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Aug 29, 2008 10:03 AM

Party for ~80ppl - food quantities?


I am throwing a party for my mother's birthday on Sept 20th. Approx 80 people have RSVPed yes. The party will be at 5pm, so needs to be dinner-ish. It will be at my parents' house, with the (empty) 2-car garage being used for the buffet/food, and seating throughout the house and yard.

I was thinking of doing a BBQ theme for the food - pulled pork, BBQ chicken, baked beans, mac and cheese, cornbread. I'd also have green salad, potato salad, orzo salad, fruit salad, chips and dip, maybe a couple of easy appetizers.

First of all - is this doable? I have never cooked for 80 before, and am considering having all or part catered, but am concerned about cost.

Second - what quantities of food do I need for 80ppl? I would imagine that caterers have a formula - does anyone know where I could find that info?

Third - any thoughts on my menu? I'm open to anything that is delicious, affordable, and able to be done for a crowd.

Thanks in advance for help!

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  1. Helped a friend do her parents' 50th wedding anniversary a few years ago. It's a lot of work, but it all comes down to organization. I'm sure other chows can help you with the food, but just a couple of things for you to think of besides menu.

    Lists, lists, lists. One for menu, what ingredients you'd need, what to watch for on sale, what to make ahead. One for what you need, what to rent, what you have. One for a time line of how to get everything hot at the same time. One for who is in charge of what (refilling hot dishes, checking the powder rooms for TP and fresh towels, bussing through the house to pick up used dishes, one for sink duty, etc.).

    Consider renting dishes, glassware, tablecloths and napkins. She borrowed stainless flatware from her church. You can also rent tables, tents, or just extra chairs.

    She had two bartenders at separate areas, each with a mini fridge (borrow from Subaru owners who might have them), who also helped with table bussing and rinsing and packing the glassware. Buy lots of ice and use coolers to store refrigerator overflow
    and soft drinks.

    Tables for the buffet setup. Rent or borrow steam tables for the hot items, or use
    Nesco-type roasters with inserts. Keep cold salads in bowls over ice. Serving spoons, tongs.

    The only catering portioning hint I picked up through her ordeal was that if there are going to be a number of side dishes, 1/4 cup per person of any one dish is considered a good estimate.

    You need to enlist some friends: for their input as you plan (you'll be surprised at what they think of), to help make things ahead of time, for their refrigerators and freezers to store things, for their help cleaning up.

    One friend used her expertise to scan in pictures and make a slideshow that ran continuously on a computer in the den of the couple from their young adulthood through their wedding day, kids, grandkids. She also made magnets with a stick-on picture of the bride and groom as a take-away gift.

    Hope some of these ideas are helpful. Best of luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: nemo

      I would enlist the help of several friends.
      Assign each friend to be in charge of making one side dish the day before, and then transporting the side dish to the location. That way no one person gets overwhelmed with making too many things or trying to store them etc. One side dish to serve 80 will be a large task alone.

      I would try to do mostly sides that are ok cold or at room temperature, with perhaps one (the baked beans would be easy to keep warm without overcooking) that is warm.

      If you want to grill chicken, consider either hiring someone to do it, or renting one of those giant grills. Honestly, it would be easiest to hire someone to do the meat, and then you and friends could just do all the sides - divided up as mentioned above.
      Otherwise, simply renting a bunch of warmers and doing a dish that can be made ahead of time (or starting the morning of) and kept warm without overcooking such as pulled pork or chicken drummettes would be easier.
      Again, assign the task of just one main dish to one or two people. The quanities needed for 80 can become overwhelming. For eg, if you were to plan 8 oz of pulled pork per person (would be less if doing chicken too of course)... but 8 oz x 80 people = 640 oz or 40 lbs of pork to cook. Thats alot for one standard oven!

    2. There are lots of guidelines on the web. Here is one:

      Martha Stewart and Food Network also have some.

      My feedback having done large events without a commercial kitchen:

      1. Planning is key, I agree. In addition to the above, make sure you make a schedule of what needs to be done when, time down to the hour on the day of. Include set-up and plating too. Then you can see if it is too much for you. If it is consider buying some portions of the menu. For instance, prewashed baby greens for the salad, or the potato salad.

      2. Your menu requires a lot of things to be hot. Do you have the ability to keep trays of it hot for refills, eg. multiple ovens? If not think about things that can be served at room temp. Since everyone is eating at once for these large parties, it is very likely that you will need to serve up new trays of pork AND chicken AND baked bean AND mac and cheese AND cornbread very close together.

      3. Do you have multiple grills for the BBQ chicken or a very large one. Do you mind having a grill going during the event? If not, do a dry run of cooking up a large tray and warming it up to see if you like the results. I often find BBQ chicken on a buffet difficult because it is hard to get it cooked correctly unless you are grilling it there. I have actually had more luck serving marinated chicken thighs or satays because they go OK at room temp.

      3. If food is not being served as people arrive, you will need more appetizers as hungry people await food. If food is being served shortly after the start of the party (5:45) you need less.

      1. I do these types of parties all the time. Frist in my opinion you have way to much on the menu. Keep it simple and you won't get overwhelmed. If you are not use to hosting these types of events it can be very stressful. You want to enjoy the party. My frist suggestion would be to hire a caterer, if however you can't do that then here are some simple guidelines. If you are entertaining 80 guest you will need about 50lbs of meat. for sides figure 1/2 have cup to 1 cup pp. I would not do much in the appetizer catagory as people fill up and then don't eat the main course. Maybe some nuts cheese and olives.. If you are doing bbq Pulled pork or brisket can be done a day or two before then just warmed before serving. If you do the chicken I would do that fresh and I would do legs and thighs as they don't dry out. As far as sides I would do cold sides Green salad potato salad maybe like a black bean salad then you don't have to worry with keeping things hot. This also keeps you from having to set up chafing dishes. Last but certainly not least hire a couple of people to help serve and bus dishes and clean so you won't be left with an incredible mess at the end of the night. Sometimes high school students are great for this. A bartender is a good idea if you are serving a lot of different drinks but if you want to again keep it simple you could do beer and wine self serve or rent a frozen drink machine. I think if you are doing bbq then you could go with nice disposible plates cups naps etc. Renting class can be very expensive. Anyway you should be fine if you don't over do it and keep it simple.

        1. I've done pool parties by myself, with a little help from my Mom for 50 people. My menus have been similar to yours, w/ burgers and brats instead of the pork and chix. My Mom and I did a VERY similar birthday party for my Dad, in the empty garage, she did pork loin and I've forgotten the other side dishes. BUT it was for 48 people. At 80 people, I think you've crossed the line into too-much-for-one-person land.

          When i did my parent's 50th anniversary, i hired a caterer + did some of the cooking myself. That gave me the option of making the things that I consider my specialties, but having a pro as backup to do the big quantities and be a backup in case things went WAY wrong on my end. I was reasonably pleased w/ the result.

          I think pulled pork BBQ is an excellent choice, because you can buy in bulk from a restaurant whose product you respect, but not get nailed for the upcharges "real caterers" want. It's easy to pick up, easy to store and reheat. If this BBQ place makes a side you respect, you could buy that as well.

          I think you should consider letting the pulled pork be your "meat" entree and your mac and cheese be a "vegetarian entree". Save yourself the chicken hassle, unless you believe your crowd has a LOT of people who are health conscious, heart patients, etc. If that's the case, I'd blow off the mac and cheese.

          As others have said, you have more side dishes than you need. I would ditch either the orzo or the potato, and the fruit salad. I LOVE fruit salad, but having made it for some of my 50-people pool parties, i say BIG WORK. Cutting up fruit is labor intensive and last-minute. And the leftovers don't last forever. Instead, I might set out a tray of whole fruit...beautiful to look at, and the healthy eaters can dig in, but you won't need enough to feed the whole crowd. I don't know where you live, but it's possible there will still be late harvest grapes, or raspberries, or plums or something you don't have to cut up. I'm having a party Saturday, and I"m going to set out a platter of farm stand seedless concord-type grapes and purple Italian plums.

          Baked beans and cornbread are easy to do in quantity, so I'd say stick with those.

          I would let the chips and dip be one of (or my only) app. If you must do other apps, find one that can be made and frozen well in advance.

          Make sure you can take 1-2 days off work before the event.

          I find that creative table decor makes a big impression on your guests, and that's something you can do WELL in advance.

          Good luck!

          1 Reply
          1. re: danna

            You have been given some great advice!

            Do you have a party rental in your town? You can rent a large convection oven for your gargae, as well as "hotel" pans to put food in (they are the pans that fit into chafers), and a "hot box" a rolling box that will keep food warm- as well as you could rent a fridge type box to keep things the proper temp on the other side of things.

            I work catering too, and we show up on site and assemble for the most part, all is cooked back at catering kitchen- or at least as much as possible. The event company that we rent from sets up location with tables, ovens, you name it, it all comes down to cost- these folks will, free of charge go over your plans with you and give you advice (and of course make suggestions) on what you might need- give them a budget and see if they can work with it.

            Is there a culinary school in your area- where you could procure student for help at good price? 2 people at $10.00 an hour will be the best money you ever spent to keep things moving and to free you up a bit.

            Don't do anything you are not comfortable with, because the day of- you'll really be stressed if anything is out of your league, too much for your nerves, and that would be a shame!

            I think the more choices the better, people love choices.

            Make the buffet 2 sides for ease of getting folks thru the line.

            I have never catered where you made a portion of everything for everyone. Not everyone loves pulled pork, chicken, fruit salad etc., so make enough fruit salad for say 45 people to have 1/4 cup each, enough green salad for 50 to have a handful, 3 pieces of total amount of appetizers for each person, and so on- this isn't a restaurant. I am not saying be cheap- I am being reasonable that not everyone is going to eat one of everything, it just won't happen. Make the most of the least expensive and people will make do. Does that make sense?

            What a wonderful thing to do for your Mother, please take the advice to have help, have people pitch in, asign duties and keep a smile- thing always go wrong and there is nothing like a good attitude to help keep persective on the day!

            Making a master recipe list is KEY. Make a list of each recipe and then collect how much "butter" you'll need, how much "celery" etc., and don't over purchase if possible.

            Keep a few bags of chips, crackers, veggies etc. around to fill in any gaps on table once people have gone thru line.

            Good Luck!!

          2. Lots of good advice here. Yes, it's doable but you need lots of lists and planning and some help.

            1/2 cup portions per person on the sides is what I plan.
            I would ditch the green salad and orzo salad. Make slaw as it goes better with bbq. :)
            You can do the pulled pork in the sauce ahead of time and freeze it. Put it, after it's chilled in the fridge, into plastic freezer bags and freeze flat so as to cut down on space.
            Offer a vegetarian main course because I am sure with 80 people, someone will want a non-meat dish.

            I suggest you take advantage of good quality pre-prepared items where you can; i.e., already shredded cabbage. I've also purchased very good cornbread in the bakery dept. of big box stores like Costco or BJ's. Use canned beans as your base for your bbq'd beans and add things to them to make them "your own".

            Also, unless you have a way to keep hot food "hot", plan around room temp or chilled food. Don't forget the food safety rules.

            Sounds like fun!