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Military Retirement Party Catering??

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I have multiple questions here, so stay with me :)

My dad's retiring from 20+ years in the Army and the family is planning a surprise retirement party for him. For the menu, we've talked to a well-known caterer within our area. The estimated price she gave us was around 650 dollars. For the simple finger food we are asking for-chicken wings, fruit, dip-I was wondering if this was a standard charge for catering? Also, how hard do you guys believe it might be to self-cater the event? As I said earlier, we only want simple appetizer type food, and there will be, at the most, 80 people at the party. In the end, I am really looking for any information you guys might have. We ("The Party Planners") are completely new to this, so any guidance would be helpful! Thank you :)

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  1. $650 for 80 people comes out to $8 and change per person. That seems reasonable to me - a single serving of wings (usually 10) is around $8 at the restaurants I frequent, and they are mostly targeting the broke grad student demographic.

    The best advice I can give is to order more of a few things, rather than small amounts of lots of things. If you go the self cater route, you could place a really big take out order from a local restaurant/bar, and supplement with fruit/vegetable/cheese platters from the grocery store or warehouse club.

    1. After 20 plus years, let somebody else have the worries and responsibilities. Do not self cater. How will you enjoy the retiremenrt ceremony while making sure all the last minute details are being taken care of. Let somebody else worry about the lack of serving utensils.

      It will take you a couple of days of shopping to get the stuff, the venue, and the invites out.

      Hard to keep it a secret. $650 for 80 people is money well spent to relieve the tension. Your Dad is leaving the active military community and joining the civilian world. He is under a lot of stress. No reason for your stress putting together a secret party to add to the undercurrents.

      Final thought, how many parties have you thrown involving 80 or more guests?

      Please hire a caterer. Here around Patrick Air Force Base and Port Canaveral Coast Guard Station, competetive BBQ teams have been a favorite. With a limited choice of pork or chicken, beans and kraut.

      Congratulations!

      2 Replies
      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

        When I say cater, I really only need someone to prepare the food, not literally serve the guests, bring plates, silverware and go the "whole nine yards". The party is going to be pretty casual, with just family and friends. His actual retirement ceremony with dinner and speeches, etc. will be a few weeks before, so this is sort of after-party I guess :)

        As far as the surprise, we really just want him to know that we are with him during his transition. Like you said, he is under stress and the last thing he wants to deal with is a party, so we are taking it upon ourself to show that his friends and family are proud of what he does. You're right, the whole process from planning to inviting and much more is definitely not easy, but it is worth it. I'm sure his time spent serving the country was much more of a bother than a party will ever be, though! :)

        1. re: Laurenjo28

          Your parents did a great job in raising you.

      2. Many questions come up OP, in response to your questions;
        location of the party - is there a kitchen, or will caterer have to manage bringing food hot/ reheating it with various caterer's tricks?

        Is there a retirment service just before, or is this a stand-alone event (surprise)?

        Those two ??? are the first that come to mind in terms of option to self cater.

        That being said, having been a caterer for nearly 20 years myself - now teaching cooking - $8 pp is VERY reasonable, considering staff, serving items needed, even just the cost of paper/plastic ware for guests to eat from; these add up quickly if you are trying to arrange them. Food cost alone makes $8 pp very cheap. In fact, I would be concerend about the amount of food PP being provided for that cost. Explore this closely, so you are sure what you are getting, and that the fine print in any paperwork covers your needs.
        Cost pp should be tied to the TIME FRAME of the party; if it is over a meal period, I would be very skeptical that $8 pp is nearly enough to provide enough food for your guests. You can say anything you want on invite ' light aptz. provided... open house.... etc. it doesn't change that if people come to a party during a mealtime, they will want to eat. YOu can't regulate the tummy clock:)
        If you are doing it say - 3-5pm, or later in the evening (if you live somewhere where it is typical to eat dinner at an early hour), you can provide light food - otherwise, as host - your realistic responsibility is to provide enough to satisfy your guests.
        If your budget does NOT allow you to provide enough food over a meal time-frame, it is best to change your event time to match your budget.

        Also, plan for $ of a cake, etc. if you wish this, and plates, forks, napkins for this as well. Plus beverage costs.

        2 Replies
        1. re: gingershelley

          We informed the caterer that we only needed the food delivered to the venue since there will be a kitchen for us to use. As far as a meal being provided, we plan on having the after most people would have had dinner-later that night. His actual ceremony with dinner, speeches, etc. will have passed, so our goal for the party is to have him relax around his friends and family, not have an actual meal. But I understand what you're saying. In the end, I just don't want to be taken advantage of as far as catering when we are ONLY asking for the food to be prepared.

          1. re: Laurenjo28

            Yes, but please realize that preparing food does take time, organization (shopping, planning and cooking0, and whomever you hire deserves to be paid a fare wage for their time, plus a modest profit. This is a business for them, not a give-away.
            I can't tell you how many people in the course of owning or managing catering co's over the years had guests balk at the cost of food - and often, it was only since they simply had a certain number of guests to include, and when you did the mulitplication, the cost was way more than they wanted to pay. Kind of along the lines of 'if you want to play, expect to pay!" was the way I ended up feeling often after doing prosals for folks, then having them look for 'cheaper' services - when really, there wouldn't be such a thing of a quality product.
            Think about it - you can't buy a sandwich for much less than 6-7$ these days....
            If you were to make the items you want for your event, spend a little time figuring out what that might cost to make, then mulitply it by 3x or 4x, that should be about what you should expect to pay

        2. Not sure what region you are in, and not aware of how to find out. So, YMMV...
          In our region (Pacific Northwest) a simple finger food event would be approx. $1200 for full service catering. Party trays from a deli counter would be at least $75 each for that many people.
          The catering quote of $8 per person seems very reasonable to me; depends upon what is included. If you need to reduce the budget, talk with your caterer about options to have few different items, but more of each. Or, get another quote. A second opinion never hurts.