If you remember watching the game show "Wheel of Fortune" up through the 1980's and into the 90's, you probably remember the shopping spree winners had to go on, spending their money until they could afford nothing else. Putting together the food and drink menu for a party can be much like that. You create a wish list of what you want, temper that with a budget of what you have, and then spend until the well run dries. To make that money stretch further, it is best to work with a professional caterer.
Everyone knows that it is far easier to shop for the drink portion of a party, because there is not the concern of it going to waste if there are any leftovers. White wine and beers goes back in the fridge while red wines and spirits are returned to the liquor cabinet - or perhaps the basement if you really bought too much. The food is a much different matter. It has a far shorter shelf life, so every item that you buy may have you thinking the same thing: "Is this enough? Too much? How many people will eat this?"
What is challenging about this is that you know how to shop for enough food for your family, but that is because week in and week out you are shopping for the same number of people. After a while, you do not even need to bring a list with you because the line-up rarely changes. Putting a party menu together is a far different animal. It is not just the basic math of "I know how much of this I need to buy for my family of four, and since 40 people are coming to the party, I'll simply buy ten times as much of it."
Catering managers know all of the ins and outs of determining how much food you need to have, because they know how different parties go. The number of guests is only the beginning. They will ask you what time the party is happening, how long it is going to go on for, what kind of beverages will be served with it, is there a theme or celebration and was there any specific activity happening directly before - or is there anything happening after? These questions help them to determine the patterns of eating that will happen and, believe it or not, there is a science to it.
If you plan your party's food like a wheel spinner did in the 80's, walking the aisles and selecting food until you ran out of money, you will only end up with a horribly unbalanced menu and many dissatisfied guests. Trust the professionals at your favorite catering company or restaurant to help you create a truly memorable menu for your party while also getting the most for your money. Vanna White will thank you.
Jack Terry is a freelance lifestyle writer who has been writing about food & beverage and entertaining for more than 20 years. http://www.osorioslatinfusion.com