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How to cater for large groups during the festive season

Catering for events requires meticulous planning, says Goodwood Estate's executive chef Darron Bunn

Darron Bunn, executive chef at the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex - home to events like The Festival of Speed, as well as restaurants, a hotel and private members’ club – gives his top tips for catering for large parties over the festive season.

Food is central to what we do at Goodwood. We might be renowned for our three iconic events; Festival of Speed, Glorious Goodwood and the Revival, but there is so much more that goes on across the estate throughout the year. Whether we are creating a delicious butcher's board at Farmer, Butcher, Chef or looking after private members for dinner at The Kennels, we have seen (and cooked) it all.  

We can cater for small and large groups across the estate, but we are well-practised in hosting banquets at Goodwood House where we can cater for up to 1,500 guests in a single event. 

As we approach the busy festive season chefs at hotels, restaurants and pubs across the country will be gearing up to cater for larger groups of diners attending Christmas and New Year dinners and parties. 

While catering for large groups draws on the many of the same skills needed during a busy restaurant service, there can be added pressures from serving people at the same time and a slightly different approach may be needed. 

To help you cope during the busy season, here are my top tips to delivering a successful banquet or large event. 

Tip 1: Plan well 

As you can imagine, feeding 1,500 in one sitting takes meticulous planning.  Before preparing for an event, Mike Watts, who is head chef of the Goodwood House team, will sit down with clients, along with a planner and the head butler, to discuss the needs of the individual. 

They will go through every detail, from head count, menus, number of courses, canapes, wines, aperitif, themes, table sizes, linen, crockery, glasses, location, dietary requirements, timings, set dressing, budgets and more. 

Once all of the above has been discussed, the clients will be given a menu with some choices to be made. They will then come back and all of the dishes will be cooked for the clients to taste and to decide what three courses they would like. 

Tip 2: Use the right equipment 

Once all details are ok’d by the venue and guests, ensure you have everything you’ll need to deliver it to their specifications.

For the largest functions at Goodwood Hosue we’ll create a whole village, consisting of walk-in fridges, blast chillers, rows and rows of ovens, folding tables, hot lamps and sinks.  

Ensure all the ingredients you will need have been ordered from your suppliers and when deliveries begin to arrive ensure your team is ready for them. At Goodwood we’ll have a team ready to chop, sear, simmer and fuse the ingredients into the correct state as per recipes and guest requirements as soon as they arrive. 

Tip 3: Brief the whole team 

An event for 1,500 people will take a team of 150 waiting staff (who will come in for at least 10-15 hours of training in advance of the event) 40 chefs, 20 support staff, five butlers plus florists and set dressers. 

If you want your event to go well and run with military precision, you will need every member of the team to know the drill. Just before guests arrive ensure the kitchen team has every piece of food counted and recounted tasted and stored. 

Front-of-house staff should ensure every napkin, glass, piece of cutlery is laid and inspected. Event managers should then run through the order of service and agree times, ensuring they are communicated to every relevant member of the team. 

Once the preparation and planning is complete, you’re ready for the business of service. 

Goodwood banquets by numbers:

  • 9,000 pieces of cutlery cleaned, polished and laid
  • 6,000 polished glasses
  • 2,250 bottles of wine and Champagne
  • 2,000 folded napkins
  • 600 litres of water
  • 260 tablecloths
  • 225 pairs of sore feet
  • 1,725 big smiles 

Darron Bunn is executive chef at Goodwood. The 12,000-acre estate aims to build on its sustainable food heritage; retaining traditional farming skills, employing expert staff and using local businesses which support its aims. Goodwood Home Farm provides organic award-winning meats, milk, cheeses, ales and lagers, whilst the extensive grounds are an inspiration for foraging wild produce.

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