Cooking for a crowd can bring out the anxiety in even the best host, but really a big meal for lots of people is just an elevated dinner party.
Coordinating an extra-large meal and making it run smoothly take planning.
Start off making a list. Take pen to paper or open the notepad on your phone. Make an overall outline with the number of people, the theme, a timeline including what you can prepare in advance. Also, schedule in time for yourself to get ready and for a moment to breathe before chaos ensues, said Manhattan-based entertaining expert Francesco Bilotto.
With so many people having food allergies and strong personal preferences, it can be challenging to please a bunch of hungry guests, but remember youre not a short-order cook. It falls on the guests to alert you to any foods they cannot eat, but a generous host will ask and be mindful of peoples restrictions, Bilotto said.
It depends on the gathering and how well you know the guests. Its better to err on the side of caution, he said. If you dont know guests diet needs and restrictions, be sure to prepare a variety of options including vegetarian, gluten-free, meat and so on.
The funny thing is that you may find the meat eaters really enjoying your vegetarian dishes and others dishing up your gluten-free options, Bilotto said.
When to cheat
With so much work to be done, its a smart move to cheat a bit. Buy the baked goods, charcuterie or crudite plate, or even a honey-baked ham.
Bilottos expert tip: Shop the salad bar at your local market. This works out especially well if you need small portions of expensive items like a half-cup of feta cheese or sliced pepperoncini peppers.
Make ahead any dishes you can to open up time on the day of the party, Bilotto said. Italian dishes, roasts, stews and soups can all be made ahead.
The amount of food youll need to serve depends on the guests. Is the get-together all adults or children, too? A ladies book club or a Super Bowl party? The more types of food youll offer, the less youll need of each dish.
Err on the side of too much, especially for a party that lingers, Bilotto said.
Some types of food think Italian or Mexican are crowd-pleasers, and buffets work well with large groups. Let your guests get in on the fun by making the meal interactive. Offer a pasta bar with pesto, marinara and Alfredo sauces. Another idea is a grilled cheese bar (youll need to put someone in charge of the skillet). Stock up on hearty breads and fancy cheeses plus tomatoes and bacon.
The idea works just as well with desserts. Buy doughnut holes, then add a handle with a cake pop stick and provide dips and sprinkles for your guests to create their own concoctions, Bilotto said.
Always be sure to have a pretty pitcher of water and glasses out so guests dont have to go wandering into the kitchen in search of refreshment, Bilotto said.
Make things easy by creating a premixed virgin cocktail and put the alcohol on the side, especially if there are children in attendance, he said. Then spread bottles of wine out on the table so guests dont feel intimidated asking for a drink, Bilotto said.