I’ve catered for several large events (weddings) now, and have learned that it’s far different than cooking for smaller groups (anything under 20 people). There are a couple challenges that are presented: planning the meal, getting the right amount of ingredients, and also just cooking everything in larger amounts.
Planning the Meal
This one’s hard because allergies and picky eaters. While I hate the idea of picky eaters, in a large group, we kinda have to accommodate them, especially if as the chef you aren’t putting on the event (if you are the host, well, do what you want)
Typically I’ve found people can’t take spicy, so leave it out unless you’ve got at least three mains. Interestingly, and sadly, people can’t take bold flavors or cuisines outside their comfort zone. This cuts a lot of foods out (curses on the ignorance of all things culinary in America).
The only thing I can really say is, people can be as picky as small children. So, would you serve it to a bunch of small children? If not, probably skip it in favor of the simpler meal (don’t cry, it’ll be OK).
Getting the Ingredients
This one’s also hard. How much meat do I need? How much salad? I’ve typically aim for about half to two-thirds a pound of meat per person (less, if it’s something like meatballs in marinara or I have lots of sides planned). I also plan for 15-20 more people to show up than are listed, because people come to weddings without RSVPing (how rude).
What about sides? This one is trickier for me. It depends on how many sides there are. I normally go for a pound of finished sides for everyone, so get to know the sides you’ll be making! Is it heavier? You’ll go with less of that one. Light? you’ll need more.
There isn’t a good trick for figuring this out. You just have to know the food your making.
You’ll need help. Seriously. You cannot cook every dish for 100+ people. Get several people to cook with you. Assign them jobs, and play the head chef. That may seem obvious to a lot of people, but if you haven’t ever cooked for large groups, it’s hard to grasp just how much work it is. Make sure you start early enough to get all the work done, and that’s it! The cooking itself doesn’t change, you just have to be prepared for some marathon cooking.