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Need help with Christmas buffet ideas please

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 
I have been asked to compose 3 menus for a Christmas dinner buffet.
The perimeters are 2 meat choice, with accompaniments (which I can handle), an appetizer and dessert. It is for approx 65-100 ppl at this point and the price point is 15 bucks pp.
This is my first year catering fulltime and I am at a loss.

One of my menu thoughts was a Crab Stuffed Flounder Roulade with a Mornay sauce (figuring that the roulades would hold up well, and be easy for them to pick up, and Pork Tenderloins with Madeira sauce would already be cut into portions.
My concern is cost obviously…..but also presentation.

So my questions are:
What types of entrée dishes could I prepare that have a low cost but high impact appeal? (I feel pretty good about the side dishes, apps and desserts already).
Do any of you have any Christmas menus that I could look at and possibly derive some inspiration from?

I am in a small town, I am not sure if the price point is low or what? Any thoughts?
All we are providing is food, drinks (going to use the punch fountain), and buffet presentation dishes. They have everything for service, (plates, linens, tables etc.)

Some of the ideas I had for the apps were:
Hot crab dip (requested by client for one of the menus)
Hot artichoke dip
Mini crab cakes with roasted red pepper romulade
Beef and blue cheese crustinis

Oh and I was thinking about offering a “soup shot”. I have cruised some catering sites and seen them displayed. How does this work in practical application? And what types of soups would be good for this? Are these mostly for summer months?
Thanks Guys!
Frizbee
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
post #2 of 12
oh FRizbee, frizbee, frizbee.....$15 for food and punch, 2 entrees/aps/dessert

Food only my starting place would be in the high 20's and that's certainly not seafood stuffed fish and pork tenderloin.....and unless the guest count was considerably higher would not include staff.....my staff last night for a casual southwest part for 50 guest ran $750 which if my math is correct comes close to wiping out your income. At the end of the day are you paying them to eat?

Remember, you are doing this to make MONEY, not to give it away.....

First off think less labor, less food cost, less in general......$1000-1500 will not go very far.....

I'm not even sure where to start. I do cocktail parties with 5 passed aps for $15pp.

Think lots of grains, lots of beans, lots of veg......little high end protein.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #3 of 12
Frizbee,

shroomgirl is right. I'm pretty new at running my own shop, too, and I know how important it is to get our names out there, but we end up underpricing ourselves. First off, call local caterers and find out what they'd charge. I've done this from my cell phone not my business phone...:blush: , and have given them the menu my clients have proposed to me. I did this a month ago because I just couldn't come up with a price I felt was fair to me and my client. I had it priced at $15.95pp, and this other guy quoted me at $22pp w/o apps. Mine had apps. Guess what I charged? $24pp! My client had done her homework also, because she jumped at my price. I know that may sound sleazy to some, and I don't do it often, but other companies put their menus out there with prices, so it wasn't exactly a state secret.

One meal I would suggest is Eggplant Napoleans. They're very attractive, can be done vegan, vegetarian, or with meat sauce and hold up well. I don't have an actual recipe, but it would go something like this:

eggplant rounds breaded and fried or baked until cooked through and crispy on the outside I suppose you could use the commercial eggplant for parm.

very thinly julliened carrot, scallion, and zucchini (red pepper would also work)
ricotta (or tofu) mixed with egg (no egg in the tofu, though), Ital spices, salt and pepper

red sauce of your choice

Stack them like this: eggplant, dollop of ricotta or tofu mixture, an attractive handful of julliened veggies placed so as to hang out the sides, eggplant, ricotta, veg, eggplant. Bake until hot. Top with heated sauce just before serving.

edited to add-I collect menus everywhere I go and check on line too. Often I have to adjust my prices to fit my area- for instance, a catering company in Boston can charge a heck a lot more than I can, but at least I have a starting point.
post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
I will be the one doing all the cooking. As far as set up and stuff, goes, it will be myself and at least one other person.
Tables and such will be already set up; it is basically setting up the food.
I will definitely take the advice and talk to the couple other caterers and find out what they would make menu wise. I guess I should start thinking pasta and some small sort of protein accompaniment like shrimp pasta something or other.
The issue I have is there is a guy who did this same event the past couple pf years. One of the criticisms that the group mentioned was he just puts the food on the table. They are looking for more of a “presentation” from me. So I guess in my mind I was thinking along the aspect that in the restaurants, I sold the same flounder dish for 15 bucks, at about $4 cost, so it seemed alright for the dinner. I guess I didn’t take in to consideration that they want 2 dinners essentially for 15 bucks that works out to be less than 7 bucks per dinner (apps, entrée and desert).
Humm…any other ideas guys?
I really appreciate your input thus far.
Frizbee
Oh and Lentil....
I love the way that eggplant dish sounds. So is it like a lasagna set up? Layered and such??
Thanks again
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
post #5 of 12
Frisbee,

No, the eggplant dish is stacked and served as a single stack. I'm sure it would work as a lasagna dish/eggplant parm sort of dish, but I've found that although the ingredients are simple enough, the presentation is what makes the dish. I have one of those tools that's like a peeler but makes jullienne strips from the vegetables. When they hang out of the layers, it looks impressive. You layer the veggies uncooked (the eggplant, however is cooked) and they soften enough during the baking process but stay firm enough to still look nice.
post #6 of 12
I see rice in your future...:rolleyes:

The napoleons are great, I do a very similar version with potatoes, onions, and mushrooms. (slice and cook the potatoes in a mixture of cream, butter, thyme, salt & pepper, bay leaf until almost done. Take out and layer w/ sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions. yummy. If they seem too slippery they can be skewered with a rosemary stem.)

Basmati pilaf? Beautiful, smells great, taste great, and cheap.

Ready-made tortillini skewered with cherry tomatoes and mozzarella drizzle with a lemon-thyme viniagrette. EASY!!

I, too, would lighten up on the amount of protein ($$$) you are going to serve. If they aren't insisting on plated dinners (which for your sake I hope so) and they want seafood - how about a seafood tray with smoked salmon rolled into cornets and filled with a horseradish cream cheese, steamed shrimp, marinated crab claws, and a lot of garnishes, diced red onion, lemon halves, horseradish, capers, toast points, and piles of leaf lettuce and parsley. Makes a little seafood ($$$) go a long way.

Shrimp pasta is good. Twirl a small stack of linguini or angel hair and place a single shrimp on top - sprig of watercress - slice of cherry tomato. Color is good.

Can you do chicken or is the seafood a must?

Don't forget that people eat with their eyes first. If it looks good, they are already poised for it to be good. Follow this with actually having great food and you'll have more business than you can handle. Good luck.
post #7 of 12
I use food as garnish on buffet tables.....lemons, parsley, eggplants, pomagranites etc.....go down to produce row and pick up some cases you can then use for other parties.


* Remember you can garnish with pricey ingredients and make it cheap/good memorable.
65-100 Christmas buffet with aps....so 2 in the kitchen, that means stationary aps. How about Italian veg platter.... with loads of grissini?
or Mediterranean.....hummos, pita chips, tiziki, tapenade.....

Or layered cheesey thing.....cream cheese mixed with spices, layered with artichoke hearts and charred peppers so you have the red and green....crackers.
Big thing of red pepper hummos, pita chips
Veg platter

Dinner Buffet......chicken stretches well....chicken thighs are cheap.....chicken mirabelle is killer and inexspensive

Or make a really rich cream fish sauce and put krab (abomination but for $15 such a deal), fish chunks, etc serve on basmati or pasta
Or wild mushroom pasta....black trumpets are $19 # dried. use 2 cups with a bunch of fresh buttons, cream and a hit of brandy use it as a pasta sauce

How about stuffed red and green peppers....says Holiday season to the cheap.....
Chicken spinach cannaloni.....
Ricotta spinach shell
Pork loin cut into small pieces with apricot/mustard sauce, pineapple, sweet potatoes

Lots of salad.....load out on a big gorgeous salad

Vegetables

Bread, butter

Prebought cream puff crochem buche....pretty, cheap to make.... if dessert is stationary. Or check out sweet street or buy cheese cake and make a simple sauce. ave $1.10 a slice which is about the speed you want.

If the count comes in low then you are not making any money. I'd set a minimum guest count for the $15 rate. In other words 90- 100 guest $15pp
65 guests $18pp .....that way you walk away with alittle jingle.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #8 of 12
Thread Starter 
This menu is still in the inception stage.
It can be whatever, the only direction was, something without onions (at least one entrée, one of the priests is allergic), 2 entrees, veg, starch, app and dessert.
So shoot your ideas this way.
I merely thought of a seafood choice b/c I am on the coast and I know that flounder is relatively inexpensive; however you all did bring to my attention that seafood may not be the way to go. I was really only thinking at the time of the entrees, not the rest of the meal. Probably a common rookie mistake, which is why I am asking you all more, seasoned catering professionals.

So stuff that sounds fancy, and can look fancy but not expensive in cost is what I am seeking.
What is Chicken Mirabelle?
I love the idea of stuffed peppers, maybe cut them length wise and to cut down on portion? Sort of like an open-face pepper? What do you think?
And what is chicken spinach cannelloni? Sounds delicious. I was even thinking about just a stuffed chicken breast with like baby spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and maybe some brie?
Also I thought of the type of app you’re proposing with the Taziki sauce (Yes apps are very stationary) b/c I love med flavors; however I didn't want it to seem too themed? If that makes sense? And I also have to come up with 3 menu choices.
I am not opposed to overlapping ideas for the menus like the same sides (salads, and fruit and desserts) but I think the app and entree should change? Am I off base?
Frizbee
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
post #9 of 12
Thread Starter 
Can be anything at all
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
Do what you do with passion....the rest will fall into place..
Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  ~Rev. Run
Our Lives are not in the laps of gods, but in  the laps of our cooks.
  ~Lin Yutang
Reply
post #10 of 12

Um...ok, just some quick questions...

I guess it may sound kind of mundane but have you formalized any kind of written contract with these people yet?

I'm having a little trouble with the idea that they are assuming you're going to provide not one, but TWO full catering menus (on two different days or?) for that amount. I'm also wondering about giving them a quote PP without pricing an agreed upon set menu. :eek:

Yes, mistakes can be made and we all make them at one point or another, so don't feel too bad.

In any event, you need to sit down, develop a few menus, (which you're doing) price them out and present them to your people.

You might want to invest in a couple of books to help with the business end. There are a few really informative books (like How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business by Denise Vivaldo or Guide to Successful Catering by Sony Bode) that can guide you through some of the business aspects of running a catering business.

Like it was said before, you are not a soup kitchen. It's easy to get lost in the preparation and cooking aspect, but that won't last long if you go broke doing it.

(I know because I have a huge problem with that part :p )

So, where are you at with the contract part? That would really help with any suggestions as to what to do next.

April
post #11 of 12
In my not-so-learned opinion, if you're going to go with stuffed peppers, you should go with one that's really unique, not the usual ground beef, rice, tom sauce one. How about one with chicken and smoked mozzarella or one with currents (or raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit), lamb (or other ground meat, but lamb is delicious in this one), and some things I can't remember but have the recipe at work? You could use red and green peppers for a great visual presentation. Last Christmas, I made a cole slaw with roasted beets, red cabbage, and bleu cheese that was also stunning to look at- it tasted good too.:p

Chicken Marbella is from the Silver Palate cookbook. It's really wonderful and elegant. chicken breast, dried plums (prunes- but I never say that or I wouldn't sell any...)capers, olives, white wine, sugar, lots of garlic and oregano (if I'm remembering right). Perhaps served on egg noodles or with flavored mashed potatoes? Green beans and red pepper strips sauteed and tossed with a little soy and sherry or just a little butter? The chicken isn't all that "colorful", but your veg and sides could jazz it up.

Piedmont stuffed peppers? Half a red pepper with tomato, olive oil, garlic, and a sardine that melts and no one will ever know it's there...Roasted until everything melts together. Again, simple and pretty.

For an app, I sometimes buy a case of 100 spanokopita for about $50. I know that's pricey for what I could make them for on my own, but I hate making them. They look nice and people like them. I also like to do a cheese board. Get 4 or 5 cheeses- I usually get what I know most people will go for- cheddar, bleu, gouda- whatever. Use a nice board and arrange them on there with some cheese knives. Make sure you start the cuts in them so people will dare to eat them. I think a cheese board can look a little intimidating- no one wants to be the one to mess it up. A platter or basked of good crackers along side.

Or a savory cheesecake and crackers?


I'm hungry. Got to go have something for breakfast.
post #12 of 12
ok one more time every one.....
$15 for a 2 entree buffet with aps, punch beverage, desserts, setup, decorations.

65 guests @ $15 =$1000
100 guests @15=$1500

That includes everything...... so you don't want very high food costs, nor to put alot of energy into this....

I assume you have liability ins, permits/licenses, etc....remember those cost $.

OK.
Aps, tziaki is cheap and easy, pita chips can be bought in bulk
hummos again cheap/easy
cream cheese dip ditto

chafers generally rent for $20 each....you'll have 4....

Chicken Mirabelle is actually better with bone-in thighs
Rice is easier/cheaper than mashed potatoes
Stuffed peppers cut in half lengthwise using ground beef/rice with red sauce works
Big green salad with toppings.....this is where some interesting garnishes go far.....hearts of palm, mandrian oranges, dried cranberries, croutons
Veg dujour.....whatever looks best at the market (and cheapest)
butter/rolls

Cheese cake with sauce

Punch....are you providing the bowl/cups/ice?

I would price out food $15, then staff $x hour, then equipment


Stuffing chicken breasts is not only time but way more money than the budget......

Stuff cannoloni tubes or shells using a pastry tube, with ricotta, garlic, cooked spinach, parmesan......sundried tomatoes ok too.....then top with a red sauce and bake sheets of it. Cheap, easy, good eats. Gasp, look to see pricing for premade ones, it may be worth just buying them done.

FRUIT IS A HIGH TICKET ITEM......THIS IS A LOW_NO BUDGET EVENT.

You are trully understaffed. Four of us worked the party last Sat. for 50 guests...same type gig....stationary aps, buffet dinner, assorted finger desserts, though there was a bar. Disposable placesettings. 4 staff 7 hours each.
The only thing we did on site was grill off chicken, beef, veg and warm tortillas.

Who is running the floor for YOU? taking care of the punch, glasses, dirty glasses, napkins, setting up the buffet, clearing plates, making sure theres water, cleaning spills, answering questions?

*Good luck remember you do not get filet with a hamburger budget. Some jobs are ok to walk away from.
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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