The Best Menu Ever: How to Grocery Shop for Your Small Event
About three years ago in 2015, I hosted my first "event" in the living room of my tiny apartment in a tiny mountain town.
I had hosted friends before, and had made all kinds of food for potluck-style events, but it had been a while since I had hosted a larger group of people on my own. And, to be honest, it took me about three days to plan a menu that I thought would feed 10 people appropriately for the length of the event, would satisfy a number of dietary restrictions, and also, didn't make me want to lose my damn mind.
Because I often host parties with enough consumables that are somewhere in the middle of making FAR too much food for anyone to ever be able to consume and a reasonable amount for a small heathen army (I'm Italian, what can I say), I always plan for leftovers at the end of an event.
The key to having leftovers is having variety, SO I've put together my most trustworthy menu for a small, 40 - 50 person networking or cocktail event. Depending on where you live, this menu will cost between $200 - $300, (which is under $10 per person), and will feed even the most varied palettes.
Because menu planning can take a TON of brain space and if you'd rather focus your attention on other things (like hosting your people, creating killer content, and not blowing your event's budget), I encourage you to use this menu to make it WAY easy for you to plan the food at your next casual event.
FYI - the menu that I created during that first event three years ago is still the staple menu that I use, partially because it has very little assembly required and also because it satisfies a number of dietary restrictions for a very picky crowd. And it looks damn nice on a few Target serving platters, knowwhatimean?
If you want to download your Sample Menu in PDF format along with a grocery list, drop your email below and I'll send you a copy!
The Best Menu Ever
**It's surprisingly simple, but I always use the grocery list below to make this menu:
Vegetable Crudite with Hummus
Meat and cheese board with crackers and fruit
Chips and Salsa
Various popcorns and other chips
M + Ms (for a treat)
Wine, Beer, and La Croix
(serves 40 - 50 people for an early cocktail party)
5 bottles of red wine (if possible, equal to or less than $10/bottle)
5 bottles of white wine (if possible, equal to or less than $10/bottle)
2 cases of beer (those Big Sky Brewing Sampler mixed packs for $25 are great!)
1 pallet of La Croix water
2 bags of ice
Cut salami (packaged is fine)
Cut pepperoni (packaged is fine)
1 pack cubes of cheese (cheddar, American, or Monterrey Jack is good...pre-sliced or pre-cubed is better!)
1 Brie wheel
Water crackers/Stoneground wheat thins
Apples (4 is enough)
Grapes (1 big bag)
Red / Orange Bell Peppers
Chedder Popcorn (or similar)
M+Ms (peanut if possible)
Don't forget to also have...
4 - 6 serving platters
6 - 8 bowls
Cutting board and knives
Tubs for beer/La Croix to stay cold
Disposable silverware, plates, and napkins
And, a few tips...
Keep It Simple
After spending THREE YEARS hosting smaller networking events with snacks, I definitely recommend that you forget any grandiose plans of toasting almonds to go over a homemade strawberry shortcake and remember that people like very, very simple things (nobody complains if the snacks you serve them are "too simple").
You absolutely can go nuts with the food but if you're a) on a budget and b) running out of time, having this go-to list (that I repeat for almost every event that I do myself) and knowing which meats and cheeses go on which platter and how many bottles of wine to buy is one more thing you can check off your To Do list. You barely had to spend any energy! Hooray for you!
Keep Dietary Restrictions in Mind
I live in Montana, so we definitely have more of a "meat and potatoes" crowd here, but having experimented with almost every diet in the world, the above menu satisfies many a dietary need. The fruits and veggies satisfy vegans, vegetarians, and paleo friends, while the Italian meats and cheeses are decadent enough for our primarily meat and potatoes crowd. Sometimes, I'll switch out all the crackers for gluten-free crackers just so nothing is offensive to any allergies, but otherwise, this menu itself is well-rounded for a variety of diets.
If you know your crowd a little bit better, you can switch up some of the chips and popcorn style items with olives and pickles, but since popcorn and chips are airy and filling, I tend to choose those over some of the smaller items.
Craft Your Event Around a Specific Time of Day
This menu above is purposely for an event from about 4pm - 7pm. After that is dinner time and you'll either have to add something a little more filling, or double the amount of items so that people feel satisfied.
That said, try to avoid hosting events in the middle of dinner, or your food budget will be much higher.
Don't Forget Serving Platters and Utensils
One of the things that I constantly forget is how many serving dishes or bowls that I'll need, especially if I'm doing the event off-site and don't have the opportunity to grab another dish like I would if I were at my house. On the PDF below, I list out what supplies you'll need to have for serving, so I encourage you to download this freebie and use it for your next event!