How to throw a retirement party for 65 people at home for well under $500

DSC03745 DSC03864 DSC03897   DSC03847Why do so many people cater their parties? They end up with soggy food that should be hot but is tepid and is certainly overcooked and overpriced. It just isn’t that hard to have a great party at home for a reasonable sum and not too much work, either before, during, or after the party, especially if you have a few post-docs or grad students to help out, like Debbie Brock, jeff smith, and Katie Geist. Maybe if I share a few tips on what we did, others will take the plunge! For smaller parties of under 20 we usually make pizza, making it ourselves, mostly during the event. But a large gathering needs a different approach.

First of all, it helps to understand that parties are generally not about the food or drink. They are about the people. So think about the geography of your home. Where do you want people to gather? Plan for a few places and distribute drinks coolers and food at them, though the main food can be on a central table. Most people won’t be sitting down for long, so you can get away with a quarter as many seats as people, or even fewer. Lots of our seats were unused. We had chairs, food, and drinks on the front porch, in the living room, the dining room, and the back deck.

Music is good. We put Pandora on the Cat Stevens station and it played throughout the house.

It is June, so we decided not to have any hot food. This also makes serving easier. You just put everything out and forget about it. We had way too much of some things, so I’ll be writing about correct amounts, not what we had.

The longer people are at a party, the more they eat and drink. It seems that three hours is a typical length for a gathering, but a larger one will last longer. I was delighted that ours lasted from 5:30 to 11:00 pm, a five and a half hour success.

OK, here is the list for 65 people:


Wine: one case, 8 red bottles 3 white bottles

Beer: 72 bottles

Soda water: 24 cans

Plain water: from faucet in a pitcher with ice

Orange juice, one gallon

Lemonade, homemade, one gallon

Assorted syrups for water: raspberry, hazelnut, black currant, cherry

Coffee can also be good, but I forgot to make it.


Cheeses: cheddar, 2 lbs., French comte 1 lb., brie 1 lb., goat, 1 lb.

Homemade bread: 6 lbs.

Mixed nuts: 2 lbs

Fruit: apricots, grapes, strawberries, tangerines (2 lbs. each)

Vegetable tray: celery, red pepper, carrots, cherry tomatoes (one tray with dip is enough)

Pasta salad 6 lbs. uncooked pasta (olives, red & yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, mild onions, pine nuts, pesto or vinaigrette

White bean salad 3 lbs. uncooked beans (white beans, vinaigrette, rosemary, mild onions)

Brownies 2 big pans with nuts

Biscotti, homemade 2 lbs.

I made gluten free cupcakes but only one person ate them, so the GF people might just enjoy the strawberries.

DSC03909There, that’s it. Plenty of food and drink for all.  The bread and cheese, fruit and brownies were big hits, as was the pasta salad. Biggest overestimate were the veggie trays. I just won’t do cokes and things, and the non-alcoholic stuff we had seemed to work. Next posts will be about organizing retirement festivities in general, including a checklist.

I have to add that I would rather have had vegetarian black bean chili for tacos with all the trimmings, pico de gallo, guacamole, jalapeños, sour cream, you know, but my nostalgia for Texas is running high enough as it is! (Can’t wait to hit Navasota and see family on Friday!) Then we could have had tortilla chips and salsa too. OK, just stop!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Celebrations, Social interactions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to throw a retirement party for 65 people at home for well under $500

  1. Manda Clair Jost says:

    Wonderful photos! So nice to see so many people I know, in these

  2. Nancy Dudek says:

    WOW! I wish I could go to one of your fab parties! What fun!

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