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Winning game plans for a really big party.

November marks the beginning of large-scale indoor entertaining for many people. Whther the event is a Thanksgiving dinner for 50 or a fund-raiser for 500, good planning is the key to success.

We surveyed numerous parties in the West, interviewing planners and workers to learn their tricks for feeding a crowd. Their experiences, illustrated by the four groups pictured on these pages, may help you with your next big party.

Planning the menu

For the simplest event, focus on one dish and do it very well. The Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary of Modesto, California, presents cooked-to-order filled omelets for 500. Other good one-dish menus feature stews, chili, soup, casseroles.

As you add courses, more preparation and defining of duties are needed. Each year, the Enological Society of the Pacific Northwest puts on a six-course sit-down dinner for 600. Weeks in advance, the society fixes a test dinner for a small group and critiques in thoroughly, rating each recipe, evaluating portion sizes and wines, deciding which foods can be prepared ahead (freeze or chill a small amount and reheat to check quality), determining cooking and equipment needs, and calculating costs.

This answers questions about the amount of baking, chiling, freezing, and rangetop cooking to plan for. It also alerts planners to the number of trays, refrigerators, and burners needed.

Pretesting also helps you answer the all-important question, "How much do I need?" In your test dinner, carefully analyze portion size. Make allotments according to weight or piece, or allow a fixed amount for each meal-size serving: about 3/4 pound bone-in meat, such as turkey or ribs; 3/4 pound seafood in the shell, such as crab or clams; 1/4 pound boneless meat or cheese; 1/2 cup ready-to-eat vegetable; 1/2 cup ready-to-eat starch.

If the food is to be served, you have close control over the amount needed. But when guests serve themselves, add at least 25 percent more as a cushion if you expect hearty eaters.

If you want leftovers, as you might at a Thanksgiving dinner, allow for them in your base figure. Planners of a six-family (plus guests) Thanksgiving feast allot a 20-pound turkey per family; a carcass goes home with each.

For an appetizer party like the one given by the International Institute of San Francisco, you need to figure how many appetizers each person might eat during the party. For a 2- to 4-hour event, the institute provides 12 to 15 bite-size appetizers per person and about 1 bottle (750 ml.) of wine for every 2 or 3 guests.

The wine society, however, allows the equivalent of 1 bottle of wine for each person during its multicourse dinner. For other beverages, such as fruit juice, allow 2 to 3 cups per person.

Buffet or sit-down service?

When help is limited, a buffet is the easiest to handle. The walk-around appetizer party uses this method of service, supplementing it with some appetizers that are passed around the room.

With a buffet, it's important to make the food readily accessible to many people at once. Serving from the two sides or from each corner of a table helps prevent bottlenecks. Or place individual courses at different, smaller tables, making a number of food stations. To further disperse traffic, appetizers and deserts can be arranged on several small tables away from the main part of the meal. Use volunteer monitors to help regulate line and direct people.

For large buffets, having tables and chairs for guests is strongly preferred to having people balance plates on their laps.

With sit-down service, you'll need a lot more manpower. To minimize this, consider letting guests help serve. The wine group asks each table to choose a "mom" and "pop." This couple picks up platters of food from a central serving area to take back to their table for passing around. You can also plan to have some food, such as salad, appetizers, or bread and butter, on the table before guests are seated.

Or more the group to a fresh location. To alleviate congestion, the Thanksgiving party has its first and last sources at the house across the street.

Expanding the kitchen

If your kitchen isn't big enough, look for ways to expand it. Organizers of the omelet party set up a dozen portable self-fueled burners in a large meeting room. Depending on the dish you're cooking, you can also use small electrical appliances--such as frying pans, slow cookers, grills, and ovens--in a nearby room or on a sheltered porch or patio, or barbecues and camp stoves outdoors.

For best use of limited areas, go up instead of out. To conserve counter space, the wine society often stacks pans of food on top of one another, as pictured on page 263. To increase oven capacity for keeping foods warm and reheating appetizers, bricks in the oven hold extra racks.

Move chores not directly related to cooking out of the kitchen. Tearing salad greens and cutting vegetables can be done almost anywhere.

Borrow kitchen space from a nearby friend or relative to store food in the refrigerator or to keep a pot simmering on the stove. Or, like the wine society, rent a hall with an institutional kitchen. All groups surveyed used satellite kitchens to help prepare dishes in advance.

Look for refrigeration alternatives. Use big tubs (or a bathtub) or garbage bags filled with ice to keep beverages cold. People in cold climates might store some foods outdoors or in a cool basement. Make use of insulated picnic chests and bags. Have several individuals chill foods in their own kitchens, then bring them to the party shortly before serving.

Who cooks, how many?

When you feed a lot of people, you need a team of cooks. At each of the parties we witnessed, cooking was a highly organized, cooperative effort with tasks clearly delegated.

At the big Thanksgiving, each family brings a cooked turkey and favorite accompaniments. Foods that freeze well, like breads and stuffings, are made in advance by several families. Just before serving time, mashed potatoes and other perishable dishes are made in the host's kitchen.

For the appetizer party, foods that can be made ahead are prepared at different homes by volunteers. Each session starts with a demonstration or lesson on the dish, then the group makes large quantities to freeze. On the party day, a core group works at the on-site kitchen, preparing foods that need last-minute attention. A professional caterer oversees the garnishing and presentation of all the dishes.

For the wine society event, dishes that need to be made ahead, such as goose rillettes, are prepared in private homes. The rest of the meal is cooked in the rented dinner-site kitchen by 50 volunteers in two days. A core group works both days to provide continuity; other people come in for 8-hour shifts. A team of five does all the cooking; the others do preparation work--cutting vegetables, washing greens--and set up tables.

The day of the dinner, the cooking team precooks vegetables, prepares the meat, makes some sauces; this food is held at room temperature, then heated to serve.

Because people arrive for the Salvation Army fund-raising lunch in a community center at slightly different times, four experienced cooks can keep up with the flow of guests. Each cook oversees three portable burners, preparing 3 omelets at a time, 60 omelets in 30 minutes.

Eggs are beaten in advance, with one person keeping the cooks supplied with the eggs and melted butter. Two others help direct and seat guests, and also spell the cooks. Omelet fillings, salad components, and desserts are prepared by volunteers and stored in their homes. These foods are brought to the center several hours ahead, put on serving plates, and set on buffet tables when guests are ready for the course.

Organizing help

With a big group of volunteers, organization and communication are key words. Duties should be written out and delegated to individuals or team leaders. The omelet group prepares duty cards for each volunteer, specifying what to do, when, and where. The wine society has a chairman for its dinner and a committee with clearly defined duties for each job. Names and duties are posted conspicuously.

An appreciated group performs best--so be sure to reward the helpers. In Seattle, wine society volunteers sit down to a lunch served to them by another volunteer whose main responsibility is to prepare this meal. The clean-up crew is allowed to enjoy the gala dinner, then goes to work after it's over. The resident janitor gets a generous tip for his help in getting the rented facility back into good shape.

Cleaning up ... the end

Those who cook rarely like to clean, too. If you can, bring in a new team to clean up. Specify chores or areas of responsibility for each member.

For a large group, we heard many votes for using good-quality disposable tableware. If the utensils are nondisposable, assign someone to sort and count pieces before the garbage is taken out; in the hubbub, many items can accidentally get tossed out with the trash.
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Date:Nov 1, 1985
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