So, You Want To Cater Your Own Party?

Well, being an experienced caterer, I would have to say “Are You Crazy???”.

But, if you are determined to give it a try, just remember that planning a personal or corporate event for a group of people can be an overwhelming task. It requires a great deal of planning; endless hours of slicing, chopping, and cooking; and a great deal of shopping.  Also, you’re going to need a big freezer. The more that you can prepare in advance and freeze, the better off you are. If you don’t  have an additional freezer, see about borrowing freezer space from a friend or family member that does.(This rule only applies if you plan on actually enjoying your own party.)

Depending on the size and location of your event, you may need additional cooking equipment and supplies; tables and chairs; tents; and decorations. You may need to hire a disc jockey or live band. You might need to rent a location to host your event.

Although coordinating all the details takes time and planning, self-catering an event could save you a tremendous amount of money. Before you embark on a self-catered event; keep the following tips in mind:

Tip #1: Get organized! Create some type of system that allows you easy access to everything connected to the event. You might want to create a spreadsheet or use a word processor to create various forms. Perhaps you prefer to buy a notebook and keep everything written down. Regardless of the method you choose, keep it simple and easy to use.

Tip #2: Make lists. Create a list of contact information for all invited guests. Include a column that you can check off if they will or will not be attending. Create a “To Do” list and organize it according to deadlines for each required task. Create checklists to help you stay on track. Make a list of types of cookware, serving dishes, dinnerware, flatware, drinkware, tablecloths, napkins, etc. that will be required to serve the meal.

Tip #3: Create a menu. Make a list of everything you will be serving and the ingredients required to make items from scratch. Be certain to include a list of beverages and alcohol, if it will be served.

Tip #4: Comparison shop online. Once you have compiled your list of requirements, search online for places where you can rent supplies or purchase food in bulk. Many party supply stores offer a wide variety of catering equipment including chafers, steam tables, coffee urns and drink dispensers. Oftentimes, wholesale clubs will provide you with a one-time shopping pass that allows you to purchase at discounted prices without becoming a member of the club.

Tip #5: Develop a schedule. After you develop your menu, determine how much time will be required to prepare the food. Many items can be prepared up to a month in advance and kept frozen. Others can be made a day or two in advance, while some can only be prepared hours in advance. Be certain to allow extra time just in case Murphy’s Law kicks in. Also factor in how much time you will need to set-up tables, decorate, transfer food to serving platters, set-up banquet tables, etc.

Tip #6: Follow-up with invited guests. Allow yourself time to place a phone call or send an email to guests who do not RSVP. It’s best to have an accurate count of how many guests to expect. There’s nothing worse than planning for thirty people and having sixty show up, or vice versa.

Tip #7: Use disposable dinnerware and serving equipment. Now, being an environmentalist it pains me to share this as a tip; however, as a retired caterer, I say this because it eliminates a tremendous burden — particularly when self-catering a large event. Self-catering requires a great deal of physical labor, planning and organization. Use any time-saving or sanity-saving tip you can find and toss the guilt over disposable dinnerware.

Tip #8: Enjoy your event. Chances are good that you will be exhilarated and exhausted after self-catering your event. If you can stay organized and work your plan, you’ll have more time to actually enjoy the event you’ve worked so hard to put together. So, plan, plan, and plan some more so that you can mingle with your guests and participate in your party!

I’m not going to make this a tip, but something  you may also want to consider is security. We had a Christmas party once where several people participated in the planning and cooking. Everyone that participated was allowed to invite 10 people. The night of the event, we lined the driveway with candles in bags of sand for people that had never been there before. By 9:00 PM, we had about twice the amount of people we had estimated. We had a bunch of party crashers, but since individual people had invited other people, it took us  awhile to figure it out. The crashers left amicably, but your just never know.