Friday, May 1, 2015

Catering food - Dos and Don'ts

I have been living in U.S for 16 years now. Used to throw a lot of parties. I have never catered food from anyone till today. Some people might think it is because of the number of people. I have a record of cooking an elaborate meal for 80 people all by myself. So, number is not the issue, just my preference. When I say this, I have nothing against getting food from outside. But, having eaten catered food at lot of places has taught me few things about catered food. I am sharing those tips in case it helps anyone in planning their parties.

Dos and Don'ts in a nutshell:

1. Know what to expect. If you are getting food from a restaurant, make sure you have tasted your dishes. It might not be possible to taste all the dishes if you are getting from someone working from home. Rely on word of mouth.

2. Order as per the season. Avoid ordering food that goes bad very easily. It is best to avoid things that have coconut, mashed vegetables in hot weather.

3. Calculate the distance from where the food is coming. Food goes bad as early as 4 hours from the time it was made. If you plan to pick up the food a bit early, plan on refrigerating. Caterer starts cooking food at a certain time based on your time of pick up. Don't try to rush him/her and end up having to deal with the worry of food going bad.

4. Unless it is for a traditional, religious event, try mixing and matching types of food. Be creative.

5. Even though you are getting food catered, make something yourself. Something that is your signature dish and liked by all. There should always be a personal touch.

6. Don't order from a person just because they are cheaper. It definitely doesn't mean that more the price, better the quality. You need to know what is good and be willing to pay the price if it is good.

7. Set aside a budget. Stick to it. No need to get extravagant food and not enough of it. It is better to serve simple, well made food rather than serve exotic food that nobody wants to eat.

8. Make sure you as a host taste everything before you put it on the table for others. I have seen food having gone bad too many times and it is not nice to your guest to eat that and realize it has gone bad.

9. People enjoy food more when there aren't too many varieties. I lose all my appetite if I see arrays of trays. See if that makes sense to you.

10. When you get food delivered, if it comes in a warm box, make sure you remove the food trays and keep it in an airy room. Basement is actually the best place to keep the food in case there is time before serving. If the weather is warm, run your air conditioner or at least a fan.

11. It is always best to label your food. Lot of times, people won't know what it is and it helps if there is a label.

12. If possible, introduce a food that you have liked but is not known to most of your guests. It makes a nice topic of conversation while filling the plates.

Another tip not related to food.....

If the party is at home, trash pickup needs to be paid attention to also. With disposable plates and people not reusing the cups, plates, it gets full in no time. It helps to bring in the huge trash container inside if you can find bags to fit them with. What I do is line a collapsible laundry basket with multiple huge trash bags. Once it is full, just take out the top bag and tie it. It makes it very easy instead of looking for a bag and lining when the bag is full and there are people waiting to throw their plates.

If anyone benefits from this article, it was well worth of the time taken to write.

Have a nice weekend.
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  1. Great article Champa. I really liked your suggestion of lining the laundry basket with multiple bags and to make a signature dish. I would like to add a few from my experience.

    - Please don't wait to serve appetizers until all guests arrive, atleast offer welcome drink or something to those that have arrived on time instead of simply making everyone wait until the latecomers arrive.
    - Make sure there is enough food. In the fear of having leftovers some people have very less food to start with, so much so that the guest has to think twice before serving oneself. If there are fewer dishes then the quantities of each dish will need to be more than when there is variety.
    - Serve food at ideal temperature - hot or cold depending on the dish and make appropriate arrangements to maintain the temperature. It really affects the taste and overall dining experience. People take so much effort in menu planning and execution but forget this last but important detail.

  2. Champa. nice tips. I have also never catered food. Always cooked by myself. WIll be nice if you can devote a post to easy foods and easy methods for a large party, One reason I have not catered is so not to serve the same old Dal Makhanis and paneers and the usual fare. And to serve a delicious South Indian fare (not idlis and dosas)

    I would love some easy methods


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