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How to Cater a Thanksgiving Dinner Party

How to Cater a Thanksgiving Dinner Party

The holiday season is a busy time for caterers, and Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. Whether catering an office party or a large family, it is important that every aspect of the event goes off without a hitch.

Advanced Planning
Take a hint from grocery and department stores, who put Thanksgiving items out in September. Purchasing non-perishable items like table linens, decorations and centerpiece items ahead of time will decrease the amount of hustle required when the event approaches. Also, since customers know how busy the holiday season is for caterers, expect potential clients to be calling months in advance and have your menu and pricing set well ahead of time.

Menu Planning
A catering menu is usually a lot more limited than a standard restaurant menu, but holiday catering limits that menu even more, because customers expect a certain type of fare. However, different people have different dietary tastes, so it may help to have some non-traditional offerings available for Jewish or vegetarian customers. 
  • Traditional Thanksgiving. A traditional Thanksgiving menu consists of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls and mashed potatoes and gravy. Sweet potatoes, squash, green beans or any other seasonal vegetables are also on par with what people expect on Turkey Day.
  • Kosher Thanksgiving. Caterers who might serve Jewish customers need to have kosher items available, like parve stuffing, cornbread muffins and kosher roasted turkey.
  • Vegetarian and Vegan Thanksgiving. Be sure to have enough non-meat side dishes available to satisfy the non-meat-eaters at the party. Also, tofu turkey (tofurkey) is the popular substitute for the main dish amongst vegans at Thanksgiving. Also, since vegans eat no animal products, offer potatoes without butter and additional vegetable dishes.
Pricing
The one thing customers wonder about most when selecting a caterer is pricing. Pricing a catering menu can be tricky, but the standard "rule of thumb" is to multiply food costs by a factor of three to get the final menu price. Some caterers also employ a tiered pricing system where the price is a little less for more people.

Portion Sizes
Portion control makes a big difference in profitability, no matter what event is being catered. However, running out of food will negatively affect the caterer's reputation. The following table gives suggested portion sizes for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Just to be doubly-sure, slightly overestimating the amount of food will assure that everyone gets their fill without affecting the bottom line too much.

Food Item

Serving Size per Person

Appetizers

2 Servings/Person

Turkey

1 -2 lbs.

Stuffing

4 oz.

Cranberry Sauce

2 oz.

Mashed Potatoes

4 oz.

Vegetables

2 - 4 oz.

Bread/Rolls

1 - 2 Pieces

Pie

1 Piece

Beverage (Punch)

32 oz.

Beverage (Alcoholic)

2 - 4 Drinks

These quantities can be easily transferred to different menu items. For example, if glazed ham is the main course, one should still plan for 1-2 pounds per person. The same goes for appetizers and dessert. If different, non-traditional, items are on the menu, the portion sizes should still be the same.

Catering Products to Use
There are many types of catering equipment and supplies that a caterer could use to enhance the display of a Thanksgiving event, but there are some essential catering products that no caterer should be without on the day of the event.
  • Chafing Dishes. Chafers keep everything from the main course to the side dishes piping hot while guests are being served. Chafing dishes also create an attractive meal presentation.
  • Punch Bowls. Fruit punch is a popular drink for Thanksgiving dinner, and that punch needs to be ladled out of a punch bowl.
  • Beverage Station. If the client wants something more than punch to drink, there is a wide array of different beverage station products available to serve any drink. Coffee and spiced tea are other popular drinks served on Thanksgiving.
  • Table Linens. Folding tables are not the most attractive items in the world, that is where table linens come into play. Reds, yellows and browns are popular colors for Thanksgiving, because they remind customers of leaves changing colors, or the fall harvest.
  • Display Risers. Display risers can go underneath or atop table linens. Either way, they enhance any catered display by elevating items off of the table top and giving them a more prominent position. There are several other catering display items that can further enhance the meal presentation.