Sarasota Catering Company
(941) 927-7675

Party Planning Guide

Where to begin?

Be clear about the purpose and the type of party/event

Your party may involve a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary, or perhaps a wedding rehearsal dinner. It may just be getting a few friends together from around the neighborhood or you may want to invite hundreds of guests to kick off a fund raising campaign. Think about how you want the event to be experienced. Write this out for your edification and for reference as the plans evolve. This will frame your approach to planning your party. If there is no specific occasion, maybe you want to have a theme such as Mardi Gras, casino night or Bastille Day.

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Set the Budget

Once you’ve determined the purpose of the party, determine your budget and whether it is to be a strict parameter or a guideline. Factors affecting the cost of the party will include the number of guests, specialization of the menu, professionally prepared or home-made food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, rented items, decorations, entertainment and hired help. Remember, you don’t have to spend a fortune to make your guests feel good. Decide what’s important to you and how you prefer to spend the budget you are setting.

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Set the Date and Time of the Party

The date of your party will dictate how far in advance you’ll need to send out invitations, reserve equipment, and contract with service providers such as caterers and entertainers. Holidays and high season dates require the most advance notice. Selecting a weekend as your party date may require more advance notice than selecting a weekday.

The season of the year affects the availability of some ingredients, a consideration in your menu. Some fruit, vegetables, and shellfish, for example, have periods when they may not be available or are not in prime condition.

The time of year also affects whether you have to deal with heat, cold, winds or rain. So if you’re planning to be outside, rental items such as tents, fans and different serving pieces may be needed to deal with the elements.

The time of day is another determinant of the menu and budget. Is it a breakfast, a specialty brunch, a light lunch, an elegant dinner, a buffet of hearty hors d’oeuvres or simple appetizers? Timing will also determine the array of beverages such as juices, sodas, tea, or cocktails.

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Determine the Number of People

The number of people invited or anticipated is directly proportional to the quantities of food and drink as well as the space needed to hold the event. Can you fit all your guests in your home or does the party need to be held in another location or out-of-doors? Can you seat your guests comfortably around your dinner table or do you need to offer buffet service and lap trays? Will everyone have a place to sit during the event?

The number of people invited also affects the menu. The more people, the simpler the menu should be.

Creating a guest list can be a challenge! You want to select guests for a combination of traits that will make for interesting conversation and support your purpose for the party. This is especially significant at a seated dinner party. Consider using place cards to facilitate individual contributions as well as to enhance the engagement and interactions among your guests.

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Determine the Type of Service

How formal do I want the party to be? Formality dictates the type of invitations, the dress of your guests, and the type of food service. Formality impacts the environment of the event and thus, is to be considered in the purpose of the party. Choices for food service include:

  • Plated Service - The food is stylistically arranged on each plate and then served to your guests. The plates can be decorated elaborately while easily controlling portion sizes. You can have as many courses as you wish but three or four is the typical number - soup or salad, entrée with a sauce and two side dishes, and a dessert. The appetizer course is optional especially if hors d’oeuvres were served before dinner.
  • Russian Service - The food is brought to the table on trays and placed on the guests’ plates by servers. This is most elegant when served by experienced wait staff but it is labor intensive and takes time for everyone to be served. This type of service is optimal for a small number of guests when three courses are planned.
  • Family Style - The food is brought to the table in serving dishes and passed around the table or served by the host. In this traditional style, portion sizes cannot be controlled since each guest decides on an amount. Family style is usually served in two courses; entrée, side dishes, salad, and then dessert.
  • Casual Buffet - The food is displayed on a buffet table and guests serve themselves. Portion size cannot be controlled. Typically staff is needed to replenish selections as the dishes are emptied. This is cost effective for large groups. Buffets usually offer at least two entrées with a variety of side dishes. A small dinner party served buffet style may only have one entrée.
  • Formal Buffet - The food is presented on a buffet table with wait staff serving the guests. Since food is served, portions can be controlled. This is cost effective for large groups when expensive entrées are selected. Several servers may be needed but the formal buffet offers a level of elegance that cannot be achieved in a casual buffet setting.
  • Buffet and Tray - Hors d’oeuvres are presented on trays by servers while the other courses are presented on a buffet table. This type of service is efficient and effective for large groups. The servers provide a flavor of elegance, particularly with specialty hors d’oeuvres.
  • Mixed Service - The food is presented in a combination of buffet and seated service. The buffet is particularly effective for serving hors d’oeuvres and/or dessert since it allows the guests to mingle while the seated courses can be as elegant as desired. Mixed Service is particularly effective for fund-raisers where guests may review items for bid/purchase during the buffet(s) and listen to a program or participate in an auction during the seated service.
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Determine the Type of Food

First select the entrée(s) when you are considering food for your gathering. The challenge of pleasing all the guests seems less difficult if you have that focus. The event may suggest a specific food such as turkey on Thanksgiving. Theme parties make the entrée selection more straightforward but it may be more challenging to make the preparation/presentation of the entrée outstanding or unique. For a casual get-together with friends, try something different from your usual. If you always serve spaghetti, try other pasta dishes such as ravioli or lasagna. If you frequently serve beef, use a different cut and a different sauce.

Buffets, whether casual or formal, usually provide two entrée and multiple side dishes. Because these are prepared for larger groups with diverse eating preferences, be sure to include some buffet items for vegetarian and diet-restricted guests.

When you are selecting hors d’oeuvres, omit those containing the same ingredient as the entrée.

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Sarasota Catering Company wins the Knot Best of Weddings 2010-2016
Sarasota Catering Company joins the Knot Best of Weddings Hall of Fame
Sarasota Catering Company wins Weddingwire Couple's Choice Award 2010-2016