Hello, is anybody out there? It’s me Debbie. I promise i’m still here, life has just been a, well, hot mess. First let me apologize for the lack of blog posts here. It is completely my fault. I let life get busy but I will be back to regular posts. So what have I been busy with? Planning a pasta dinner for my favorite veteran’s non-profit, Team Red, White, and Blue. There were days I wondered how it would turn out but in the end it went really well. So I thought I would share some tips about how I did it.
Team RWB is a veteran’s outreach organization that reaches out to veterans through both physical and social activity. Here in the Fort Bragg area a large event that we have is the All American Marathon and we have tons of members that participate so having a pasta dinner was a no brainer. You are suppose to carb load before a marathon, right? Plus anyways it was just a great way to get everyone from our chapter and visiting chapters together. Pasta dinner for 50-100 people, I could do that no problem.
Find a Venue
The first step was to find a venue. This is the step that probably took the longest to nail down. Most hotels have conference areas and then there were a small handful of banquet halls I reached out to. Sometimes these places will work with you but you have to look at the complete picture. Many of the hotels I contacted made it mandatory that we used them for catering also. Banquet halls you had to use places from their pre-approved list. That can get pricey. Most places wanted $500 for the room and then the meals were a minimum of $20 per person. That is when I began looking at local restaurants, a few did have larger conference rooms. Next up on my list were the local VFW’s and last were churches. I was able to obtain a local VFW for the great price of free. It was also a great way for both of our organizations to work together!
Next up on the to do list was Food! A big part of planning the dinner was deciding do you want to make the food yourselves or do you want to get it catered. First, are you capable of cooking the amounts of pasta and food you will need? Do you have the cooking space? Do you have volunteers to help cook? Once you have looked at those factors you need to do a cost analysis of how much it would cost to cook all the food yourself. After doing the cost analysis and having that cost figured out you can look into catering options to figure out the most cost effective choice.Remember to include a buffer of 10-15 if you are doing a buffet style meal. Something to also look at on the catering side was the time factor. What else are you going to need to do on the day of your pasta dinner? Will you have time to cook?
Another component when it comes to food is the different dietary needs. For our dinner we went with something for everyone with Vegan and Gluten Free choices. If I had known I would be the only gluten free person in the room I would of skipped it or had just made a small pan of pasta myself but ultimately it was a good option to have. A note about gluten free, it is very important to allow those that are gluten free serve themselves first or have an area that is completely separate so cross contamination does not occur.
Lastly, once you have your meal figured out there are a couple other meal costs to figure out. The first is plates, napkins, cups, silverware and serving utensils if you need them, because well, you are going to need something to serve your food onto. Next, is drinks. People are going to want something to drink. I suggest to keep this simple, water, tea, lemonade and maybe coffee. Lastly, don’t forget dessert. A simple dessert is cake. A half sheet cake can easily feed 50 people.
Why are you having your pasta dinner? Do you think a guest speaker would be relevant? In our case it was, the issue was finding who. Look at notable figures in your community. Reach out through their contact pages on their webpages. Ask friends if they know anyone that may be interested. While many typically require some sort of fee you would be surprised that many may work for good food especially if you have a great cause.
Once you have the main details down it is time to start ticket sales. This can be a few different ways. You could do ticket sales only at the door. The problem with this is not knowing how many are going to be showing up. You could do physical ticket sales and have a few people selling them. This works if your event is local and you have the volunteers that can help. Lastly, you can turn to the internet and use a website like Eventbrite.com. We used Eventbrite for our ticket sales and the biggest down side was how we were set up to be reimbursed. Reimbursement was almost a week after the event. Other than that I really liked the website. I had their app on my phone and
constantly could check ticket sales whenever I felt like it.
As for pricing for your ticket sales of course everyone wants a nice low price but you have to be realistic. You need to be able to cover all of your costs with some overhead. This overhead could be to cover unforeseen costs to a donation back to your charity.
Now that you have a venue, food plan and tickets you need to have some sort of marketing plan. First identify your target audience and the best way to reach them. Is it by email, Facebook or other means of social media, or will it just be by word of mouth? Will you be putting signs up at local businesses? If so you will need to make those signs. Never fear though don’t let making graphics keep you from your marketing goals. Although being able to use photoshop is helpful there are many FREE programs available on the internet to use to create graphics like Canva and PicMonkey. If the free programs are still too much for you, you can easily have a great graphic made for you on fiverr.com for $5. Once you have your graphic made it is easy to post every where physically and digitally. For instance there are groups and pages on Facebook for community events.
Another great place to list your event is on local newspaper and news station, what to do sections and local up and coming event newspapers. You can also reach out to local radio stations for air time. Heck, if you have the budget you can pay for an on air commercial.
Speaking of paying for advertising another place to pay to advertise is Facebook. Due to the Facebook algorithm your initial posts reach is limited but if you pay a bit you can expand that reach by boosting a post or creating a Facebook ad. Personally I have experienced a better reach with Facebook ads over boosting a post. One of my favorite parts of this process is the ability to create audiences so you can reach your target audience.
Door Prizes, Thank You Gifts/Swag
A lesser thought is having door prizes and “swag bags” or thank you for coming gifts. Hey, adults like party favors too ours are just bigger. For this part it takes time and patience and the ability to deal with rejection. I started this process 2-3 months in advance of the event. First I contacted larger corporations online asking for donations. I wanted to give plenty of time for shipping. Next at about a month out I started going business to business locally. I asked anybody who I thought our target audience would enjoy. We were also blessed to have a large corporate partner that was willing to donate as well. I still had to ask though. For this though my top advice is ask everyone, be polite, professional, have a donation letter on hand with your tax id number if you have one and always say thank you.
Here are a few other things you will want to consider for your pasta dinner…
Organization is key for planning a dinner. Sometimes things will happen that are out of your control and there is nothing more than you can do than just go with it. The more organized you are the smoother things will flow. Those bumps in the road will not be as bad and trust me every large event i’ve ever had has some sort of bump.
Depending on your event you will want to decorate. For our event we kept it super simple (and cheap!) Dollar store tablecloths and couple packages of table scatter. We really had a bare bones budget but we made things work and it looked great. There are some other low cost table topper ideas on Pinterest. Pinterest is a party planners dream, there are so many ideas!
Pictures are important! Everyone loves pictures! They want to share them on social media. Having a photographer or someone that can take some good pictures is definitely an added plus. If you have room for a photo booth that is always a crowd pleaser.
My last tip for a successful pasta dinner would be to try to relax and remember to breathe. I know all to well that it can be hard and it is easy to get stressed out over the smallest of things. Just remember from time to time to give yourself a time out for yourself. Sometimes the break is all you need. It helps so you can refocus on what is going on.
So there ya go! Some of my tips on how to throw a dinner for a large group. I hope my tips are helpful as you start the adventure of planning a dinner for your large group!
Have you ever thrown a dinner for a large group? What are some of your best tips?