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Doing my Largest Catering - all from a home kitchen!

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
A word about me - I'm a personal chef here in Portland, Oregon - and have been doing really well for the past 4 years. In the past couple of years, I began incorporating in-home catering as part of my offerings. (mostly out of the need to be flexible, and get income wherever I could!)

I've always kept the parties fairly small - because I do it all out of the client's home kitchen. This means coming the day before the party to prep, and arriving early the day of the party to prep, cook and set up. Its not ideal, of course, but it works and it keeps my overhead down.

Anyway - I'm doing a party for 75 people - which is the largest I've ever agreed to do out of a home kitchen. I told the client we had to keep the menu very simple, in order to make it work. And all the food will be served room temperature - over a 3 hour party.

The menu is:

* Grilled Lemon Oregano Chicken Thighs (thighs were the client's request)
* Red Bliss Potato Salad w/Chive Creme Fraiche
* Roasted Vegetable Platter w/Balsamic Drizzle
* Baby Green Salad w/Homemade Dressing
* Homemade Bread w/Garlic Herb Butter
* Coffee Service w/Birthday Cake

There will be no appetizers, and it will all be buffet style. The party is supposed to begin at 1pm, and end at 3:30 or 4pm. The guests will be a mixture of men/women, mostly Asian, and range in age from mid-20's to 60's.

My question is - I'm having trouble with quantities. I've never done anything this large (I know some of you are probably laughing your arse off right now!!:o) and don't know how much to buy.

Specifically:

* How many chicken thighs per person - 2?
* How many giant tubs of green salad?
* How many veggies to buy?
* How many pounds of potatoes?

The rest of it I know I can figure out.
post #2 of 18
first question. where are you going to store the raw products and then the platters when they are finished.??
Do you have help.??
Chick Thighs bone in or out?
Baby green salad? do you mean Mescline mix? what do you call a tub?? it comes 3 pounds to the box /
Dressing 2-2 1/2 ounces per person
tomatoes, cukes. croutons????? anything else in salad
cake 3/4 sheet
coffee all de caf 2 lbs, sugar, swt low 1/2 and 1/2
Tea available
You state mostly Asian, therefore they will eat plenty of roasted veges and salad. Young people eat a lot, older people do not.
Start with
10 zuchs sliced,/ 10 yello squash sliced/ large musroom caps/ 1 doz red 1 doz green peppers, 6 sliced red onion/4 eggplants sliced/ 6 large blanched sliced on bias carrots/ and whatever other kind you can gather, grill day before this takes some prep and cooking time.
Potato salad 5 ounces per person total mix, not 5 ounces of potatoe, cook potatoes day before.
On preplated parties I figure 40-48 people to a case of mesclin mix, when you include the garnish .
Hope this helps some.
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Also if chick only protein, younger people will eat more then 2, especially male gender woman 2 is ok. I suggest boneless. So as they do not have to pick up with hands
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post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 
One worry I have is that the client requested that we put out platters, set up the coffee station and leave. She said she would be responsible for replenishing the platters during the party, serving the cake and cleaning up. (this was to reduce the overall labor costs)

SHould I leave bags of potato salad, mesculun mix, bread & butter etc. for her to refill - or is this just too much for one person to be responsible for?? I tried to talk her out of it, but her budget was sooooo tight and she really wanted the food catered. So this was the compromise. Yet I'm worried it will reflect badly on me if she doesn't keep up with the replenishing etc.
post #4 of 18
If I were you and looking to build up a business, I would come back and make an appearance after function starts.
And most caterers always figure xtra , in case more people show. That is why when we charge by the head we always add extra $$$ to cover any incadental that could come up.
And if nothing else always remember this, To be a caterer""" You must always expect the unexpected"""
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post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
I don't want to come across the wrong way - but building up my business and "expecting the unexpected" are not my worries right now. I am probably one of the most successful personal chefs here in Portland, and have done lots of catering over the years with nary a problem. In fact, 99.9% of my catering business is by word of mouth, and I operate most of the year with a waiting list. :chef:

I say all that to say that I'm not fearful that the food won't be delicious, or that I don't know what I"m doing in terms of beautiful presentation or customer service.

My two fears are that I am not familiar with quantities of food to buy for this type of event. Fear #2 is that the client won't be able to handle the replenishing aspect of the event. I've never done an event where a) I don't stay throughout and b) I cooked for this many people.

The client also assured me that her home couldn't accommodate any more than 75 people, and she is sending out 75 invitations. (So 75 will be if every single person shows, which isn't very realistic.)

If anyone else with experience would please pipe in - I would be really grateful!!
post #6 of 18

Hi from Salem

I've been Catering 15 plus years (owned 2 Restaurants & Dessert shop), 75 is not going to be much harder other than the logistics (refer space etc) The quantities you were given should be just fine, however some other variables will depend on your budget, if you aren't too tight I would leave a little more than you anticipate or volunteer your time for an hour or so and chalk it up to a learning experience. If you are there to "man" the station then you have more control over the volume being replenished and may not have to put out more food. I find when it is an unmanned event you always go through all the food,however when myself or staff are there 9 out of 10 times we bring food back. This could be the begining of a lot of larger events and you would benefit from watching the ebb & flow of guests as well as their eating habits. My last event was 450 people at the Oregon gardens and I actually brought twice as much as I needed ( and I was massively shocked we had so much left) only half was put out and the rest was completely viable for another event.
If you need more info feel free to e-mail me @ thedessertdiva@msn.com
HTH
Joan
post #7 of 18

another way to look at it

you have some good advise and guidelines here but here's another way to look at it. Figure that people can eat between 1 - 1.5# of food in the course of the meal


Grilled Lemon Oregano Chicken Thighs (thighs were the client's request)
* Red Bliss Potato Salad w/Chive Creme Fraiche
* Roasted Vegetable Platter w/Balsamic Drizzle
* Baby Green Salad w/Homemade Dressing
* Homemade Bread w/Garlic Herb Butter
* Coffee Service w/Birthday Cake

figure 6-9 oz protein especially if there are bones
( I would guess 2- 2.5 thighes per guest - not that much meat on a thigh)

4 oz of grilled veggies

4-6 oz of potato salad (potatos are heavier than veggies if that makes sense, so a spoon full of potato salad will weigh more than a spoon full of carrot salad or mixed greens)

a good handful of salad per person (check out what that means for your tub and make notes for the future)
normally people might not eat mixed greens, but you have a limited menu, so
I would guess about 12 people to the #

if the bread is homemade, then a few slices per guest (at least 3)

and have them ask the bakery how big a cake to get,
depending on what they consider a sheet cake
for example costcos sheet cake which many lay people would buy is really only a half sheet but could be stretched to feed 50-60.

I definitely agree that people take more when it's self service, whether they eat it all or not. However, another thing to remember is when the food is delicious, eg homemade bread, people will definitely eat more.

as for leaving the food in bags for her to replenish, eg potato salad and mesculin - that's probably doable for her and stores better in the frig
but I would layout the platters of chicken and grilled vegetables. That's harder to make look nice without taking time and effort. and lets face it, its still your reputation.

another way to look at a bigger party is to break it down to smaller parties x zyz amount. eg a party for 400 is like 4 parties for 100 - of course your margins of excess need to decrease. Like you may need 10-20% overage for a small party but only 5-8% for a large party.

but if you were doing this for 15 guests, how much would you prepare and then multiply by 5. It's good to "check" yourself in different ways. I still think the total poundage works well too because if you have 3# of food per person you know its way too much but if you only have 12 oz total its way too little.

Much of this is art as well as science, since based on demographics, age, ethnicity, etc people eat different amounts and will gravitate to certain foods.


By the way, I have found that Asian woman, at a mixed party do not eat very much. at least at my events.

we have an Asian wedding coming up in 2 weeks and I have to keep reminding myself of that. Still all in all, I find extra food to be good insurance. Of course its harder when its a drop off because if you totally overdo it, next time they will cut back.
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post #8 of 18
200 - 240 (twenty doz) thighs (bone out thighs go fast).
10 lbs mesclun -- while I sympathize with Ed's mescaline suggestion I fear we're all getting too old.
1 doz "1 pound" country loaves (actually 1-1/2 pounds)
20 lbs potatoes
150 cups of coffee -- probably four 50 cup urns, two regular, one decaf, and one water for tea

I need more information about the birthday cake to give you quantities. Layer cake, or sheet cake? If sheet cake, a full sheet which you'll buy as two half sheets will be more than enough. You get about 40 - 50 per half sheet.

BDL
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post #9 of 18
what they said.....only let her deal with beverages, unless you have cambros setting up coffee for 75 is a bear unless you have industrial sized pots and storage shtuff.

cups, stirrers, cream/sugar/sweetner/skim/ lemon and honey with tea, trash container right there......loads of signage.....
cooking with all your senses.....
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post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
Wow - lots of varied answers here! :) You suggest almost 3 1/2 chicken thighs per person? WOW! THat's a lot more than the 2-2.5 per person suggested above.

I talked to a friend of mine who caters and she suggested 1-1 1/2 thighs per person.

I"M SO CONFUSED NOW!! I don't want to cut into my profits so deeply that I don't make any money. Perhaps I highly underestimated the grocery costs for this job. I planned on spending no more than $500 bucks on food.

The cake is being bought and paid for by the client BTW - so thats not an expense or worry for me.
post #11 of 18
A 40# case of boneless skinless chicken thighs wholesales for $50-60
it will be more than enough for 75 guests. not available local.....

50# new/B potatoes $18......local tatoes $2#

3# box of spring mix $8, local greens $9#

I made rolls yesterday....16 cups of flour, yeast, 1 cup sugar, 6 eggs, 1.5 cups oil, salt.....made enough for 55 guests. total cost maybe $5.

Add your salad goo, dressing, creme fraish,oregano, lemon, olive oil, butter, garlic, etc you are still way under $300.

Coffee will be a bear unless you have commercial equipment. Brewing coffee, 1/2 & 1/2, skim, sweetner, sugar, cups, stirrers, etc.....have cambros/signage. If you have tea, honey/lemon......
To avoid extra, you can either go all decaf if it's at night, or regular with herbal tea option......
Frankly if it's a low budget gig I'd ditch the coffee service.

** The biggest difference in large events is having industrial equipment.....large platters, bowls, coffee urns, serving pieces, table cloths, etc.....shtuff.....which reminds me, table cloths from last night need to go in washing machine. Signage.
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post #12 of 18
People eat more boneless skinless than they do on the bone. I don't know why. If the dish is heavily sauced, you could cut that down to the 1, 1-1/2 suggested by your friend -- but the dish is grilled. If the thighs were cut into pieces for brochette, you could get away with 1-1/2 to 2 person. But you didn't say en brochette. If the thighs are whole, most people will take two. A few will take 1, but more will take seconds.

Two more things to consider are people eat more from a buffet than they do at table service; and chaffers must be kept full throughout service (so there's more waste). Also, implicit in my numbers was the suggestion you buy in available wholesale quantities. As you'll presumably be buying by the case, you can't specify some specific number of thighs. I was trying to suggest 2+ boned out thighs per person, about 30 pounds (boned and skinned) or 180 - 200 thighs. I had an arithmetic infarct, and apologize. I suppose you could cut it down a few pounds, since there's no way they're going to keep the platters fully loaded themselves, and will let the buffet table go to hel.

If chicken costs cut into your profits, you're cutting your prices too close. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs in these sorts of quantities should run you around $1+ a pound, with four or five skinless, boneless to the pound. You shouldn't be looking at more than $75 for chicken, tops.

If you're buying whole thighs, the bill should be less but ... I can skin, bone, half (or quartered, six or eight) a dozen thighs in about 3 minutes -- or about 30 seconds per thigh; pump the time up to around 45 seconds if I'm doing enough thighs that I have to stop now and then to steel my knives, i.e., about once every two and a half dozen; and I'm among the fastest person I know when it comes to boning poultry. Figure double my time for non-freaks-of-nature. If you're doing it yourself, you want at least two others helping. Figure paying for the time, and you can see why I suggest buying boned and skinned.

Finally, if you're considering top quality, top price birds, you're drastically undercharging. Your $6.70 per head for food only is not ridiculously low, but not generous either. I would have gone $10 per and dressed the menu up with a little luxury -- but it's not only too late now, there's no reason you should be me. One is enough.

Good luck,
BDL
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post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 
If I took a small bite on this one, what "luxuries" would you have dressed the menu up with? I'd love to know, because I'd love to make this client happy - I'm pretty sure she'll use me again.

Keep in mind, that I have to work in a very confined space, with little refrigeration, only 1 oven and 1 smallish grill. And that I am not going to be on-site during the event.
post #14 of 18
I would agree w/ boar_d_laze about pre-plating your chicken and Vegi platters. You can make it look like you want, and all the client will have to do is set the platters out on the table.
As far as chicken thighs, we typically figure in 1-1.5 thighs/guest (bone-in) at the events we cater with another meat. So I would think that 2.5-3/guest should cover it. I always try and get a visual of what the typical plate will have on it when leaving the buffet, and I've rarely seen anyone walking away from our buffet lines (self service or portion served) with more than two thighs on their plate.
Just my two cents.
post #15 of 18
Your current menu gives you enough to deal with. At this point, if I were you I'd stick with it, rather than adding to it. But I'd do extensive fresh herb garnishing, some great breads (with your menu probably an herb/pepper cheese biscuit, and an olive focaccio, and add a small app plate built around spiced cheese and marinated vegetables; and perhaps a ratatouille (heavy on the capers).

I understand your menu was largely set by your client; I also think that you and I have very similar styles in some ways and in others are very different. I wonder how well they'd mesh. Possibly quite well, and possibly not at all. Anyway, I like your menu a lot as is. It's simple, has a few strong tastes, and a solid theme as an "elegant picnic." I like the way the chicken stars. I like the "Americanness." And I like the way the meal doesn't take away from the birthday cake. A lot of people don't know how or won't let themselves be simple. It's a wonderful thing and you shouldn't second guess it too much.

I understand that the size of the event, plus your non-presence are completely new to you. The best advice I can give is to bear in mind that you're a very competent cook who makes great food -- and when push comes to shove everything else is something else. So, trust your palate, and ...

Good luck,
BDL
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post #16 of 18
Thread Starter 
BDL - You're right, the menu was meant to be kept simple for obvious reasons. Plus I didn't give all the garnishes and extraneous salad toppers & types of breads offered etc. when I posted. I was just trying to get the quantities and a generalized menu out there.

I should remind myself that I'm talking with other chefs who might need those details to really get a "feel" for the whole menu! :) LOL! DUH!

I did try to steer the client towards some appetizer selections, but they were eliminated when she began himming and hawing over the budget.

Lastly - about you and I being alike/not alike, I think its hard to tell anything about a chef based on one menu that the client determined! :) But generally, my food is not about being flashy, but allowing it to speak for itself. Its all about layering simple flavors together, using organic and local ingredients, and giving it a very earthy but elegant presentation that leaves the guest anticipating consumption!

Given the constraints of always working in my client's home kitchens, advanced prep is a luxury and simple garnishing, straightforward techniques and fresh ingredients tend to work best for me. My standards are very high for quality - as you can imagine the clients get to see every raw ingredient I'm using. Anything pre-fab is simply a no-no, and I don't buy frozen products and "dress it up" like many caterers do. My motto: Everything from scratch keeps it honest and real, and everything tastes the way nature made it!
post #17 of 18
Good luck with the event! I hope everything flows smoothly and satisfies the host. You are confident and capable with smaller events and will surely deliver with this one, too.
I am curious why you chose to take on an event of this size?
Would you have declined the offer in the past?
At what volume would you hire help?
Have you had to invest in more equipment?
post #18 of 18
Thread Starter 
To answer a few of your questions - yes, I normally would've declined an event this size in the past. But she is a current (personal chef) client of mine, so its harder to say no when you know them personally!

As far as what volume I would hire help...?? I don't plan on doing caterings of this size as a regular thing. In fact, I'm booked right now through Feb. 1st with personal chef clients. I only do caterings when personal chef work is slow, and I need the money or during the holidays.

In terms of investing in equipment, I haven't. I usually require the client to rent whatever I might need - with the exception of a lot of platters. I have a LOT of platters!
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