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Catering Options for Parties

Should you hire a caterer or arrange for pre-made food from a restaurant? It helps to know your options.

For those of us who love to throw parties, the planning portion is as much fun as the actual event. We always want to enjoy our guests. It is important to be able to circulate without having to fuss too much over drinks and food service.

In the pre-planning stages, you'll decide what type of party to hold, when, and a rough number of guests to be invited. You'll also begin building a menu; it may be based around a theme or simply be an excuse to entertain.

This is the time to determine whether you'll serve an array of bite-sized foods from a buffet table or a complete hearty meal, which can be a buffet or a sit-down affair. Hors d'oeuvres are an easy and affordable solution, and they can still be hearty enough to satisfy all your guests' appetites.

Service options include:
Ordering takeout specialty foods from a restaurant
Ordering takeout foods from a deli - either in the grocery section or local specialty store
Making the food yourself
A combination of the above
Hiring a caterer and/or bartender

For instance, if you want to serve Italian food, you could make such items as meatballs ahead of time for the crockpot. Combine that type of food with trays of pre-cooked lasagna from a restaurant that can be warmed in the oven. Pick up breads the day of the event from a bakery. You can mix and match any number of foods in this manner and still have plenty of time to relax before the party.

For a Mexican party, you will certainly want to rent a margarita machine, which may be available from your favorite restaurant. Ask them about the cost of supplying party-sized quantities of their house chips and salsa as well. You can make the rest of the meal ahead of time at home.

These are just a couple of ideas to show you how to branch out and combine the skills of outside professionals with your own.

It's always good to have a balance of hot and cold foods. Decide what food items will be the easiest for you to prepare and service out the remainder. Make sure that any foods you take on can be prepared ahead of time. You don't want to be dashing off to the kitchen for cooking and chopping tasks; you should only be in there long enough to remove food from the oven and to replenish trays.

If you decide to solicit help from a friend, or a friend-of-a-friend, prepare a little goodie bag to take home along with cash, if appropriate. Let them know in advance what is expected, so there won't be any misunderstandings.

If you're a gourmet cook and have the kitchen facilities to handle special foods, then a sit-down dinner from your own oven should be no challenge. However, if you want to host an affair such as this for more than eight people, you probably should consider a caterer or, at the very least, assistance with serving.

If you're hiring a caterer, you only need to request an RSVP a couple of days before the party. If you are planning to pre-order and/or serve your own food, then the RSVP should be requested for a minimum of five days before the event. Remember that some people simply will not respond, while others may simply forget and show up anyway. If you have time, phone those who have not committed.

Whether you are planning an elaborate affair or a simple party on a budget, it's easy to create a warm and welcome atmosphere where family and good friends can have a great time.

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