HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


catering questions

I am having a party for 30-35 people. It's a party to celebrate my 24 yr old son who's moving. So many of the guests will be his age, mixed in with a few family and friends.
I plan to do the apps myself, mostly easy stuff like fruit, cheese & crackers, fresh guacamole, and buffalo chicken tenders.
But I can't see myself doing much more than that due to time and a recent sprained ankle. So here's my question.
If I get the food catered locally and pick it up how should I keep it warm, and how should I serve it? They'll put it in those aluminum trays and some people will put those right out on the table. I don't think I need steaming trays, and possibly the broccoli chicken penne would transfer to a nice serving dish, but the lobster mac n cheese probably would not. Can I serve the lobster mac n cheese in the aluminum tray they give it to me in, or would that look really tacky?
Any other suggestions for making this easier on myself?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. If your occasion is casual, it's not tacky to keep the food in aluminum trays; if you want it to be more upscale, remove food to other serving dishes..it's as simple as that.

    So, you're planning to serve cold pasta and chicken tenders since you're not using steaming trays or chafers?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cherylptw

      No cold pasta, I'll either keep warm in low oven, or try the chafing idea. Same for buffalo wings

    2. I'd serve it out of the aluminum trays but that's me :) You could keep food warm in a low oven or transfer it to warmed platters or crockpots. To make things easier, you could do what my mom always did and hire a neighbor kid to help serve and clean up (and pick up the food if they can drive). I want to say she usually paid about $50 for the day and always felt like she got her money's worth. And the kid was happy!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Hobbert

        Great ideas. Might have to see if can find teenager who drives, cleans and serves. Might be tough in this age of social media ;)

        1. re: molly4669

          If you have a local culinary institute, or a junior college/vocational program that deals w/ the culinary arts, that would be a great place to start looking. Instructors very often know their students' situations and are happy to recommend side-jobs.

      2. I never thought aluminum trays at a party were tacky, it is what it is. :)

        Have a few nice centerpieces (simple flowers in vases or something seasoned themed) and a nice tablecloth for the trays to rest on (with trivets, etc. of course!) and enjoy the time with your son and all the stories you will hear his friends tell.

        Can't wait to read about the party afterwards!

        1 Reply
        1. re: thedryer

          Thanks love your reply. Can't wait to hear friend stories

        2. I would call and ask the caterers if they would be able to use your own dishes- a local restaurant we had would let you drop off casserole dishes or a dutch oven and then pick up the dishes full! Made heating and serving both easy and prettier....

          1. Nothing wrong with serving it straight out of the catering trays... it's not tacky, it's what's commonly expected for a group party because few people have enough 'nice' serving dishes for any large quantity of food.

            1. If you were making this party for your mother and entertaining her friends it would look tacky. BUT for a 24 year old and his friends it would be more than acceptable.
              Chances are they'll be having their beverages in big red cups or drinking beer without pouring into a glass.

              As far as keeping it warm you can get the cheap wire racks that hold the aluminum trays and cans of sterno at Costco or Walmart. No need to use or buy chafing dishes or heat your oven. Tell the caterer you want to pick the food up HOT at a set time close to guest arrival.

              2 Replies
                1. Chafing dishes (steam trays) are handy for keeping the food warm for a couple of hours. For 30-35 guests, you could have the caterer use the smaller pans (10x14?) so that both pasta dishes can fit into one chafing dish, side by side. Keep the extras warm in the oven. The food will look fresher, too :) if there are two small pans of each item, rather than one large one.
                  Or, ask the caterer to use your casserole dishes, and plan to keep hot in the oven until serving time.

                  1. Sorry, I didn't answer your original question. No, would not look really tacky for a casual party, especially for under 30s. My daughter's friends serve directly from the disposable deli trays from costco.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: KarenDW

                      thanks everyone. I am going to the caterer on Saturday so I"m ready to ask him all these questions. I love the idea of using a chafing dish and putting the two smaller pans (10/14) side by side. I will ask if they can do that. Also, for the vegetarians in the crowd, are the choices of two salads enough, or should I add eggplant parmesean or some other choice?

                      1. re: molly4669

                        If it were me, I'd serve the vegetarians a meatless entree option, not just salads While it might be enough quantity-wise, it's gracious to offer a basically equal choice to both the meaties and the notties.
                        Enjoy the party!

                        1. re: mamachef

                          so is eggplant parmesean considered vegetarian? As it contains milk eggs cheese?

                          1. re: molly4669

                            Yes, it's vegetarian but not vegan.

                            1. re: Hobbert

                              :) It sure is. Not to mention, a particularly delicious leftover! Eggplant parm. is perfect hangover food, whether it's you who has the headache or someone else. Topped w/ a poached egg, an easy brunch for the day after the par-tay!!