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How to plan a dinner for a large crowd

Updated on October 15, 2010
What a nice buffet table looks like
What a nice buffet table looks like

Very easy to do!

Planning a dinner for 100 is just about as easy as planning a dinner for 6, you just have to increase your food and your time in preparation. Keeping a pad of paper handy to write things down will also keep you organized. Cooking in large quantities takes more time, larger ovens need more time to heat up as well. If something takes 20 minutes to cook normally, plan for 2 hours cooking time with large amounts.

Try to get reservations so you will know for sure how many will be attending. Selling tickets ahead of time will ensure the dinner is being paid for. The organization I belong to has become quite adept at planning dinners for many and I would like to share some of our tips.

These dinners can be used for fund raisers if your group wants to earn money for a special project. Decide how you will plan for your guests, if they are ‘off the street’ people or a group that you know fairly well.

Planning is Key!

Plan your menu - Knowing what you will have is key to knowing how much to plan for. Deciding on Buffet style or family style will also be something you need to decide. If everyone sits at the same time, buffet style works well, someone will have to call up tables. Family style will need servers.

Keep to suggested serving size. For meats, an average of 4 oz. is appropriate. So for 100 people you will need 25 lbs of meat. Salisbury/Swiss steak is great to serve at a dinner for a lot of people. Have your butcher tenderize the meat (round steak) when purchasing. Place your order for the meat at least 1 week in advance, you will be assured of having it and your butcher will appreciate it. I will share a quick and easy recipe that we often use.

Quick and easy recipe

Season your flour, dredge the steak pieces in the flour and fry in oil until browned (not done). Put the pieces together almost in standing position in large baking pan using large can cream of mushroom soup mix with 1 can milk or water, pour over meat then top with dry onion soup mix. Bake at 350 for 2 hours. Serve with mashed potatoes.

This dish is used when serving ‘family’ style ie; 8 people at a table. Put 8 pieces of meat on the platter with a little of the gravy over top. Serve a large bowl of potatoes, veggie, dinner rolls and salad with dessert. Make sure condiments are on each table, salt, pepper and butter or margarine. If not using individual margarine, then plan on one stick per table. To prevent waste, if at all possible use individual serving sizes.

Soup and Sandwiches

If serving soup, figure about 8 oz per serving. There are 16 Cups in a gallon, therefore to serve 100 people you will need approx 6.25 gallons of soup.

If serving sandwiches 5 lbs of Turkey and Ham with cheese will suffice, if sliced thinly. We usually plan 1 loaf of bread per 10 people, so for 100 - 10 loaves of bread will do. Not everyone will take 2 slices of bread. When arranged nicely on platters with lettuce around the edge, this makes for pretty serving. We ‘roll’ the meat slices and place the cheese slices between, use forks or tongs for serving. Mayonnaise and mustard should be served with this along with pickles.

Get donations if possible

In our group we always have salads and desserts, to cut costs we get salads and desserts donated by our many members. Providing 1 cake or 1 salad is not going to break anyone’s budget and it helps keep the cost down and the profits up. This way we also get a variety of foods as well. Pasta salads go over quite well and can serve many. If you are asking for donations try to have them make a salad to feed 8 - 10 people.

For instance if you get 10 people to provide salads that should do, you will then need 7 people to provide cakes or 15 donations for pies. They do not all need to be ‘pasta’ salads, you can have varying types of salads, such as Jello salads.

2 quick and easy recipes

A quick and easy “Cherry Fluff’” salad recipe:

1 8 oz, tub Whipped topping
1 15 oz can cherry pie filling
1 15 oz can crushed pineapple
1 12 oz can sweetened condensed milk.
Stir to combine and put in serving bowl.

One other favorite is an Orange Jello recipe:

1 8 oz tub Whipped Topping
1 15 oz can crushed pineapple
1 6 oz. box orange Jello (Lime can be used as well)
24 oz. cottage cheese
1 large can mandarin oranges
Mix to combine and chill - will set slightly

Each of these serves 8 - 10 people

Don't forget Dessert!

So for a dinner for 100 you could have 2 - 4 Pasta salads, 2 - 4 Jello salads, and cole slaw or lettuce salad. If you choose you could also have veggie tray, this can run on the expensive side so keep it simple. Celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, olives (black and green), cherry tomatoes with a veggie dip. 1 bunch celery, 2 lbs carrots, 1 head broccoli, 1 head cauliflower, 2 cans/jars each of olives, 1 lb tomatoes. 16 oz dip should suffice for this.

For desserts a 9 x 12 cake can be cut to serve 15 (3 x 5 pieces) so for 100 people you will need 7 cakes. Try to keep your desserts the same, if your having cake, stick with cake. Pie, stick with pie (7 pieces per pie is the average) For a dinner of 100 you will need 15 pies. Variety is fine, you don’t necessarily need the same kind. Most people will only choose 1 dessert.

Desserts can be placed on an individual table or in the place setting, it is up to you. If placed at the table setting, then it will be assumed that is what they get. Don’t be surprised if they change desserts with another place setting (this can be fun).

Ice Cream instead?

If serving ice cream figure approx. ½ Cup per serving (1 scoop). Have someone dip this up to keep it proportionate. If serving toppings with this, try to keep it to 1 or 2 toppings. Generally when serving ice cream you will also want cookies. Keep it to no more than 4 different varieties, most people will only take 2 - 4 cookies. Because each cookie package contains a different amount of cookies you will have to check labels. Unless you decide to serve homemade cookies and manage to get then donated, you will need approx. 12 - 16 dozen cookies (most people will take 2 of these) so plan for this. If you get 6 volunteers to donate 3 dozen cookies each you should be fine.

Don't forget drinks

Drinks to be served should include water, coffee and tea.  Extras like fruit punch or lemonade is fine if you desire.   A Powdered mix is terrific, these come in 2 gallon size mixes for a low price.   Milk is generally not offered, because of it’s stability and not everyone likes the same kind (whole, 2%, 1% and skim) there are too many variables with milk.

Food service stores have everything you need

Shopping at a store such as Gordon Food Services is beneficial for feeding large crowds.  Each container of food will have serving size and the number of servings per container.  Using paper plates/bowls is great for easy clean up.  Cups, napkins and silverware can also be found here. 

Keeping track of your first dinner will help you plan for the second and so on, for the amount of food needed.  When charging for dinners, your price should depend on the type of food serving and the amount of per pound meats.  A Salisbury/Swiss steak dinner for instance would run approx $4.00 per pound of meat, so your meat will run $100 alone.  If you figure $8.00 per person your profits will run 50%, possibly more depending on what foods you get donated.

Get those helpers

If you are asked for a specific dinner to plan, you will have to do your homework on the desired food to be served. Serving size is generally 4 oz for most meats, unless serving chicken then 1 piece per person (1 leg, 1 thigh or 1 breast). Spaghetti dinners are great, plan 2 oz dry spaghetti per person. This should also have bread (garlic is preferred) salad and a dessert as well.

If you plan well, your dinner should run smoothly, try to plan a little extra to feed your volunteers/helpers. Getting plenty of helpers to cook, serve and clean up is also key in having a smooth running dinner. Make sure each helper knows his/her job. Having someone pour coffee or tea is helpful as well.

Keep those customers Happy!

Making sure that you have a good meal will keep your customers happy and leave feeling satisfied.  Keeping your cost down will ensure that you have repeat customers as well, so you can do this several times per year for earning money.  If your dinner is for people within the community make sure you have someone in charge of advertising, so you get a good turn out! 

When serving a variety of foods, you can be certain the ‘serving size’ suggested should be sufficient, unless feeding Lumber Jacks, then this is all out the window and you’ll probably have to double everything. 


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    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Michigan

      I am so sorry I didn't get back with you sooner, for some reason this was in the spam folder. For 20 and depending on what other 'sides' you have I would use approximately 7 lbs of meat. If you have less sides then 1/2 pound per person, more sides less, 4 oz per person.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I'd love to make the steak recipe for 20 people,how many pounds of steak should I have?

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Awesome!! Best of luck to you!

    • dementedmom profile image


      6 years ago from R.O.I.

      yes, i have been working on a menu where in i can prepare foods in advance coz im on my own on this.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Awesome!! It will be quite a bit of work for you. What I might do in a case like that (if you don't have helpers) is if at all possible, cook the foods ahead of time and freeze them. That way the day of your party you are not all worn out and can enjoy your guests.

    • dementedmom profile image


      6 years ago from R.O.I.

      im planning my son's christening party and i intend to cook all the foods for family and friends. this article has been really useful.thanks for the tips.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      I love having big family dinners! With my family all I have to do is invite the kids!! When they show up with significant others and children, in a matter of minutes my house is overflowing!!

    • eventsyoudesign profile image


      7 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Good article. Reminds me of all of the fun family reunions we have had. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for the tips!! We have so many helpers that normally we don't need to do ahead, but if I were doing it alone, you can bet I'd get a head start and do some freezing!!

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • arsenicandoldlace profile image


      7 years ago from Saint Augustine, Florida

      The trick to cooking for a crowd is to start weeks in advance. There are several dishes that can be made ahead and placed in the freezer. A few of my holiday make-ahead favorite dishes are: Swedish meatballs, ham in raisin sauce, ginger spice cookies, Russian tea cakes, and yeast and quick breads. My all time favorite make ahead meal is barbecued pork ribs which nicely feeds a huge crowd. They can be baked for an hour or so on a rack and then warmed in a homemade barbecue sauce made from ketchup, brown sugar, a dash of mustard, and apple cider vinegar. This can be served with store bought sides such as potato salad and cole slaw and go well with corn on the cob.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Gawd, isn't that orange jello the best!! I love it, sometimes make it here at home too.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 

      7 years ago from Around the USA

      What great tips and recipes. I have been making (and eating) the orange jello recipe since I was a kid. It's sooo easy and really good, too. Perfect for a crowd. I often take it to potlucks. The other recipes sound just as good.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks! You are going to love that steak!! We serve it several times a year at our dinners, it's always a crowd pleaser!

    • Healing Touch profile image

      Laura Arne 

      7 years ago from Minnetonka, MN

      I am bookmarking this. I can't wait to try the recipe with steak. Yum. I voted up all the buttons. Great job.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      You are welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting

    • KristenGrace profile image


      7 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Some great ideas here. Lots of nice tips... Thanks!!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Well planned and thought out hub... Thanks for sharing..

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 

      7 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      sweetsusieg: It is also helpful if other members agree to contribute some dish to help in the party. It is a big expense to try and do the whole thing by yourself and on your financial budget, if you have one.

      Brother Dave.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      LOL - Oh yes my office was extremely appreciative even though they paid for their dinner. We try to keep it where it satisfies everyone.

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      I had a potato soup in the office I am being fostered in :0) - (They feed me, clothe me and give me coffee...what do you call it? LOL) It was different, sounds like you had an appreciative audience.

    • Sweetsusieg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Michigan

      Oh me too!! Today I helped with a luncheon for 100... made potato soup, YUM!! (that was my job, I volunteered for it) I had to create the recipe to feed 100 from my normal recipe. LOL I'm tired but it was worth it. Glad to hear the salt is doing some good!

    • LillyGrillzit profile image

      Lori J Latimer 

      7 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

      Sweetsusie, Now you're talking! I love to throw a big shin dig with grateful and considerate people. It is so much fun and good memories. It is hard work. Great Hub! Write On! Salt is Working...


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