughts?
Entirely possible, but it costs big bucks and you need to find a "neutral" venue that will allow you to pick the best caterers and restaurants to each present their own specialty. Still missing the big parties that Montgomery Securities used to put on for their clients with various food and drink stations manned by chefs from top San Francisco restaurants...
You can definitely feed a huge group of people with excellent food. I've worked in catering and event management for three years or so and I've seen some really terrible food and a lot of really fantasic meals too.
The most successful menus for large groups were done with food stations. Instead of having all the food together in one massive buffet area, the food was split up and scattered all throughout the venue. Each station was manned with chefs with live bbq, stir fry, grill, salad, etc stations. Cold stations are good a long as the food on them can be served at room temperature without getting too gross i.e. leafy green salads wilt after a while whereas antipastos can sit out for a bit and not be affected.
Dessert stations are always a huge hit - chocoalte fondue station, mini brulées, carnival desserts (i.e. candy apples & candy floss), build your own sundae station, etc.
You also need to make the point that you are talking about a cocktail party with food stations. Dinner or lunch for 7,000 sit down guests is done quite well all the time.
How was the coffee? I've been to dozens of large non profit events where the food was good, desserts noteworthy...but then out came the coffee in giant metal pots....horrible.
Can a decent cup of coffee been brewed for large groups?
Yes, it is possible. I work for a catering company and we routinely serve large groups. Last summer we did a seated dinner for about 7500 pp, and got raves on the food.
Without knowing the menu served at your party, or specifically what made it "sooo bad," I'd say the key thing is a culinary/sales team committed to the highest quality, both in menu design and execution. Also, as noted by Ms. Wong, a nice budget definitely helps! That increases your menu options, so you get stations w/chefs as opposed to frozen appetizers. (Not that the quality in the frozen app line is so bad, but still...)
And yes, a decent cup of coffee can be brewed for large groups. The challenge is in serving that many people efficiently, hence the need for large urns. One cup of coffee for 7000 pp is over 400 gallons! How would you serve that much coffee?