How to Order Lunch for a Large Group the Easy Way – Fooda
Workplace Innovation

How to Order Lunch for a Large Group the Easy Way

Ordering lunch for large groups can be hard. You have big things to think about, like the type of food you’re going to get and how much it’s going to cost. But you also have small details to deal with, including allergies, preferences, and the room you’re going to eat in.

How do you manage it all?

With a system.

Here’s a five-step method for successfully ordering lunch for large groups. There are also a few pro tips at the end of the list to help make your group lunch a success.

Step 0: Know What You’re Ordering For

Many of your choices will be informed by the occasion you’re ordering for. For example, a lunch-and-learn event will probably be best suited by something tidy, like sandwiches and salads.

People will spend less time getting up for napkins or to wash their hands, which is good when someone is presenting and many might be looking at a screen.

You might order just about anything for a last-minute lunch meeting, but some restaurants require a specific amount of notice if you’re ordering lunch for large groups that need a lot of food—so you won’t want to call them.

An informal lunch that doesn’t require being on a laptop or taking notes can be almost anything you want. And you may want to order something specifically to brighten up the mood or help people stay motivated throughout the afternoon.

Is a high-value client in town? You probably want to order something a little bit nicer than your typical go-tos for Friday afternoon pizza. (Or not! It depends on the client and your style.)

There’s no end of the types of lunches you might order for large groups. But keep in mind the kind of lunch you’re ordering for. It’ll help you make better decisions through the entire process.

Step 1: Set a Budget

Do this earlier rather than later. Ideally, a manager or executive will have already told you what your budget is. If not, it’s worth asking so you don’t accidentally order something that costs three times as much as your accounting department is expecting. Lunch for large groups can get expensive fast if you’re not careful.

If you don’t get guidance or you’re responsible for setting the budget, think about what kind of group lunch you’re providing:

  • A once-weekly “thank you” lunch for employees might cost $15 per person.
  • A buffet-style lunch could help you lower that cost.
  • An all-day meeting might run $70 per person for three meals.
  • A fancier lunch for a client could be $25–$30 per person, or more, depending on how much food your order (desserts and drinks, for example, add to the cost).

You can always research local restaurants to see how much it would cost to cater your lunch idea, too. If you have time to spend doing this, it’ll help you get a clearer idea of what you’ll need to budget.

Remember that different kinds of lunches have different costs, too. A sandwich platter will probably be cheaper than 10 custom sandwich orders. A big buffet-style lunch could save you money over having everyone order their own barbecue meals.

Step 2: Choose a Restaurant

This step is largely up to you. Of the restaurants that can cater lunch for large groups, which offer the kinds of food your employees like? Which are affordable? Which are nearby and offer delivery or pickup?

That last one is important; you can usually save some money by picking up your lunch order instead of having it delivered. But if the restaurant’s far away, it might make more sense to have them bring it. Then again, if it’s close by and they have a reputation for not being ready on time, you may end up losing more time than you expected, even with a pickup.

While some of this decision comes down to your employees’ preferences, allergies, and sensitivities, some of it will be decided by experience, too. You’ll start to learn which local restaurants deliver on time and which are late. You’ll find that some have orders ready on time and some don’t. Some are more accurate with your requests than others.

In the beginning, go with what sounds good and has good reviews. After that, you’ll start learning the best places to order from and you can stick to them.

Step 3: Decide on Individual or Group Orders

Will you let people place orders or get a few things for the group? With some groups and restaurants, placing individual orders is easy. Chipotle, for example, makes it easy for up to 15 people to place individual orders for a single pickup and payment. Many corporate caterers offer similar perks.

Other restaurants don’t make it easy—and that can be a nightmare if you’re not prepared.

If you want to let people order what they want, you need to be prepared. Take those orders as early as you can. Send out an email on the morning of the day that you’re ordering lunch and ask people what they want (include a link to the restaurant’s menu to make it easier). Be sure to share any budget you have, too, so no one orders the six-course steak and lobster.

It’s also a good idea to have a “standard” order. Let people know that if they don’t respond, they’ll be getting a particular meal. Choose something that seems likely to please just about anyone—don’t include divisive things like mushrooms, olives, or bleu cheese. (Whether you want to choose a vegetarian or non-vegetarian option depends on how many vegetarians you have in the office.)

Okay, so what if you don’t want to deal with managing individual orders? Placing an order for everyone is common when providing lunch for large groups, too. This is easy with many kinds of food. An order from a taco restaurant might look like this:

  • 10 carnitas tacos
  • 10 pulled pork tacos
  • 10 bean-and-cheese tacos
  • 4 orders Spanish rice
  • 2 orders refried beans
  • Guacamole and sour cream on the side

You can do that with Chinese, Italian, American, and just about any other cuisine.

Placing big orders saves you a ton of time. But you still need to give it some thought. Is anyone in your office vegetarian or vegan? How about gluten-free? Are there nut allergies? What about eggs or shellfish?

Here’s a pro tip: make a spreadsheet with everyone’s name and allergies or strong dislikes. Keep it on hand when you’re ordering. (We have a free template below; feel free to download and use it for your own ordering!)

It’s often a good idea to split dishes between meat and vegetarian options, but remember that meat eaters may also be interested in the veggie meals—make sure to order enough.

Also, remember that vegetarians and vegans don’t want salad for every meal. An occasional salad with beans, tofu, or hearty vegetables can certainly stand as a meal, but there are many other options that will keep things fresh.

If you go this way, consider sending an email early in the day letting people know your general plan and asking if there are any specific requests. This is especially good for last-minute orders if you weren’t expecting to order lunch for a group.

Step 4: Order

Order early. Not only will restaurants appreciate it, but they’ll be much more likely to have your order ready on time (or delivered when you requested it). Of course, sometimes an early order isn’t possible, and you might have to call around looking for a restaurant that can have a lunch ready by the time you need it. That will mean limited ordering options.

If you’re working with a professional catering service or a restaurant that accepts individual orders, you may be able to send a single email or submit one form with orders from everyone, saving you a ton of time and hassle. But not every restaurant can accommodate this.

The main thing to know is that you should order as early as you can. And be ready for complications; restaurants might be slammed on a particular day or out of a particular dish. They won’t be able to deliver or will have just changed their menu.

The longer you’ve been ordering lunch for large groups, the better you’ll be at knowing what to prepare for.

Step 5: Prep and Serve

If you’re catering lunch for a large group, you need somewhere to eat it. It’s surprisingly easy to forget about serving food when you’re trying to coordinate everything else!

The space you’ll need depends on many factors. For example, if you’re doing a lunch-and-learn or eating during a meeting, you may need to plan on eating in a specific room, regardless of how convenient it is for serving.

In general, though, you’ll want a few tables; enough for a serving table and room for seating each employee. The tables should be clean and spaced out enough that everyone won’t be running into each other when they try to serve and eat.

If you’re providing cutlery or dishes, set them out ahead of time. A few extra napkins is always nice, too.

Remember that you’ll need to set out the food before anyone starts eating, so if the delivery is scheduled for 12:00, don’t tell people that lunch is at noon. Give yourself at least a few minutes to get everything set up (or, if they provide this service, to let the restaurant’s delivery crew to get it ready).

Of course, these rules change in different situations. If you’re providing boxed lunches for everyone, you might just need a small table where people can grab their preferred type of lunch and take it somewhere that’s convenient.

Don’t forget that serving is also followed by cleaning up. If you can recruit one or two employees to help you, this process will be much easier.

Pro Tips

Ordering lunch for big groups is a surprisingly complex process when you’re doing it yourself. But with experience (or some help), you’ll get to be really good at it.

To help speed up that process, we have a few tips for you. These are drawn from the experience of long-time food orderers as well as a few of our own mishaps.

Create an allergy/preference/favorite spreadsheet before you need it

With large groups, it’s hard to keep track of what people are allergic to or really don’t like. Keeping a spreadsheet with this information can save you a huge amount of hassle. It won’t save you any hassle, however, if you try to make it the morning of the day that you’re going to order lunch.

So start early. As soon as you know that you might be ordering lunch for a large group, ask people for a few pieces of information and get them into a spreadsheet:

  1. Name
  2. Allergies/sensitivities
  3. Strong dislikes
  4. Favorites

In the email that you send out, it’s probably worth defining “strong dislikes” and “favorites.”

Strong dislikes are things that might keep someone from eating a food. If one of your employees hates mushrooms so much that they would skip out on a piece of supreme pizza, they should put “mushrooms” in that column. If they would definitely eat a slice of supreme but would never order one for themselves, it probably shouldn’t be noted.

“Favorites” is more open to interpretation. It might be someone’s favorite local restaurant, their favorite cuisine, specific foods, or anything else. One person might list a local deli while another one writes “cheese.” Those are both fine. You don’t have to satisfy everyone’s favorites with each meal (in fact, you don’t have to satisfy’s anyone’s favorites with any given meal). But you can take that information into account when you’re planning.

Want a spreadsheet that will take care of this for you? We have one! Just click here to download it.

Jot notes

Did no one take a slice of carrot cake from the available desserts? Did one person eat quite a bit more than you expected? Are people crowding around the salad bowl while showing less enthusiasm for the enchiladas?

All of these are worth noting. During and after every large-group lunch you organize, take a couple notes. Even if it’s just which foods went over well and which didn’t, you’ll have useful information for the next time you order.

Surprise people

You can get into a regular rotation with the meals you order—and that’s totally fine (though you may want to opt for a unique catered lunch idea every once in a while).

On certain occasions, you’ll want to think carefully about what you’re ordering. Have you had a lot of dreary weather lately? Try something fun like a macaroni and cheese bar. Is the air conditioning in your office broken? Order a cold lunch with some ice cream for dessert to cool everyone down.

Are you having a nine-hour meeting day? Include a couple snacks that people can take with them for the afternoon.

Every once in a while, give some extra thought to what you’re ordering. Your employees will really appreciate it, and you’ll see it in their smiles throughout the afternoon.

Establish a cleanup rotation

Every catered lunch has to be cleaned up. And if you’re feeding a lot of people, that can be a pretty big job. Make sure you always have someone to help by establishing a cleanup rotation. It’ll save you the time of recruiting someone every time you order lunch.

Put up a sheet of paper somewhere in the office with everyone’s name (in pairs, if you have a really large group) and the dates they’ll be expected to spend 15 or 20 minutes helping clean up. Cross people’s names off when they’ve met their obligation.

It’s a simple idea, but it can make ordering and coordinating lunch for large groups much easier!

Be Prepared for Big Group Lunches…

Ordering lunch for a large group is a great way to show that you appreciate people and want to take care of them. But it can be a surprisingly difficult process.

With the steps above, you’ll be better prepared to order, receive, serve, clean up, and generally facilitate a catered lunch for your company.

…Or Let Us Do the Heavy Lifting for You!

We’re biased, but we know how much better life is when someone else takes care of a tough task for you.

Fooda’s dedicated team learns the foods that employees love, hate, or are allergic to. And we take care of the catering for you, so you don’t have to worry about organizing individual meals or making sure you stay under budget.

Find out why companies like Instagram, Buzzfeed, and Hulu work with Fooda every day for their big group events!