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May 25, 2007 04:06 PM


I am trying to plan a summer party at our family's bay house near Galveston, Texas, for the my college's deans and department chairs (my colleagues and the chairs that report to me.) I have never entertained much, so I really need some help!

My original idea has been to tell people to come anytime after 2:00pm and serve a buffet about 5:30 - 6:00. I'm inviting about 50 people; perhaps half of those will come, I presume. While the party is rather casual, I don't want the typical cookout menu or barbecue or sandwiches. I guess what I am looking for is something that will maximize an interesting menu for so many people, while allowing me to prepare most items ahead of time to minimize wear and tear on my nerves the day of the party.

Am I asking too much? Is my basic idea sound? Does anyone have alternative ideas? Can anyone come to my rescue? Or should I just call a caterer?


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  1. First of all, you should probably reconsider waiting 3 hours to serve your buffet. I'd have some nibbles ready when the guests arrive, then the main buffet about 3 pm. Some cheese/crackers, hummus w/pita, crudite with dip, or some other light finger foods would be fine. If you wait til 5:30-6, you might have guests grumbling about the lack of food (tho not to your face, I guess). I vividly recall going to a baby shower, and the hostess kept checking on the food, etc etc. We didn't get a bite to eat til almost 2 hours after the stated arrival time (and that included the very pregnant guest of honor!). When food finally appeared, all the guests swarmed over it.

    Second, for buffets, I always like to include a platter of roasted veggies or antipasti, all of which can be prepped the day before. You can do asparagus, cauliflower, broccoli, baby brussel sprouts (cut in half), carrots, and add some marinated artichoke hearts, bocconcini, sliced salami, mortadella and provolone. Serve it with some sliced baguettes if you like. Some interesting salads, maybe a roast turkey or ham w/breads and rolls would be easy too.

    Lastly, whatever menu you choose, do a timeline and really think it through. It is possible to entertain large groups if you plan, plan and then plan some more. Good luck and have fun!

    4 Replies
    1. re: rednails

      Another idea that I really love is to have a variety of chocolate fondue selections for dessert. You can prepare most of the trays of bite sized morsels for dipping ahead of time and the fondue warmers keep the sauce warm for a long time which is handy for buffets. There all kinds of things that can be dipped like pretzels, marshmallows, fruit, cubed cake, etc. For more ideas and recipes on different fondue flavors here is a link I think you will find that it makes a fun and memorable addition to your party.

      1. re: rednails

        LOL, I've witnessed this "swarming effect" first hand. I thought it would be civilized invite people at 3 pm and serve a buffet at 6 pm. Lots of snacks and drinks in the garden, but by 6 pm they were a frantic horde which devoured the buffet in under 10 minutes and demanded more. Be warned.

        I love the idea of doing a cold / room temperature roast. Get a great ham add a simple glaze and have a friend slice it up.
        People will inevitably ask what they can bring. I usually have a theme (this year our summer party is American South) and ask them to bring a specific item (appetizer, salad, dessert) along the theme. People love bringing stuff and it makes your life easier.

        Have a great party.

        1. re: Mila

          I have such a hard time saying "yes" when people ask if they can bring something. If it's my party, I've planned all the food (control freak? you decide).

          I once let people bring food and two guys showed up with (1) box of supermarket cookies and (2) jug of orange juice. We called that bachelor picnic food.

          1. re: NYchowcook

            I Have a hard time also, once I deicded to have people bring things and those people cancelled at the last minute. So now if I do have someoone bringing things I let them bring extras

      2. You estimate that around 25 people will come and are planning a buffet that is casual, but with a few interesting or memorable dishes...this is very doable, even for one person. Too many 'stand out' dishes detract from one another, especially on a buffet, and I would recommend doing one good basic dish and one more special one for each course - for example, one fabulous cake and then squares and cookies that can be made ahead.

        Could go with a theme - one idea for a summer party would be to make a few beautiful salads, a lot of which could be done ahead of time, and serve them with really good bread. Devilled eggs and pigs in blankets for your nibbles to start.

        1. AN icnredibly easy, do-ahead nibbler that could work is puff pastry pinwheels. With store bought puff pastry, you can add gruyere, prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, anchoies, herbs, etc., have them alll cut out, placed on cookie sheets, stacked in the fridge, ready to throw into the oven as the guests arrive. They require no supervision or fuss, perfect with drinks in warm weather.

          1. KathyR: Agree with the previous posters about having serious food available early on. You should word your invitation accordingly.

            I know you said no sandwiches, so I hesitantly suggest a layered loaf sandwich to complement the rest of your menu. It can be impressive if you use quality mortadella, proscuitto, Genoa salami, and a good sliced turkey, along with provolone and mozz. I usually put roasted red peppers in as well and spread basil pesto and/or tapanade on top and bottom lids.

            When you hollow out the loaf and fill it generously, you can easily get 8, maybe 10,
            abundant slices out of a large round sourdough loaf. And they must be made ahead, wrapped and weighted in the fridge overnight, so good news there. Bring to room temp. Put a skewer through each wedge for security, if you like. I like to use an electric knife to slice. The loaf seems to hold together better in my experience.

            Of course, salads and fruits and veggies in any form. Take advantage of your local summer bounty. Maybe a cold soup, too, in pitchers set in a trough of ice with shooter glasses at the ready -- gazpacho? Help yourself, come back for a refill.

            FYI Renting plates, glassware, and even flatware and cloth napkins, is really quite reasonable and such a relief. We've done this several times, from small gatherings to groups of 80. We didn't have to wash anything, just scrape food and rinse well. We've always purchased the breakage insurance. It's pennies and pays for itself if you chip a glass or two. Call around in your area for prices and local stipulations. A real plate is so much nicer than a paper plate, no matter how hefty, and safer than using family service.

            1. first of all dnt call a caterer its a waste of money!,if ur waiting till 5ish to give food they will all be starveing nd end up leaving,give them sumting to eat when they arrive,I know,no sandwiches, but it is a safe bet nd its easy,but i suggest doing is to make things like cie mini sandwiches,roast veg in small pita breads other things like that,just make it interresting ,these can be prepared in advance no more than 2days,nd maybe a selction of cheeses.but i would serve this at bout 2ish,mayb 3.then with plenty of alchol to keep them busy,if possible,if not make aslection of different types of lemonades which can b made or bought its up to u.then bout 5ish serve some cold salads and a selection of different breads,all of cold salads should be prepared at least a day in advance as it developes flavour,dnt prpare 3days or more in advance as by this stage it could b gone off.salads:roast pepper with goats cheese,ceaser salad,spinach with avacado and the way its better to have too much food than too little so make enough for 50ppl or even more.good luck...for a dessert buy a nice big sticky chocolate cake,as they will be aeting really light nd probably b expecting sumting nice nd filling at that stage.

              6 Replies
              1. re: clairsy87

                Wow, thanks to everyone for the great replies! I was planning to have nibbles available in the afternoon, but perhaps you are right that I should have the buffet earlier. Good advice about renting the plates and glasses, too!

                An idea that I came up with in the meantime was to have chilled beef tenderloin and/or smoked salmon as the main entrees. I know that's not as "casual" as I first said. What do you think of that, and what would be good sides?

                1. re: KathyR

                  I agree that there should be a dish with a starring role, and then lots of good sides. One buffet dish that I have made many times is Stuffed Chicken Breasts (boneless) from the Martha Stewart Entertaining cookbook. They are stuffed with frozen chopped spinach and a ricotta egg mixture with various herbs and seasonings. It might be perfect for your party because it serves 24 as part of a buffet, is relatively inexpensive to make, large quantities can be made easily and they can be stuffed and baked the day ahead. They can be served hot, cold or room temp. Cut them in half and serve them on a huge platter decorated with herbs and cherry tomatoes. If you are interested, I'll paraphrase the recipe. If you or someone you know has the book, it's on p. 294. This recipe looks quite elegant and tastes really great.

                  1. re: KathyR

                    I go to a large xmas party every year thrown by a friend and she and her husband start the cooking 1-2 weeks in advance (there are sometimes upwards of 100). She always serves smoked salmon and roast beef cold with interesting dipping sauces (usually a horseradish cream and something else I can't remember). Both can be prepped the day before. I would then serve simple sides and salads maybe some green beans with slivered almonds and garlic, a simple cucumber/tomato salad, perhaps even couscous or a light roasted potato dish. Then splurge on dessert and make something really memorable.

                    1. re: KathyR

                      I make some simple roasted veggies, a spinach salad and some crusty bread when I serve chilled beef tenderloin

                      1. re: KathyR

                        The beef tenderloin sounds wonderful, maybe with a horseradish cream as condiment. But do you mean smoked salmon? I think of that more as an appy. But a chilled poached salmon would be a great fish option, maybe with a dill sour cream sauce.

                        The roasted veggies someone suggested would work with both. And a huge platter of dead-ripe sliced tomatoes. Potatoes for the beef could be potato salad or a layer potato cake or gratin served room temp. A cold petit pois salad or cold salad of petit pois/asparagus tips/snow peas or sugar snaps, lightly blanched and dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.

                        It's Texas in the summer so it's going to be hot, right? I'd be heading for anything sitting on a bed of ice! For dessert, how about frozen souffles -- raspberry or lemon? Served with little crispy chocolate cookies or florentines.

                        This is such a fun thread! Sometimes I think planning the party is the best part!
                        Your guests can dress casually, and with a buffet they'lll be helping themselves, but there's no reason you can't wow them with your twist on a picnic theme!
                        Please let us know what you decide to do. That's the only thing that makes me unhappy about CH -- not knowing what happened!

                        1. re: KathyR

                          Condiment with Chilled beef tenderloin, I love to drizzle with EVOO, Mustard Aioli, Capers, Shaved Parmesan. Then a nice spring mix w/balsamic and some Parmesan flatbread. With the salmon a crumbled goat cheese and fresh dill. And Garlic Flatbread