Our secrets to throwing a party for any large group
We’ve catered many graduation events over the last 22 years. They can be stressful events from a client’s standpoint for many reasons. But, relax! We are here to help you minimize the stress and maximize your enjoyment at your own party. Read on for a surefire party plan- from budget and prep… to the food and drink… to the setup and décor, games… plus a timeline that will help you host an almost effortless graduation party.
If you have additional questions about your big day, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call us at 508-783-1663.
Budget and Prep
Some possible items to place on your budget list may include:
Beverages- Soft drinks, beer, wine, hard liquor, mixers
Tables, linens and chairs
Plates, glassware and utensils- Rentals and/or paper and plastic
Décor & Centerpieces
- We recommend throwing your party mid-afternoon so that no guest arrives famished.
- Choose menu items that can be picked up and eaten in a bite or two.
- Use smaller plates. We recommend at least 2 plates per person and maybe more if you have multiple food tables set out.
- Expect each guest to eat between 4 to 6 bites per hour. I usually would provide 14-16 bites for such a party. An hors d’oeuvres is considered one bite. A regular burger or small sandwich would be considered 4-5 bites.
- Plan to offer larger quantities of inexpensive dips, chips and crudités. Use large bowls and baskets to cut down on replenishing.
- Shop for meat after any weekend and freeze. Usually stores mark down meats not purchased over the weekend. Choose large cuts of meat like pork butt (great for tacos or pulled pork sliders), or whole chickens that can be cut up and thrown on the grill with a store bought bbq sauce.
- Opt for salads containing no dairy products so they can sit out longer (especially if your party is outside). If using items with dairy, place the bowl in or on another larger bowl of ice. Keep them out of the sun!
- Choose simple items which can be prepared ahead of time, like composed salads and salsas that get better after time.
- For dessert, to keep costs down, one could serve bars and cookies along with a small graduation cake. Or, if you want to really wow your friends, call in a Food Truck that specializes in Ice Cream Sandwiches!!
Some of our Graduation Party Pictures and Menus
Guacamole, Salsa and Chips
Mediterranean Tapas with hummus, feta dip, baba ghanouj, muhummara, pita chips and breads, olives
Buffalo Grilled Chicken Dip with Wonton Chips
Bacon and Scallion Dip with house fried potato chips
Crudites with Dips
Assorted Pizza Station:
from Roma tomato with fresh mozzarella… to Thai chicken pizza with pulled chicken, crumbled peanuts, peanut sauce, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro and lime wedges… to meat lovers pizza with pepperoni, Italian sausage, cheese
Our Chefs will prepare your custom Pasta dish to order. We start with your favorite pasta- Penne and Farfalle (bowties)
and one of our sauces: Marinara, Olive Oil and Garlic, or Sherry Cream Sauce… you take it from there.
Choose from the following toppings for your very own creation. Served with grated Cheese on the side.
Grilled Chicken, Italian Sausage, Roasted Mushrooms, Basil, Spinach
Make-Your-Own Taco Bar
Pulled Chicken, Baja Grilled Fish, and Grilled Vegetables in Soft Flour or Corn Taco Shells with Pico de Gallo, Roasted Tomato Salsa, Peach Salsa, Hand-Mashed Guacamole, Queso Fresco, Cilantro-Lime Crema, Chipotle Crema, Pickled Cabbage, Scallions, Shredded Lettuce, Sliced Radishes, Limes, Cilantro and Tortilla Chips
Mexican style Rice
Mexican Caesar Salad with Crispy Tortilla Strip Croutons
Hot dogs, burgers and grilled chicken with ancho honey bbq sauce
with condiments like cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles
North Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches with slaw
Baby back ribs
Argentinian Style Grilled Flank Steak with fire roasted peppers and onions served with a chimichurri sauce
Lo Mein Noodles packed with fresh veggies in a ginger scallion sesame glaze
Corn Salad with tarragon, cherry tomatoes, champagne vinaigrette
Greek Orzo Salad with feta, olives
Cheddar stuffed jumbo tater tots with chipotle ketchup
Ice Cream Sandwich Truck serving several selections of cookies and ice cream
Fruit Skewers with Mojito Dip
Assorted Cookies and bars
Often a subject of concern is how to serve alcohol at a high school graduation. I have offered various tips over the years to my clients and here are the best ones.
- DON’T use colored solo cups. Always use clear glassware- plastic or glass.
- Hire a TIPS certified bartender (we offer this service) just for the adult bar and make the kids bar self serve. TIPS certified bartenders are trained to serve alcohol responsibly, meaning they will card anyone they feel is underaged.
- Do not leave alcohol out on counters or out in the open during the party. “They” will find it!
- Call your insurance company and ask for a one day liquor liability and general insurance coverage for the day. This will protect you and your home from any incidents that occur.
Caterers like us have these insurances as well and we can add your address on the insurance binder as “additional insured” so you don’t have to purchase the additional insurance. Well worth it!
Other Bar Information
- In terms of amount of glassware to order, you want to have on hand at least 3 glasses per person.
- Purchase a few inexpensive beverage dispensers at Christmas Tree Shops or Ocean State Job Lot. In them, serve lemonade or iced tea.
- You can never have enough ice. Figure on 2 lbs. per person. REALLY! Trust me. You’ll need to ice down beverages and make drinks with the ice as well.
- Have several round tubs with rope handles available for icing down drinks.
Specialty Drinks for Kids:
For the kids, you could have a smoothie bar. One of the graduations we catered offered the kids Tropical fruit smoothies with mango, passion fruit, pineapple and coconut; as well as Strawberry fruit smoothies with strawberries, orange and pineapple juices, coconut and banana.
Virgin Mojito’s with sweetened lemon, lime beverage, sprigs of mint, simple syrup, club soda and sugar cane skewers
Guava Cooler with cranberry and guava juice with sprigs of mint- serve in a bev dispenser
Lemonade and Sweet Tea in bev dispensers
Setup and Décor
If you plan on renting a tent for your party, act early! Spring is a busy time for rental companies. Shop around for a good price. You would be amazed on the price differences between identical tents. Remember to inform your tent rep that you’ll be having food and bar tables in addition to guest tables. And remember to have space for dancing if that is part of the entertainment.
Inexpensive centerpieces for tables can be hard to find. I often suggest flowering plants that can go into your garden after the party. Or, groups of colored helium balloons that start at $20 each. Think school colors.
Another idea that is easy and FREE:
Collect memento’s from the graduate’s life and use them as centerpieces or décor on the food tables. A few examples would be:
Pictures in frames
Favorite CD covers
Have your grad create a multiple playlists that can be used throughout the day/night. He/she might even know of a young DJ or band from school willing to work for food and drink.
Another client of ours hired a local a cappella group that performed songs for the guests.
Dot garbage cans and recycling bins around the party area so guests can throw away their own plates, cups, cans and bottles.
If renting these items, don’t fret. You can send them back to the company dirty. That’s why it’s a great idea to rent!
It’s always fun to have some type of entertainment. Beyond a good playlist on your kids computer, ask them if they know any DJ’s or bands at school that would play in exchange for food and drink. I’m sure they would love the exposure. Just make sure they are willing to also play some music that your friends would enjoy!
Other fun ideas:
Badminton or Volleyball
DIY Photobooth with fun props
Tarot Card Reader- for the new graduates!
Find a friend who loves photography or student photographer to capture the day. We have several up and coming photographers who will not break the bank. Call us for more info- Susan Lane Events 508-783-1663. Or email us at email@example.com
Use this step-by-step timeline to help you plan your party:
2-3 Months to Go
- Figure out your party budget especially if you are sharing the cost with other parents.
- Contact and hire a caterer if needed (Susan Lane Events~ 508-783-1663; firstname.lastname@example.org) and reserve a tent. Spring is the busiest time of year for these vendors and they often book up fast.
- Contact all vendors and book them- DJ, photographer, balloon centerpieces, DJ, etc.
- Make a list of close friends and family members to help with the party.
- Brainstorm menu and drink ideas if DIY.
- Buy frozen meats on sale in stores on Mondays and freeze them until the party week. Items like pork butt, shoulder pork, ground beef, specialty sausages, chicken.
1-2 Months to Go
- Send invitations and request rsvp’s (by email) by one week prior to the event. Caterers need one week notice on guest numbers so you will need rsvp’s sooner than this.
3 Weeks to Go
- List the items you’ll need to buy and/or rent. Or discuss rental needs with caterer.
2 Weeks to Go
- Finalize your food and drinks menu
- Make a food and drinks shopping list.
- Buy tableware and cutlery or place your rental order. If you hire us as your caterer, we will do this for you.
- Finalize your list of helpers.
1 Week to Go
- With RSVP’s in, estimate your final number of guests
- Purchase all beverages- alcoholic and soft drinks.
- Confirm menu with caterer if using one.
- Ask your grad to make a custom party playlist.
- Bake and freeze cookies, brownies
- Gather the graduates items you would like to set out for décor/ centerpieces. See list above.
4 Days to Go
- Make room in your freezer and refrigerator for food.
3 Days to Go
- Buy ingredients for dips, salads, brownies, cookies. Buy chips, crackers, cheeses, charcuterie, produce.
- Begin advance prep of foods that can be frozen or chilled in advance: i.e. salsas, cakes, dips, and cookie dough.
- Thaw frozen meat purchased on sale
- Make signage for food items so guests know what you’re displaying
2 Days Before
- Marinate meats for grill and oven
- Tents are usually set up 1-2 days before event.
1 Day Before Party
- Make roasts, composed salads, specialty punch drinks
- Rentals are delivered. For a small fee, you can tell them beforehand to set up and breakdown all the tables and chairs. Just email them a drawing.
If you’re placing tables and chairs out in the open with no tent, wait until the day of to set these up.
- Set out plates, glasses, napkins, signage, platters, serving pieces in kitchen or other quiet area. Label platters and bowls with post it notes. Make sure you have enough serving pieces. Use “large” everything so you don’t need to replenish.
Print out menu for self
Set up flowers and/or other decor
Double check that music equipment is working properly. Set up music.
Defrost cookies/ brownies and place on platters. Cover with seran wrap.
Two hours before
If you’ve hired a caterer, they will arrive right about now to set everything up.
If you haven’t hired a caterer, you want to do the following:
- Gather friends and family to help with setup
- Put cloths on tables
- Place Centerpieces and décor on tables
- Set up kitchen for all reheating of menu items
- Place out on food station- plates, napkins in basket, utensils in baskets.
- Pick up ice as late in day as possible. Many liquor stores carry 30 lb. bags. Get 2 lbs. per person.
- Pick up helium balloon centerpieces as late in day as possible.
- Platter any items that don’t need refrigeration. Or, if you have plenty of refrigeration, platter as much as possible.
- Place beer, white wine in tubs, then surround with ice.
- Put chips in large bowls and cover with seran wrap.
- Place any games you’ve chosen to have out on the lawn.
- Place specialty punch drinks in bev dispensers.
- Set up bar with bowl for ice, ice scoop, glasses or cups, red wine, hard liquor and mixers, wine openers, cocktail napkins. Cut any bar fruit and place in bowls. Bev tubs of iced down beverages.
As you can see, there are a lot of last minute details to take care of before guests arrive. Hence, the importance of recruiting lots of young (and old) hands to help out. Being a good delegator is absolutely crucial. Make a list of helpers and actually task each person with specific “chores” so you have time to get ready and look like you didn’t lift a finger!
Contact Susan or Jen with any of your graduation questions. We’re always happy to dole out advice and support!
Susan Lane Events