Our biggest party planning angst...it's always the food. What do we serve and where do we get it from?
We used to spend Friday evening after work hitting up multiple grocery stores and, after the kids were in bed, working in the kitchen late into the night cutting fruit salad and sandwiches, and marinating enormous batches of meat. Our ultimate goal was to make everything look effortless come 11am Saturday morning (ha!).
If you're hosting a party for 8+ guests (including kids) and you live in the SF Bay Area, we've discovered it's often easier, cheaper and MUCH more enjoyable for the hosts to cater. When I say "cater," I don't mean a professional chef showing up with hot chafing dishes at your door. Those services are certainly a lovely option, but we're talking about a budget of at least $15-$20 per guest, and typically a required minimum. Instead, we take advantage of the great party platter options available in our area. We always order a few platters and then supplement with easy, ready-made (or close-to-it sides). If you live on the San Francisco Peninsula, here are my favorite, budget friendly, local recommendations* with some suggestions for easy sides:
Chavez Supermarket - We love the friendly staff at our local Chavez. They have an extensive party menu geared toward family gatherings. For one birthday party, we hung up a fun pinata and ordered a platter of assorted burritos, pre-cut in halves. Easy sides: store-bought chips with salsa and guacamole, a few batches of agua fresca and/or sangria, and slices of chilled watermelon.
Costco - Be sure to pick up your party platters late Friday or early morning Saturday or Sunday, before the weekend crowds! For brunches or a light dinner, we like the shrimp platters, lavash rolls, and croissant sandwiches (selections vary by store). For adults, we'll sometimes get poke from their poke bar to serve with chips. Costco's deli selection and frozen appetizer section are vast, and supply terrific party appetizers. Easy sides: artfully arrange a bowl of berries drizzled with honey and mint leaves, sliced baguettes with brie and salami, and fill a pitcher with ice water and slices of oranges for a pretty and refreshing beverage.
Nijiya Market - My daughter's love for sushi was fostered early on by my seafood-loving husband. For her 3rd birthday, both of them asked "Could we do sushi?" But party platters at even the most inexpensive sushi restaurants were cost prohibitive. I hopefully called the San Mateo Nijiya Market and was thrilled to find out they also offer party platters (advance order required) for about $30-$40 per platter. They were a fantastic hit with our family. Fresh, beautifully laid out, and lots of options for vegetarians too. Easy sides: Costco's seaweed salad, garden salad with miso dressing, pan fried (frozen) gyoza/potstickers from Trader Joe's.
Safeway - Varies by store location, but overall, Safeway has lots of great options. You can preorder fancier platters (elegant tea sandwiches, hoagies, antipasto, fruit & cheese trays) directly from their deli or grab on-the-go options (lavash rolls, crudites, croissant sandwiches, chicken wings) in their refrigerator section. Their bakeries offer beautiful fruit tarts, custom cakes and cupcakes. Easy sides: a simple pasta salad, a few baskets of strawberries, and some pitchers of Arnold Palmer.
We've found that many restaurants offer party platters, but may not advertise them. If you have a favorite local restaurant, it's worth asking if they offer platters. Many are happy to put together something for you as long as you do the pick up. We found this out with one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, Hometown Noodle in Redwood City. In addition, most of the chain restaurants, like Applebee's, Olive Garden, Buca di Beppo and even Togos, offer party trays or platters, too.
We've tried party food at high end grocery stores, like Whole Foods or Draeger's, which have beautifully presented, high quality party trays. However, portions per person tend to run smaller and they can easily cost around $15 per person, close to full catering prices. I would recommend these options if you're hosting something a bit more formal (like a networking or business function) or have a higher adult to child ratio.
We hope you've found these suggestions helpful! Less time in the kitchen means more time enjoying your party with your children and your guests. With all these great local catering options, you may never cook for a party again!
*Be sure to call the store or restaurant in advance to get the most updated menu and current pricing.
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