Whether you're hosting a wedding, birthday party, family reunion or a simple summer barbecue, providing vegetarian food and drink for a large group requires advance planning. Fortunately, vegetarian entrees can often be made ahead of time and reheated before guests arrive or left to marinate in the fridge until the party. By choosing dishes that are easy to prepare and serve, you'll maintain your sanity and have more time to mingle with your guests.
When feeding large groups, your main concern is the right quantity. Finalize your guest list prior to deciding the menu so you'll know how many mouths to expect. Estimate the amount of a serving per person for each dish, then multiply the amount by the number of people. For example, if one person can consume a cup of soup and 20 people are coming to dinner, you'll need to provide at least 20 cups of soup.
Choose menu items that you can prepare in advance with a minimum of time and effort. Tossed salads need only coarsely chopped vegetables and dressing. Soups, dips and curries can be prepared in one pot or bowl, which cuts down on clean up after the meal. Avoid serving entrees that are labor-intensive to create, such as layered salads or casseroles in which each ingredient is separately pre-cooked.
Serve dishes family-style when the gathering is friendly and informal. Provide plates, cutlery and napkins at one end of a buffet or table, then set the courses in large dishes and festive platters on the same table. Place serving utensils next to each course so guests can help themselves. For formal parties, plan on serving each person individually at the table.
A simple vegetarian menu for large groups should offer an appetizer, one or two entrees and dessert. Serve wines or cocktails with the appetizer and coffee or tea with dessert. More elaborate meals might include a soup and salad, first course, main course and dessert with wine pairings.
Delicious vegetarian appetizers include fresh crudites and dips like hummus or guacamole, crackers and assorted cheeses, chilled or hot soups, tossed fresh salads or roasted vegetable skewers. For an informal party, consider tofu or lentil burgers, grilled vegetable sandwiches, cold pasta salads or spicy curries as entrees. Formal gatherings suggest elegantly prepared entrees like Asian-style stir-fry with grilled tofu, vegetarian stuffed cabbage, polenta with sun-dried tomato ragout, savory spinach quiche or pasta with fresh herbs. Desserts might include fresh fruit, cupcakes, brownie squares, cheesecake or fruit pies.