Catering + Large Group Ideas

Catering – Is it right for your reunion?

by Karen Luna Ray

Let’s face it! Not everyone wants to cook for the gathering masses. When it comes to reunions, most folks prefer to spend their time visiting and spend their money to make that possible

Potluck on reunions

Potluck may work well for some reunions, but the responsibility of coordination still falls on someone’s shoulders. There is an added worry of last-minute no-shows who were supposed to bring dinnerware or drinks, leaving you in a lurch on reunion day. Everyone then looks to the reunion planner to “fix it.” As a veteran reunion planner of ten-plus years, I say thank goodness for caterers!

Having your reunion meal catered eases the workload for everyone, but as this planner learned, it isn’t a foolproof option either. Hiring a catering service comes with a set of problems all its own. But by doing your homework you’ll get services customized to your reunion needs and avoid many difficulties.

My family’s first experience using a full-service caterer gave us a reference point for features we did and did not need. The caterers served a wonderful meal for our more than 100 members. They supplied everything and had personnel on hand to serve. All that was required of us was menu selection and payment. Everyone had a generous helping of food, along with dessert and tea. Planned right down to the nth degree, when the last person passed through the line, trays were empty. The caterer packed up and left. He left behind two remaining gallons of tea, but within the hour several members were milling around, foraging for something else to eat. With a long afternoon ahead, there was not a smidgen of food nor a plate to put one on. Luckily a few persons had brought iced sodas. Others filched ice from coolers for the remaining tea.

We learned another lesson the year we selected a menu consisting of sandwiches, relish trays, chips and desserts. The catering service was to drop off food at a designated time and we would serve ourselves. The delivery person brought in several items, then left. We assumed she was bringing more food, but instead, she was gone. My sister, who is my co-planner, and I stared at each other in horror, as it registered that we had one large platter of sandwiches as our main dish to feed 65 adults. Granted, we had relish trays, chips and dessert, but the caterer’s calculation was less than one whole sandwich per person.

Of course, we began to run out of food before the first members were through the line. A quick trip to town for bread, cold cuts, cheese, condiments and more chips saved the day but added $40 to the cost of our meal. The caterer offered to cover the amount spent on extra sandwich supplies but no amount could compensate for the embarrassment or hassle to take care of her gross miscalculation.

These two episodes gave us a blueprint for what works best for our reunion when it comes to having the meal catered. The first order of business is to check, check and recheck to be sure you and the caterer are on the same wavelength concerning menu and amount of food to be prepared. If there is any question about quantity, then by all means, call other catering services and ask for their menu and prices. Most will readily tell you how much food they estimate per person. If not, don’t be shy about asking.

One supermarket delicatessen employee gives the following rule of thumb: Allow one pound per four or five women and older children, and one pound per two or three men. These calculations are for meats such as brisket and ham. One should stay close to those calculations for side dishes such as potato salad or coleslaw.

We ask that food be delivered at a designated time to be served piping hot. We request disposable containers or we’ve sometimes left our own containers with the caterer in advance to ease cleanup and avoid the need to return items. Members serve themselves, so catering personnel do not need to remain on the premises. We furnish our own drinks, ice and dinnerware.

Learning from previous mistakes has made our reunions more enjoyable. By planning ahead, we manage to have enough food and drinks for those who wish to come back through the chow line mid-afternoon. Folks stay longer when there is plenty of food, drink and good company to enjoy. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?

About the author
Karen Luna Ray is a veteran reunion planner and freelance writer living in southeastern Oklahoma with her husband and two children. Her work has been published in Reunions magazine, North American Manx Association Bulletin and newspapers. She writes and publishes a family newsletter distributed on reunion day.

At the table: Susan Thomas ( inside pavillion). Outside the pavillion (left to right) Dee Roberts, Aunt Loretha Roberts, Shante and Cousin Sharon and her granddaughter are at the back of the line.
At the table: Susan Thomas ( inside pavillion). Outside the pavillion (left to right) Dee Roberts, Aunt Loretha Roberts, Shante and Cousin Sharon and her granddaughter are at the back of the line.

Roberts Family Reunion potluck

The Roberts Family Reunion is a one day picnic in a municipal park. Each family is asked to bring a dish.

This is the 2015 reunion menu, according to reunion planner Francia Talton, Flint, Michigan. Extended family and family friends were asked to also bring a dish or donate $10.00 per adult/ $5 for children.

The following is the list of potluck donations!

hot dog hamburger

Southern Spicy and Mild Green – Oscar(Dee)Roberts Jr
Mac & Cheese – family friend
Potato Salad – Aunt Loretha Roberts
Spaghetti – Angela Roberts
Spaghetti Sala – MiMi Miller
Green Beans – Katrina Malone
Baked Beans – family friend
Hot Dogs – Calencia Malone
Hamburgers/Grilled Chicken – Susan (Gary)Thomas
Reunion Cake – Korvetta( Rapheal) Price
Ribs – Marcellus Malone/Jeffrey Roberts
Dessert – Ericka Chaney
Pops – Shante Chaney
Cases of Water – Jatonya Roberts
Corn Bread Muffins – Coretta Roberts
Family Size Bags of Chips – Marshayla Malone
Ice – Tony Hill
Decorations / Portable Grill Plates/Saucers/Napkin/ Cups/To-Go Boxes/Silverware/Serving Untensils/ Pans/ Music and Memorial Table Collage etc – Francia( Larry) Talton Reunion Planner and Hostess

Also monetary donations were made for others who did not contribute to the potluck.

Questions to ask the Catering Manager

Food and drink
-Was the food purchased fresh, canned or frozen? Do you have an in-house bakery?
-Can a food tasting be arranged?
-What is the portion size of each entree?
-How is leftover food disposed of? Can it be donated to a food bank to feed the needy?
-Can we bring in our own liquor? What is the corkage fee?
-How many ounces are in your bottles, glasses, drinks (and how many ounces of liquor per drink)?
-How many ounces is your juice glass?
-Do you use coffee cups or mugs?
-Is the decaf coffee brewed or instant?
-Can open bottles from the hosted bar (paid for by the bottle) be removed from the facility?
-Can the hotel store opened bottles of liquor from one reception and use them for our next reception?
-Does purchasing liquor by the bottle include set ups (mixes, ice, glasses, bar fruit)?
-Is there a bartender charge? If so, what is the dollar volume of liquor or wine required to waive the charge?
-How many bars will be set up? (If guests are not arriving at the same time, one bar set up per 100 guests is usually adequate.)
-What are your house, call and premium wines? What brands are included in each category?
Is “dead stock” wine available? (i.e. wine that is no longer on the wine list and may be available in limited quantities.)

-Can we order vegetarian or kosher meals?
-What can we do about last-minute requests?
-What combination plates are available? (Two small entree selections per plated meal gives more variety).
-Can guests be given a choice of entrees (split plating)?
-Are counts required in advance? How far?

-Can special menus within our budget be created?
-Is there a minimum guarantee to use the facility? Is there a room-rental charge?
-Can we receive a discount if we order the same menu as another group you’re catering at the same time?
-How can credit be established?
-When is payment expected?
-What is the tax rate? What is the service charge/gratuity percentage? Is the service charge/gratuity taxed?
-Are there any other costs (i.e. overtime, set up or labor charges)?

-Can we order special meals? How much advance notice is needed?
-When is attendance guarantee* due? (*number of servings paid for, whether or not they are consumed. Usually required 48 to 72 hours in advance. The guaranteed number can be increased, but not decreased. The number of hours may be negotiable.)
-What is the over-set* policy? (*percentage of places set, over guarantee, which the kitchen is prepared to serve. -If the facility oversets by 5 percent, underguarantee the group by 5 percent.)
-What is the server-to-guest ratio? (standard is one waitstaff per 20 guests. Negotiate for fewer guests per servers for formal functions.)
-What items can be available on short notice if attendance increases unexpectedly?
-What time will the tables be set up so we can bring in decor and florals?
-What time do we need to vacate the room? Are there any overtime charges?
-Which facility staff person will be in charge during the function?
-What group is using the room prior to the function? (Sometimes sharing decor or audiovisual equipment reduces labor charges.)

Other stuff
-What linen colors are available at no additional charge? How long do tablecloths hang? Are overlays available?
-Are table numbers available?
-What size table rounds are available? How many will each be set for? (Eight guests seated at 60-inch rounds and 10 guests seated at 72-inch rounds are comfortable.)
-How will buffet tables be decorated?
-Does the facility have votive candles, hurricane lamps, bud vases or mirrors available at no charge?
-Will one double buffet be set up for each 100 guests? (Request one double-sided buffet for each 100 guests; request two if the count goes to 120.)
-Does the facility have pre-packaged theme parties?
-Can waitstaff wear a costume or ornament specifically related to our theme?
-Will a microphone be provided at no charge?
-Can the facility store our centerpieces for use the next day?
-What are your emergency procedures?

The following questions are for off-premises catering:
-Who supplies equipment rental (i.e. stoves, tables, dishes, linens, silverware)?
-Are facility permits needed? Is there a cost?
-Can a certificate of workers compensation and liability insurance be provided?
-How many waitstaff will be provided? Is cost included? How will they be dressed?
-Who will dispose of trash?
-What are overtime charges?
-Who are your references?

Please help

Q? This is our third family reunion. The first two years we all brought a dish to pass. It worked fine, except for many duplicate food items. This year I want to hire a caterer, but I’m having a hard time convincing the committee. I told the committee it would eliminate duplicate food items and save hard feelings if no one eats one of the dishes. People will have more time to visit rather than worrying about keeping track of their $30 casserole dish. Cost isn’t an issue because of leftover funds from last year. Can you offer some advice?

Rebecca Tomaszewski, Jasinski Family Reunion, West Allis, WI

A! Sounds like you already have great reasons to hire a caterer and you have the money! Catering saves time, money, nerves and hard feelings. Members have nothing to worry about except getting themselves to the reunion. Suggest your own menu which might intrigue some of your doubters or pick up a couple of caterer’s menus to share with the committee. Caterers make their food sound pretty enticing so you could probably change your committees’ minds with a few tantalizing suggestions. If members still want to have “homemade” food, ask them to bring desserts – which you cannot, of course, ever have enough of.

Tell your committee that this reunion is a day off for everyone! Do they all like cooking so much that they want to spend time and effort when there are many more important things they could be doing?