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19 Catering Menu Ideas for Large Groups + Catering Tips from Planning Experts

by | Aug 14, 2023 | Best Practices, Catering, Event Management, Event Planning, Event Venues, Industry Intelligence and Research, Tools and Software

Planning an event can be time-consuming, especially if you’re in charge of catering for a large crowd. Whether you’re brainstorming menu ideas for a birthday party, wedding, or corporate event, there’s no denying that amazing event catering and planning are central to the attendee experience.

From serving crowd-pleasers to providing options for dietary restrictions, you can ensure your catering runs smoothly and keeps everyone happy. In this article, we’ll cover catering tips for large groups, choosing the best catering management platform to streamline your business and everything else you need to know to grow your catering business and organize successful events.

Catering tips for large groups

Catering for a large group can be challenging, but with the right planning and organization, you can ensure your event runs smoothly. Here’s how to take your event to the next level with catering tips for large groups.

Ask about dietary restrictions

No matter what type of event you’re planning, you should always consider the dietary requirements of your guests. Make sure you have a variety of catering options available, from vegetarian and vegan options to gluten-free and dairy-free options. 

For a smooth catering experience, ask your guests in advance if they have any dietary requirements so you can plan accordingly. If you’re unsure where to start, provide forms or surveys during the event registration process so guests can easily enter their dietary needs, meal preferences, and other key details, such as food allergies.

*Hot Tip: With the right catering management software, you can ask guests about their dietary needs and preferences during the sign-up or RSVP process and have the information automatically synced to their guest profile and your banquet event order (BEO) for easy menu planning and food ordering.

Consider portion sizes

When it comes to portion sizes, it’s better to overestimate rather than underestimate, especially if you’re serving a large crowd. You don’t want to run out of food halfway through your event, so take steps to ensure you have plenty of food available. 

If you’re not sure how to plan portion sizes for different menu items, a good rule of thumb is to cater for one and a half times the number of guests you’re expecting. This is where food and beverage management software comes in to help you stay on top of orders and determine what you’ll need for a successful event.

Don’t forget about utensils

When you’re running food count, you’ll also want to take inventory of plates, serving ware, and utensils. If you’re serving food buffet-style, consider having extra utensils on hand so that guests can serve themselves simultaneously or won’t have to wait in line because there aren’t enough tongs or spoons to go around. It’s also a good idea to have extra utensils in stock in case they get dropped on the floor and someone on hand to replenish serving ware and food as it runs out.

Plan the seating arrangement

When you’re hosting an event for a large crowd, seating arrangements can be difficult to navigate—especially if you leave it up to guests. 

Fortunately, event layout tools can help you plan an effective seating arrangement based on guest relationships, dietary restrictions, and other details. You can also share floor plans with catering staff to easily serve guests so everyone knows what food is going where.

*Hot Tip: Use an all-inclusive catering management software to design custom floor plans for each event that you can easily share with serving staff, set up crews, and more. You can even use the floor plan design tool to mark where guests with allergies and other food restrictions are sitting so your staff can ensure they receive the right plate. 

19 catering menu ideas for large groups

As a catering business, your goal is to attract and retain guests by creating amazing catering experiences. To start, you’ll want to create a catering menu that fits with your brand and concept while staying true to what you do best.

For the best results, focus on menu items that are popular, profitable, and easily scalable for larger events. From delicious appetizers to mouth-watering desserts, here are some of the best catering menu ideas to please large crowds.

Are you looking for registration tools? Click here to find out how to choose the best ticketing platform for your business.

Appetizers

As part of a multi-course meal, appetizers are one of the most important components of your catering menu. Not only do they set expectations for the rest of the catering menu, but they also help keep guests satisfied until the main course is ready. Appetizers can come in different forms depending on the event you’re catering, from finger foods to small plates.

  1. Spinach artichoke dip

One taste of spinach artichoke dip, and your guests won’t stop eating it until it’s gone. Served with chips or crackers, cheesy spinach artichoke dip features a savory blend of spinach, artichokes, and parmesan.

Fresh spinach artichoke dip in a cast iron pan and toasted bread
  1. Pesto pinwheels

These colorful and delicious snacks come together easily with regenerated (or homemade) crescent roll dough, pesto sauce, and roasted red peppersx. For a vegan-friendly option, opt for pesto sauce without any added parmesan cheese.

  1. Avocado salsa

Can’t decide between guacamole and salsa? Scoop up avocado salsa with chips, spoon it over nachos, or eat it solo for an easy on-the-go appetizer option for your next event.

  1. Deviled eggs with bacon

Deviled eggs are the perfect appetizer for corporate events, holiday parties, and any other special occasion you can imagine. Try adding crumbled bacon for extra flavor to take your deviled eggs to the next level.

Deviled eggs with bacon
  1. Stuffed peppers

Looking for a gluten-free option that everyone will love? Combine crunch and cream with fresh chives and broccoli-stuffed mini peppers.

  1. Sliders 

While you may think of traditional hamburger sliders, there are many ways you can elevate these easy-to-eat finger foods for a more upscale feel. Swap the burger patty with a grilled salmon and add a touch of garlic, lemon aioli sauce, and a touch of arugula. Or, add in portabella mushrooms for a vegan-friendly slider surprise. 

  1. Hummus

This easy-to-make dip is a favorite amongst many. Add a dollop of hummus to a cucumber with a garnish of red pepper and parsley for an easy cocktail hour hor d’oevres.

Entrees 

The entree is the main star of any catering event, and it’s important to offer multiple options for guests to choose from. From family-friendly food ideas to special occasion catering ideas, here’s how to liven up your next event with crowd-pleasing entrees.

  1. Boxed lunches

For streamlined lunch catering, pack a twist into your guests’ box lunches to match the theme of your event. If possible, take advantage of easy set-up and delivery by hosting your event in a relaxed location, like a local park.

  1. Skewers

Grilled meat or veggies skewers are a great catering menu idea for your next event. They’re easy to cook, serve, and eat, and you can easily adapt them to be vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free based on your guests’ diets. Options range from bell peppers and portabella mushrooms to BBQ chicken or steak. 

  1. Italian foods

Italian cuisine is full of crowd-pleasing dishes that can be scaled to cater for large crowds. With staples ranging from pizza to lasagna or macaroni with meatballs, Italian is one of the best comfort food options for your dinner party.

  1. Bento boxes

Bento boxes are traditional Japanese meals that pack a variety of foods into one convenient package. They offer a variety of flavors, along with vegetarian-friendly options, and your guests will surely appreciate the novel touch.

  1. Grilled fajitas

While tacos and burritos are common Mexican catering options, you can add a pop of color to your catering menu with fajitas. Plate them with roasted peppers, cilantro salsa, sour cream, and fresco cheese—and don’t forget to include tortillas for DIY tacos.

  1. Brunch

Elevate the typical continental breakfast line with gourmet brunch options if you’re serving an early morning or mid-day event. Serve lox bagels with smoked salmon, capers, and cream cheese, or set up a pancake station with cooked-to-order pancakes where guests can choose from various toppings and fillings, such as bananas, Nutella, blueberries, chocolate chips, and other fun favorites. 

Side dishes

Side dishes help balance the meal and complement your entrees. Above all else, they’re visually appealing, help diversify your menu, and add contrast to your main dish.

  1. Potato salad

Potato salad is a crowd favorite, whether you’re serving delicious BBQ food or a simple boxed lunch. Try adding crumbled bacon, sweet pickle relish, or sour cream for some extra flavor.

  1. Chipotle mashed potatoes 

Combine red potatoes with spicy chipotle peppers, fresh scallions, and adobo for a savory and flavorful side option.

  1. Charcuterie platters

With cured meats, fine cheeses, and high-quality olives, charcuterie boards are an elegant addition to any main dish and perfect for galas, wine tastings, and other upscale events. 

Charcuterie board
  1. Parmesan risotto

Risotto is a creamy Italian rice dish that pairs perfectly with Italian meals. In this version, the rice is sauteed, then cooked with wine and seasonings to heighten the flavor.

  1. Roasted sweet potatoes

Instead of playing it safe with potato salad, try creating a warm, spicy sweet potato plate with balsamic to impress your guests.

  1. Greek Quinoa salad

For guests who want a healthier option, this salad with quinoa, cucumbers, red onion, olives, roasted red peppers, and feta served alongside freshly toasted pita bread will be a favorite side dish on your buffet line.

Use Planning Pod to streamline your catering business

From finalizing the catering menu to invoicing, event planning can be overwhelming for catering businesses—but that’s where Planning Pod can change the game. Planning Pod, an all-in-one event planning and catering management solution, can help streamline your planning process with intuitive tools that manage all aspects of running an event planning or catering business. 

Here’s how:

Share detailed banquet event orders

Planning Pod’s easy-to-use Banquet Event Order (BEO) software allows you to build custom BEO templates and share detailed orders with staff and clients without missing a beat. Catering businesses can rely on BEO software to keep clients, managers, kitchen staff, and front-of-house staff in the loop, ensuring a smooth catering process.

BEO via Planning Pod

Streamline communication with forms and surveys

Event management requires clear communication between staff, vendors, catering businesses, and clients—and Planning Pod gives you the tools to manage it all. You can easily track your event and client communications with a centralized inbox. You can also use custom forms and surveys to collect information on guests’ dietary restrictions, meal preferences, and more.

Simplify planning with a smart CRM

With advanced customer relationship management (CRM) software at your side, you can automate and simplify event planning to optimize the attendee experience. With an intuitive interface, you can track contact details and assignments to meet deadlines and stay organized.

Manage food and beverage orders

Staying on top of food and beverage sales might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Planning Pod makes managing orders, billing, and more easier than ever with comprehensive venue management software for restaurants, catering businesses, and hotels. With the right tools at your side, you can build a custom library of menu items, create catering templates, and even sync food and beverage packages with your BEO  for simplified event management.

Make an impression with proposal software

You’ll need an efficient event proposal tool to make a positive first impression. Planning Pod’s proposal software can help you generate more revenue with detailed and engaging event proposals, customizable event proposal templates, and attention-grabbing designs. You’ll also have the tools you need to clearly define your vision, with descriptive list items, image galleries, and other key features to bring your event to life.

Click here to find out how Planning Pod helped Cascadia Pizza to double their business!

Create an effective floor plan

Take your event to the next level with custom floor plans and room setups that impress your guests and wow your clients. Use venue management tools to design to-scale, professional floor plans that you can easily share with servers, cooks, and other event staff so everyone knows exactly what food is going where. Mark off your vegan settings, allergies, and other food requirements to ensure everyone gets the right plate.

Example floorplan in Planning Pod

Elevate your catering menu with vision boards

One of the best ways to promote your catering menu? Show your clients what they can expect from your catering business. Our vision board planner lets you visually represent different menu options, from appetizers to desserts, so clients can see each food option and how they will look when served. Choose from hundreds of professional design elements, upload your own catering photos, add your company branding, and share your designs to effortlessly upgrade your menu.

Easily track clients, agreements, and signatures

Save time by creating event contracts and agreements with venue management software. From building contract templates to tracking signatures and deposits, you can simplify every step of the event contract process for more efficient management. Once you’ve sent contracts, you can collect e-Signatures from clients with a link to a secure online signature page. After they’ve signed, you can download PDFs with their IP address as an identifier.

Send invoices and collect payments online

Stay organized with online payment collection and invoicing. Collect online payments for debit/credit cards and ACH, and manage invoices with an all-in-one event management solution. With integrated invoicing, event registration, and low credit card processing fees, event planners and catering businesses can stay on top of payments and see revenue faster.

Share details with third parties 

Use online tools to communicate with your event venue, clients, or event planner for an efficient planning process. With online portals for clients, you’ll make it effortless for customers to do business with you. You can also easily share event details, timelines, and budgets with clients to ensure you’re on the same page and that the event meets the client’s expectations. Get signoffs faster for event-related documents, finalize key event details, and save time while boosting client satisfaction. 

Stay organized with event checklists

Whether you’re catering solo or working with a large staff, productivity tools are non-negotiable when it comes to event planning. Easily assign tasks, stay on track, and manage your to-do list with detailed event planning checklists and prebuilt templates. Send reminders to complete tasks and effectively manage pre-event, day-of-event, and post-event tasks with productivity tools.

Try Planning Pod’s catering management software for yourself

Whether you’re planning corporate dinner parties or serving wedding guests and galas, catering management software can make all the difference in your planning process. 
With simplified tools for seating arrangements, invoicing, menu planning, and more, Planning Pod’s all-in-one event management solution provides everything you need for a seamless event. Get started today and see how our comprehensive catering event management software can help you take your event business to the next level.