The 8 Rules of Cooking For a Crowd

Are you a crowd-feeder?

As a chef who owns a fine-dining catering company in Tampa, Florida, I am. We serve elegant dinners for groups ranging from 10 to 350 people. So we know a crowd when we see one.
At home, it’s the same thing. Trust me, when we cook for our five children, Carissa and I feel like it’s a catering job, except we don’t get paid for it.

crowd cooking

I got a great question from a reader this week:

QUESTION: “How do I cook for a crowd and get my timing right?’

With Memorial Day, graduation parties, and July 4th around the corner, you better pay attention to these super tips.

You see, timing is everything. Chefs know that. And you do too. Can you imagine going to a fancy restaurant, ordering off the menu only to hear the server say: “We’re sorry Ma’am but the chef just isn’t ready; would you come back in one hour?” That’s just not an option.

Truth be told, the system used by professional chefs to make sure their meals will be ready on time is akin to a military system. The military doesn’t have the luxury of being late. So for the kitchen and the military alike, the secret to everything coming together in a well-executed, well-timed fashion, is breaking down the tasks at hand — giving each of them a realistic time value, and then arranging those tasks together so that you can determine your start time. Only then can you pretend to finish on time.

cooking for a crowd

Here are my very best tips to cook for a crowd and time things right.


Sit down with a piece of paper and draw your precise plan of action. List all of your tasks. What’s your menu? How much preparation is involved? When will you go shopping? What time do guests arrive? How much time will you need to be ready on time? Etc., etc.

Lack of planning is the number one failure when cooking for a crowd.


I can’t say it enough. You may have lofty goals of serving sophisticated dishes, plenty of them, and making your party a big, fun bash — but keeping it simple will guarantee that you’ll actually start things on time, avoid overwhelm, and actually enjoy yourself at your own party.

Overload your task list and mayhem ensues — and trust me, that’s no fun.


That’s a beginner mistake, you say. Maybe. But it still happens to me, even with my 29 years of professional experience. So allow enough time (feel free to double it!) and remember to have a buffer in case something happens. Because something will happen; it’s just the nature of the beast.



You want to have enough food, and a bit left over. Not a ton.

You can find many resources on the Web to evaluate how much food you need, but here is a rule of thumb: Just picture yourself with a plate in your hand. How much of everything will you eat? Can you really eat 3 hamburgers, 2 hot dogs, 2 cups of coleslaw, and 2 pieces of that yummy apple pie? Not really.

Once you have a good, average idea of what you would eat if you were invited somewhere, just multiply it by the number of guests.

[Chef secret alert!] Men eat more than women. Teenagers eat a lot but won’t touch “weird” foods. Kids barely eat anything. People will eat more if they are handed large dinner plates, and less if you give them appetizer plates.
If you need your guests to eat a lot of something, place it at the beginning of the buffet line; otherwise, place it at the end. For some reason, the bigger the crowd, the less food people eat.buffet for a crowd


Make sure you have something for everybody: your “meat & potatoes” guests, your vegan/vegetarian guests, kids and grown-ups, something served cold, something served hot, different textures, different colors…

Also for variety, make sure you have dishes that are very easy and fast to prepare, as well as some that are a bit less basic.
Finally, have dishes that can be made way ahead of time, and only a few that need to be done at the last minute.


Be organized and make sure you allow enough time to clean your kitchen before your guests arrive.


Many items can be made ahead of time. When you plan, make sure you include some of those. Some items can also be kept warm for a long time — slow-cooker items, for instance. Use that to your advantage.

meal planning for a crowd



There are plenty of recipes that are perfect for a crowd: easy to make, fat-burning, and crowd-pleasing in my Eat More, Burn More cookbook. For instance:

Easy banana bread page 23

Spinach and tomato frittata page 27

Supercharged guacamole page 51

Healthy Caesar salad page 63

healthy caesar salad for a crowd

Caprese salad with burrata page 65

Mexican three bean salad page 71

Healthy chicken wings page 83

Black kale chili page 123

Supermeatballs page 126Never Diet Never Sacrifice

Grilled marinated shrimp page 143

Mexican chile rellenos page 157

Traditional pasta puttanesca page 169

Lean and green baked ziti page 167

Spinach and ricotta lasagna page 171

Rainbow root vegetable roast page 191

Mac and cheese and kale page 196

Green bean casserole page 199

Kids fav Kale chips page 203



Gui Alinat

Gui Alinat is a Tampa, Fla.-based American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef, published food writer, and the owner of Artisan Boutique Catering. He is the author of "The Chef's Repertoire," and "Eat More, Burn More." Born, raised and classically trained as a chef on the Mediterranean coast of France, he traveled extensively, working in restaurants around the world. Chef Gui promotes an active lifestyle, sound nutrition, and believes that fresh and tasty food is resolutely compatible with fat loss and bodybuilding alike. He lives in Florida with his wife Carissa and their five children.