Ordering Lunch for a Large Group

Khanh Stenberg, Former Events Manager

Article Category: #News & Culture

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Recently, I've been challenged to share more about how I approach my job as Viget's office manager. Inspired by my brilliant co-workers and their blogging powers, I am diving right in. I hope this post on large group lunch orders is useful. In the coming months, I'll write about booking travel and dealing with telemarketers. What other topics would you like to hear about?

One of the many perks of working at Viget is Free Lunch Friday (FLF). It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together and hear what's happening within the company across all the offices. Not only is it a welcomed break on Friday afternoons, but Brian and Andy treat us all to lunch!

Part of my job is to make sure there's enough food for 25+ hungry Vigets at our Falls Church office. Sometimes we order individual meals; but, with this many people, the chance for error is great, and it makes me sad if someone doesn't get exactly what they ordered.

When pickles end up on a pickle-hater's sandwich they be like ...

To avoid such doom and gloom, I try to order buffet-style lunches as frequently as possible. The group-lunch approach, however, comes with its own set of challenges. Here are the steps I take and the things I consider when ordering lunch for a large group.

Set a Budget

I cross-check our list of employees with the out-of-office calendar to determine the total number of people eating. Then, I multiply this number by $10 to get a rough budget to work within.

Questions to consider:

  • How many people are eating?
  • How much can I spend per person?
  • Are tax, tip, and delivery included in the budget?

Pick a Restaurant

Sometimes the budget dictates where I order from; but, usually, I stick to rotation from a list of favorite restaurants.  I try to alternate between cold lunches, such as deli sandwiches, and hot lunches, such as BBQ, to keep it exciting (although, I can’t think of a time when free lunch isn’t exciting).

Questions to consider:

  • Does the place deliver or does it require pick-up?
  • If it's pick-up, do I have time to go get it?
  • Am I switching it up enough? When was the last time I ordered from X restaurant?

Account for Appetites and Dietary Restrictions

What to order and how much to order is the trickiest part. I've ordered FLF weekly for over 3 years, so I've really come to know who is allergic to what, who hates breakfast for lunch, and who eats chicken but not beef. In the past, I’ve made the mistake of ordering just enough of a vegetarian option for vegetarians, not expecting that non-vegetarians would also eat the vegetarian option. To give you a better idea of how much food to order, I've included 3 examples of our recent orders at the end of this post.

Questions to consider:

  • Are there men or women with big appetites?
  • Is anyone a vegetarian or vegan?
  • Is anyone allergic to nuts? Gluten?

Order and Receive the Food

I try to place the order 24-48 hours in advance so the restaurant has plenty of time to prepare. If it's delivery, I make sure to state that we plan to eat at noon which means the food should arrive before then, but not too early if it is to be served hot. If it's a pick-up order, I give myself plenty of time to get there, grab the food (which usually is never ready), drive back, and set up. When I pick up the food or it arrives, I always have a list of what I ordered and I check the food to make sure it’s correct and that nothing is missing.

Questions to consider:

  • Am I able to pick the food up? If not, can I send someone else?
  • If pick-up, can I pay ahead of time over the phone? This way, I can get the food and go.
  • If delivery, is there a fee? Does that fee go to the driver?
  • Will I need plates, napkins, utensils?

Solicit Feedback

If we try a new restaurant, I send a feedback form with 3 quick questions:

  • What did you think? Scale 1-5
  • Why did you give this score?
  • Do you have a suggestion for a new place?

Filling it out is optional and anonymous. With a group of 25+, there will undoubtedly be people who love the restaurant and people who hate it. The point of the survey is to sift through the extremists and figure out how the majority feel.

Take Notes

I often find this part tedious and think to myself, "surely I will remember this next time." But, I never remember and I'm always thankful I have notes. I don’t provide a full recap, just quick notes of how the lunch went. Then, when I order from the same restaurant again, I refer back to my notes and makes adjustments to my order accordingly. When I began taking notes, I really started to learn about the group and their preferences.

Questions to consider:

  • What was left over?
  • What was all gone?
  • What was popular and went really fast?
  • Was it delivered or ready (if pick-up) on time?

When I first started ordering lunch for a large group, it was stressful and time-consuming -- but, now, it's become easy and fun. I'm always looking for ways to improve my process, so let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. How do you deal with ordering lunch for a large group?

Bonus Features


To keep things organized, I save everything in a spreadsheet similar to this template. Each week, I add a new tab so I can easily refer back to my notes from previous orders.

Example Orders:

Below are some recent orders I’ve made for our group of 27-30 people (4-6 vegetarians), consisting of mostly young males with big appetites.

Noodles and Company Square Bowls (I ask for all the protein to be served in separate bowls to make all the options vegetarian-friendly.)

  • 2 Mac & Cheese with Parmesan Chicken
  • 2 Penne Rosa with steak
  • 1 Pesto Cavatappi with tofu
  • 1 Japanese Pan Noodles with Parmesan Chicken
  • 1 Pad Thai with tofu
  • 2 Caesar salads with chicken
  • 12 Rice Krispie treats

Red Hot and Blue

  • 3 lbs of pulled pork
  • 3 lbs of beef brisket
  • 3 lbs of smoked sausage
  • 1 mini vegetable wraps tray
  • 1 ½ pans of mac & cheese
  • 1 mini fruit tray
  • 2 qts of BBQ beans
  • 2 qts of potato salad
  • 1 qt of banana pudding

District Taco

  • 10 veggie tacos
  • 25 Pollo Asado tacos
  • 25 Barbacoa tacos
  • 30 Al Pastor tacos
  • shredded cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo, and salsas
  • 2 bowls of guacamole + chips
  • sour cream (purchased separately from the grocery store)

Tips for ordering pizza:

  • Assume women will eat ~3 pieces and men will eat ~4 pieces
  • Order roughly 40% vegetarian and 60% with meat
  • Cheese and pepperoni are easy and safe choices
  • If you're ordering for a group you're unfamiliar with, avoid mushrooms, olives, and anchovies.
  • If it's a large party, ask that the pizzas be cut into smaller square pieces (party cut).

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