Chef Wendy

Cooking for a Crowd: 10 Top Catering Tips

Are you looking for great, easy recipes you can prepare for a big group? Read on, because we can help! 

We get many queries from our whatsfordinner fans asking for delicious dishes that can be prepared for events such as weddings, funerals, church socials, fund-raisers and school functions.  Here are some expert tips. Please go to the bottom of this page for our top recipe suggestions!

1. If you’re planning a function for many people, the secret to success is to choose easy dishes that can be prepared well in advance. We advise, if you’re catering for more than 8-10 people, that you choose a buffet-style meal, so guests can help themselves from long tables. A sit-down dinner for a large number of people is difficult to achieve unless you have a huge budget, an enormous kitchen and many waiters!

2. Your choice of dishes for the buffet will depend on the time of year, and the formality of the occasion. If it’s summer, and the weather is fine, go for fresh, substantial salads, plus platters of tasty hot and cold snacks, with plenty of fresh bread and a variety of sauces and dressings. 

3. In the cold months, it’s best to choose hot, simple, comforting dishes (such as soups, stews, curries and casseroles) that can be made well ahead of time and kept warm on hot trays or burners. Serve these with rice, pap, mash or couscous to make them go further!  Read to the end of this article for some great recipe suggestions for both hot and cold weather. 

4. When you’re planning your buffet menu, make sure there is something for everyone. Include at least one or two vegetarian dishes (such as Roasted Vegetables with Feta, Lentil and Butternut Bobotie, or Hearty Vegetable Stew with Parmesan Dumplings). If you’re expecting kids at your function, be sure to include some child-friendly dishes, such as mince and mac, meatballs or burgers.

5. Steer clear of dishes that are not generally appealing, or which will upset picky or allergic eaters. Depending on your culture, it’s wise to avoid dishes containing shellfish, offal, a lot of chillies, and so on. On the other hand, if you KNOW everyone will love chicken feet or a blistering hot curry, go ahead and include this favourite on your menu! Find out in advance if any of your guests have special dietary requirements. 

6. A great idea for a celebratory buffet is to provide a selection of ‘finger foods’ – hot and cold snacks – that can be made several hours or a day - ahead.  Here are some examples of delicious finger foods:  

Bread Basket Tartlets with Smoked Chicken

Honey Barbecue Drumettes

Crunchy Oven-Baked Chicken Drumsticks

Potato, Pesto & Salmon Cakes

Spinach Dip in a Hollow Loaf

Thai Chicken Spring Rolls

Easy Sausage Rolls

7. When you’re planning your buffet, make sure the tables are long enough to cater for a crowd. You don’t want your guests to have to stand in long queues for hours. It’s best, for a big function, to set up the tables in a U shape, with a ‘copy’ of each dish on either side, so two lines of people can start at opposite ends of the tables and work their way inwards. 

8. You will need to ‘scale up’ our W4D recipes so they’ll cater for a crowd. If the recipe serves four, for example, and you are wanting to feed 20, you must multiply every ingredient by five. So one onion will become 5 onions, one Knorr Stock Pot will become 5 stock pots, two cups of water will become 10 cups, and so on. Tip: it’s important not to overcrowd your oven when you’re cooking or reheating a large quantity of food, as this may cause the temperature to drop below its optimal level. Increase the temperature of your oven, or ‘borrow’ a neighbour’s oven! Sharing the cooking with your friends will take all the hassle out of catering. 

9. Another secret to creating a successful meal for many people is careful advance planning. Make detailed lists of everything you need, and write out a cooking schedule. Ask your friends and relatives to help you with preparation, and borrow or rent plates, knives, forks and everything else you need. Don’t forget serviettes, salt and pepper, and fresh flowers for your tables!

10. Prepare your feast up to two days in advance, but use your common sense so the food doesn’t spoil. Salads containing long-lasting ingredients that won’t wilt (such as Potato Salad or Bean Salad) can be made a day ahead. Stews, curries and soups often taste better the day after they’re made, so prepare these the night before, keep them cold, and reheat them at the last moment. (Chicken dishes should never be left to stand at room temperature but must be cooled, then thoroughly chilled until it’s time to reheat them.) 


Herby Chicken Stew with Tomatoes & Mushrooms 

Peri-Peri Chicken with Imfino Pap

Tasty Chicken Stew

Indian Butter Chicken 

Hearty Beef Stew with Green Beans 

Oxtail and Butterbean Curry

Everyone’s Easy Lasagne

Easy Greek Moussaka

Curried Peach Noodle Salad

Spicy Potato Salad

Classic Greek Salad

Creamy Bacon and Leek Pap Tart

Tasty Pap Pizza with Viennas and Cheese

Creamy Garlic Bread with Mozzarella

Garlic, Biltong and Blue Cheese Bread