I'm just starting a catering service for my cooking.

I'm not into too fancy style yet, like using metal silverware or china plates, but more casual version like paper plates and plastic-ware.

The events will be about for 40 people, the menu is:

  • curry & rice
  • Karaage (Japanese chicken nuggets)
  • veggie sticks & dips
  • sandwiches
  • bite-sized pastries
  • drinks (tea, beer)

I have 1 chafing dish, I rice cooker, plastic plates/bowls/spoons/cups, aluminium foil baking trays, and paper napkins. I'm thinking to do set-ups and let people help themselves (I may stand-by and help them if they need help).

What am I missing? What should I prepare more?

2 Answers 2


The most important thing is to check everything and then check it again.

Test your recipes and figure out what can be done in advance without reducing the quality.

You should have checklists of everything that needs to come with you (food, cooking utensils, serving utensils, eating utensils, decoration, cleanup gear, etc.)

You must pre-scout the location and make sure you have thought through how your logistics are going to work - do you have the refrigerator and burner space you need, for example?

Think through how everything will be transported as well. Will you be able to keep everything at safe temperatures? Make sure all containers are thoroughly sealed, and if there is any risk of spills, add a layer of masking tape.

Bring extras of everything. Inevitably, something is going to spill or there will be more guests than anticipated.

Then check everything again.

Also, keep good records of what you made and what got eaten so you'll be ready to do it next time.

  • 3
    And for the paranoid ... don't forget the fire extinguisher. You never know.
    – Joe
    Feb 12, 2011 at 1:30
  • have backups and check again.
    – Max
    Sep 19, 2016 at 14:47
  • Another consideration -- some recipes don't scale well. Doubling cookie recipes take 2x the length of time as you need 2x as many sheet pans to go through the oven. (and then you may need more pans to rotate though, more wire racks, etc.). Not properly planning for a time-consuming recipe can really hurt you. (stress, not getting sleep if you're up 'til 4am trying to get things one the night before, so you're dead on your feet the day of ... sore back ... and the rushing leading to cut fingers and/or burned hands when you touch the rack above as you're pulling stuff from the oven)
    – Joe
    Sep 19, 2016 at 17:02

After helping out with a few events over the years, with one of the places that we hold events renovating but removing almost all of the catering/serving gear in the process, some additional suggestions from someone who's still a novice:

  • Try to visit where you'll be serving the food in advance, to make sure that you're familiar with the facilities, and what they have available vs. what you'll need to provide:

    • How will the place be laid out on the day of the event? (so you don't get surprised to find that there's a christmas tree set up in an area that you were expecting to use, or that they now have fewer tables and chairs ... or that they have a 'standard' setup, and you'll have to get there early to re-arrange the room)
    • Will there be fridge space available, or do you need to work from coolers?
    • What is available for heating things (oven, microwaves, grills, etc. ... if multiple microwaves, and you're the first group since their renovation, make sure they know where the circuit breakers are so you don't have to wait an hour because they put them both on the same circuit)
    • Do they have chafing dishes, tongs, sheet pans, serving spoons that you can use, or do you need to bring your own?
    • Can you wash up on-site, or do you need to make provisions for transporting lots of dirty dishes?
    • How early can you arive to begin setting up? Can you bring stuff by the day before?
    • Where can you park to unload? Can you keep the vehicle nearby (either w/ backup supplies, or if you need an emergency trip)
    • When do you need to clean up / leave by?
    • Do they have cleaning supplies, or do you need to bring those, too?
    • What are you responsible for cleaning up, and what's covered by the hall rental?
    • Do they have trash and/or recycling services, or do you need to remove it yourself?
    • Do you need to reset the room back to the way it was when you got there, or break down all of the tables & chairs?
  • Make labels for the food, possibly with ingredients. It really slows down the serving line when someone with a food restriction has to sit there and try to figure out what something is and if there's a something in it that they're avoiding.

    • If you're not expecting people to grab a little from every dish, make sure that the labels are large enough to be seen from a distance, so people can survey the offerings before getting in line.
  • Once you figure out what you need to bring, consider how you're going to transport it all:

    • If you need to bring large things like tables.
    • If you need to transport cold or hot things (and keep them cold or hot)
    • What can be packed the night before vs. packed the day of the event.
    • What order it's going to need to come out (tables at the bottom kinda suck)
  • Consider bringing containers for leftovers. (most people don't want to take home a large tray of food; they're more willing to deal with manageable portions).

  • Consider traffic flow:

    • If trying to serve lots of people, pull the buffet tables out from the wall, and let people form a line on either side.
    • Try to place the buffet line such that you're not going to have to walk through the line of people waiting when you're going to refresh a pan.
    • Place silverware, napkins and drinks at the far end of the buffet line (so people don't have to try to juggle them while they're serving themselves, or go back when they decide that they really did need a spoon).
    • If you can, set up an area for drinks separate from the one for buffet line.
    • Place condiments after the dish they're expected to be used on, in a separate space from the dish itself. (so people don't take twice as long at that dish if they want to doctor it up)
    • Place any food for people with restricted diets towards the end of the line. If you place it first, people will try it out of habit, so it'll run out way too early, potentially not leaving anything to eat for the people it was intended for.
  • Plan for unplanned things:

    • Do you have someone else you can call if you need something brought to you? (If you're going to need two trips to move everything, holding one person back with the hot & cold stuff also lets them grab anything that might be needed after the first person assesses the location)
    • Are there shops nearby that you can go to if necessary?
  • Even if they say that the tables are wipe-clean and don't need table cloths, bring some. Even if just for the buffet line. (because after you've spent however many hours preparing, setting up, serving, etc, you don't want to spend more time cleaning than you have to).

  • Also worth mentioning -- you need more forks than any other utensil. Unless it's all finger food, everyone gets a fork, but they don't always need a knife or spoon. It's a good idea to have 1.5 to 2x as many forks as you have people.
    – Joe
    Sep 17, 2018 at 22:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.