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Self Cater an Evening Fundraising Event


I am working with a volunteer group to coordinate our first evening silent auction as a fundraiser for my son's elementary school. Our budget is low (about $1000 for 150 people) so we are self-catering the event. We have been to BJs to price out various items and have the following on our menu:

cheese platter - gouda, brie, sharp cheddar, goat, havarti, pepper jack, crackers, grapes
antipasti - proscuitto, salame, pepperoni, mixed olives, artichokes, french bread
veggie tray w/homemade ranch
shrimp cocktail
bacon wrapped scallops
pigs in a blanket
risotto bites
spring rolls
chicken satay
hummus & pita
chips & salsa
dessert - mini brownies & cupcakes

We may try to get a couple local restaurants to donate some sushi. This doesn't exactly max out our budget. I'd love to add something like grilled veggies but don't exactly have the time to make it, given everything else that has to happen the day of the event.

With the individual pieces, we have about 3-4 pcs per person. Is that enough? Any thoughts on the menu? Other ideas of what we might be able to serve that would be easy to execute, store and then serve that night.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. My understanding for a cocktail type party the rule of thumb was 6-8 pieces per person, per hour. My gut is if the budget is tight pare back on the offerings and increase the per person amounts otherwise just increase the amounts.

    In terms of the menu couple of easy make ahead ideas to consider-

    Mini meatballs in crock pots
    Bowls of seasoned popcorn-Parmesan, salt and black pepper, truffle, etc
    Trays of baked pasta-veggie lasagna, etc

    1 Reply
    1. re: foodieX2

      Agree with the other posters. 3-4 pieces per person isn't much so I'd try to cut corners and have more pieces per person. Especially if you get donated sushi - shrimp and scallops are really unnecessary then.

      I would stay away from trays of lasagna. Then it goes to needing knives, dinner plates, forks as opposed to passed cocktails and napkins or even an appetizer buffet where you can get by with smaller plates and no cutlery.

    2. Agreed with the notion that this is too many items. Not only is it a lot more work, but it makes figuring out the amounts needed more difficult.
      In addition it is a fund raiser, people do not expect an orgy of food.
      Pick 4-8 depending on how long the event is going to last.

      1. Is this an early evening event? Will it be close to dinner time?
        I agree with others, less variety with more per person. Skip the pricey prosciutto and shrimp cocktail- no matter how much shrimp you buy you will run out of it first.

        What about different flatbread pizzas? Make a thin rectangular pizza and then serve small squares- a few versions with simple yet "fancy" toppings like pesto and fresh arugala, a margharita, a white pizza with fresh herbs....
        Also to save $ you could do bacon wrapped asparagus instead of the scallops (the scallops may be hard to cook in a large volume and then serve without having them overcook to rubbery...)

        Instead of grilling the veggies you could roast them (even the day before) so its hands off cooking- roasted radishes are my new favorite thing. Easy enough with just salt and pepper, olive oil and a drizzle of basalmic.

        1. I would decrease the number of offerings. I think by having a lot of items but not enough of any one thing for everyone to have a taste will result in shortages, as people will expect to try one of each offering. I would also go for more items per person, as other have said.

          Looking at the list, I would ditch the shrimp and scallops as being pricier per item, and reduce the single portion appetizers to two or three at most, with one being vegetarian.

          1. Grabable fruit might be a good bet......grapes cut into little bunches, sections of citrus, plums, strawberries.....

            1. If you are blessed with lots of appropriate volunteers (i.e., with serving experience), another way to optimize your portions is to pass some items on trays. In my experience, guests will take one, to try, but not four :) [full disclosure, I am a personal chef & private caterer, and serve 100+ guests frequently]
              If you're keen to serve shellfish, the shrimp and scallops are ideal for waiter-passed bites, as are spring rolls, satay (make them 2 bites per stick) and hummus with pita "sticks"

              1. I just got home from our school's annual PTA fundraiser this evening. This is the fourth one I've headed up and I learn a little more each year.

                Unless your school has a history of swanky auctions, most guests won't be expecting a lot food-wise, as the goal is to raise the maximum $$ for the school. We go very casual--the evening is a 2-part family event: auction and bingo. As such, we go casual for food, with the emphasis on tasty and filling, but not worried about impressing people.This year we did made-to-order sub sandwiches and chicken Caesar salads. Desserts were donated by parents and we had a "dessert dash" as a fundraising segment of the evening.

                If you want to keep things more upscale, perhaps have a couple of cost-effective but filling items and then a couple of nicer items in small, bite-sized servings. The suggestion of passed trays is a great one. Getting donations from food vendors is also a great idea. We had more outside donations from the community this year (not directly food) and I was so pleasantly surprised at the generosity of businesses.

                Good luck!

                1. Hi all,

                  Thanks so much for the input. Our event is from 7-10pm, food available until about 9pm (or when it's gone). I was struggling with the menu because much of the items on the initial menu are items I would not eat. I think I want to high-end but we have a low-end budget. As such, I went back to BJs and decided on 3 cold passed apps (spanikopita, veggie spring rolls and risotto bites), 2 hot apps (chicken satay & cocktail meatballs).

                  We'll fill in with hefty cheese/antipasti platters, chips/salsa, hummus/pita and maybe a veggie/grilled veggie tray depending on what time permits.

                  That brings me to about 900 pcs (6 per person) not counting the cheese platters. We have parents donating mini cupcakes & brownies for dessert.

                  I think we can do all this for $400-$450, much below the budget, which is what I was hoping to do.

                  Thanks again for all the helpful suggestions!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: csprunger

                    "spanikopita, veggie spring rolls and risotto bites"
                    These should all be served Hot or Warm not Cold.

                    1. re: chefj

                      I was just going to say the same thing! None of those are good cold or room temp.

                    2. re: csprunger

                      Now that you've decided to present waiter passed items, might I suggest that all the serving volunteers wear the same sort of clothes (i.e., all white tops/black pants, or similar, and shirts with collars if possible)... and no aprons, to emulate higher-end service.

                      1. re: csprunger

                        my bad - I meant 3 veggie apps and 2 protein apps. All hot & passed.

                      2. I also cook for large groups on a regular basis..even though your event time is scheduled past dinner hour, you'll have people who will be by passing dinner to nibble at your event so keep that in mind when you tally up the count per person.

                        I'm wondering if it's possible to order your food, at least in part, through the school's food service vendor? It will probably be cheaper than Costco/BJ's etc.

                        Cheese is expensive; instead of such a large variety, reduce your selections to 3 or four cheeses and use frilled picks or small skewers with a cube of cheese and a grape. Proscuitto, shrimp, and bacon are all budget busters if using for large crowds and if they are a main focus like bacon wrapped scallops.

                        One item that's easy to make and serve is mini ham biscuits; you can get a boneless ham, slice it on the school's meat slicer paper thin and serve it on a tiny biscuit (about 2-3 inch cutter) with a raisin mustard sauce (raisins soaked in tamarind juice then pureed with mustard). This will serve a ton of people and is very cost effective. It does not need a fork or plate. Skewer it with a pick.

                        I love the idea of assorted flavored popcorns, but not in bowls. I dislike that people will put their hands in a common bowl, even with a scoop available. I'm doing a wedding in a couple of months and am serving popcorn in small paper bags as part of the cocktail hour.