Sarasota Catering Company
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Party Planning Guide

What Else Do I Consider?


Invitations set the tone for the party, whether they are verbal or written. A verbal invitation typically is for a small, informal gathering. For larger and less casual events, a written invitation will provide not only essential information about the event but will also set the level of formality. Invitations should be sent out two to three weeks prior for a social event and four weeks for a business or formal event. Save-the-date postcards increase the probability that the intended guests will be available and are mailed a month or two before the invitation. This is especially important for galas or fundraisers where publicity is key to the event.

If you use a verbal invitation, put together a script that you can follow so you don’t forget any of the details. For formal written invitations, check with invitation specialists or a book on etiquette for the proper format.

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Party Equipment

Party equipment includes items such as tables, linens, table skirts, paper goods, dishes, serving utensils, serving dishes, extra chairs, chair covers/cushions, tents, umbrellas, beverage coolers and games.

When you are trying to determine how many tables are needed or how many people you can fit comfortably at your dining table, the standard is two linear feet of space per person. This includes the ends of the tables as well.

Typical table sizes:

24 inch round (cocktail or bistro size)Seats 2 / 3 casually (not for full meal service)
36 inch round (cocktail)Seats 4 casually
60 inch round or squareSeats 8 / 10 with a squeeze
60 inch squareSeats 8
72 inch roundSeats 10 / 12 with a squeeze
72 X 30 inch rectangularSeats 8
96 X 30 inch rectangularSeats 10 / 12 with a squeeze


Tables are generally between 28 to 30 inches high; therefore, add 56 to 60 inches to the diameter of a round table for floor-length table cloth coverage. For rectangular tables, use a 156 x 90 inch cloth, boxing the corners. Alternatively, use two smaller table cloths. For dramatic effect, you can add a smaller square cloth over the first one to create contrasting colors. Table skirts for buffet or service tables can be attached to the edges of the table. These skirts are not satisfactory for dining tables because they stand up at the table's edge, possibly being dislodged by a guest during the course of the meal.

Linen napkins are necessary for all but the most casual events. Exceptions include paper cocktail napkins for beverages and hors d'oeuvres. Extra linen napkins are used in breadbaskets, for wrapping wine bottles, covering drink or serving trays, and by servers in case of spills.

Food Heating / Holding

Food being served warm, especially on a buffet table, needs to be kept warm. This is accomplished easily with chafing dishes, which come in different sizes and styles, ranging from wire racks and aluminum foil pans to silver plated dishes. Whichever you choose, they use Canned Heat such as Sterno. These items can be bought from party stores or rented from equipment rental sources.

A warming tray is another device that can keep food warm or crispy without drying it out. These can be purchased or rented inexpensively.


Coffee is served at most meals. For 10 people, you will serve about 15 cups of coffee. If you purchase a coffeemaker, choose one that can handle at least 24 cups. It can also be used for mulled wine or cider. Otherwise, invest in an insulated carafe so that the temperature of the coffee can be maintained while the next pot is brewing.

Serving Utensils

Every plate or bowl requires a serving spoon, fork or knife. Cake or pie requires a serving knife. Cheese should have a knife to cut cheese or toothpicks to pick up the cheese if it is already cut. Cream cheese should have a spreader. Soup should have a ladle with a handle that is large enough not to slide into the tureen or pot. Tongs can be used to pick up meat, shrimp or vegetables. Spatulas can be used for cake, pie or hamburgers.

Dishes and Flatware

At a dinner party, you will need plates and flatware for each course. If you do not have enough pieces, you can leave the flatware on the table when the dishes are picked up. Have enough dishes for each course to avoid the need to wash them between courses. On a buffet table, expect the guests to use new dishes for each trip to the buffet.

If you rent dishes and flatware, allow one extra place setting of flatware and dishes for every 10 guests in the event something is dropped or broken. For a buffet, plan on one dinner plate and one salad plate for the main course and a third plate for dessert.

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Space Planning

Planning a party is not only about the food but where to place the guests, the buffet table and the wine or beverage station. Decisions about these placements should include consideration for how to avoid congestion and how to encourage mixing. You want your guests to be comfortable and have a good time. The key is to match your group's size to the space selected. If the space is too small, guests may feel claustrophobic and unable to be served adequately. If the space is too large, guests may feel isolated and disconnected.

    The following guidelines will help the room be more comfortable.
  • When using more than one dining table in a room, allow at least 2 feet between the chair backs of each table.
  • Add 3 feet to the diameter of a table to determine the space required for a table and chairs.
  • Provide seating for at least ¾ of the guests at a casual buffet.
  • Use screens or dividers, if the room is oversized, in order to make the room feel smaller and provide some intimacy.
  • Standup cocktail tables can be used when there is limited space.
  • Consider using additional seating in your home other than dining table/chairs. Use sofas, piano benches, living-room chairs, or folding chairs, and provide lap trays or TV trays as surfaces to make the eating experience more enjoyable.
  • If you are going to have dancing at your party, make sure that you have left adequate space for a dance floor.
  • Buffet tables should have access from both sides, if possible, to speed access.
  • Buffet tables should have plenty of space around them because guests are likely to congregate there.
  • Buffet tables should not be placed next to a doorway since they will interfere with guests moving from room to room.
  • Consider having buffet food placed in two or more locations to speed access. (This is especially important for parties with a large number of guests.)
  • The bar should be well lighted and visible from the doorway; however, it should be away from the doorway to avoid congestion. Provide a trash receptacle for empty bottles, used napkins and half-finished drinks.
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Selecting a Venue

You may want to hold your event at a specific venue such as a museum or on the beach. Remember that each venue has advantages and disadvantages. Consulting with a local caterer or event planner can tell you about the idiosyncrasies of the desired location.

    Public venues such as museums or historic homes typically:
  • Charge a fee for usage.
  • May have a list of authorized caterers.
  • Have strict requirements about service providers, setup, operation, and breakdown of the event.
  • May restrict where food can be prepared or served
  • May require alcoholic beverages be purchased from them.
  • May require a liqueur license and insurance if liquor is served by others
  • May require vendors, such as caterers to pay a fee (usually 10% of food sales) to the facility for the privilege of providing food. You will end up paying this additional fee either as a service charge on the caterer's contract or it will mean higher food charges.

If the beach or park is a desired venue, you may need a permit and alcoholic beverages may not be served. You should understand the restrictions before you sign a contract for the venue.

Lastly, caterers usually carry liability insurance for their delivery vehicles, services, and liquor service. Some venues will not allow a caterer to provide food on their premises if they can not show proof of insurance. Make sure your caterer has appropriate insurance for your event.

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Entertaining Outside

Outdoor entertaining provides space and an atmosphere that your home or a rented hall cannot. It is important, however, to anticipate what the weather will be like on the day of your party and to plan what you will do if it is not what you expected.

    Is it too warm?
  • Rent or borrow umbrellas, fans or canopies,especially over a buffet.
  • Schedule the party for a cooler part of the day.
  • Provide cool drinks at a table where guests can serve themselves.
  • Provide extra ice and water.
    Is it too cold?
  • Rent space heaters.
  • Serve warm food, spicy food and warm drinks.
  • Start an evening event as early as possible.
  • Use active music to encourage dancing.
  • Use hot colors to trick the senses into feeling warmer.
    Is it too windy?
  • Make sure all items are secured so they don’t blow around. This includes flowers, linens, and décor items. Avoid umbrellas or other decorations that could suffer wind damage or hurt the guests.
  • Use table settings that don’t require tablecloths or have the cloths weighted down.
  • Avoid candles or open flames.
  • Locate the party next to a building or fence that offers some protection from the wind.
    Is it likely to rain?
  • Rent a tent or a shelter. If the cost is prohibitive, consider moving the party indoors.
    Are there likely to be ants, mosquitoes, gnats, flies or no-see-ums?
  • Arrange insect repellant candles and incense around guest seating areas.
  • Spray the area prior to the party with insecticide or repellant.
  • Place ant traps around the perimeter of the party area prior to the party.
  • Use plants like garlic, mint or zinnias.
  • Place bowls of dry ice around the perimeter of the party to attract mosquitoes and flies.
  • Provide covers or screens to cover food.
    Is it on a lawn?
  • Check that all sprinklers have been turned off.
  • Provide mats where women with high heels can stand, or, in the invitation, recommend that women wear flats.
    Are there noise or time restrictions?
  • Check if noise from your party will carry to surrounding homes or businesses. Find out if there are noise or time restrictions. Do you need a special permit or permission for this location?
  • Check the location at the time you plan on having your event to determine if noise from the street or surrounding businesses will interfere with the party.
    Is there adequate lighting?
  • Find out if there will be electrical outlets for electric lighting.
  • Use candles in paper bags that have been weighted with sand to illuminate paths or walkways.
  • Use candles or hurricane lamps to illuminate buffets and guest tables.
  • Use kerosene lanterns.
    Are there adequate restroom facilities?
  • Many park or beach areas do not provide restrooms or they may be locked. Check to see what facilities are available during the hours of the party.
  • Rent a portable toilet if it is not cost-prohibitive.
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Depending on the party location, parking may be a problem. Encourage your guests not to bring their car, inform them of available parking or provide a valet parking service. If you are near a public garage, guests could be given parking passes to pay for all or part of the fee. If your neighborhood restricts parking, contact the local police, alderman, or commissioner to obtain special permission or a permit.
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Sarasota Catering Company wins the Knot Best of Weddings 2010-2016
Sarasota Catering Company joins the Knot Best of Weddings Hall of Fame
Sarasota Catering Company wins Weddingwire Couple's Choice Award 2010-2016