Tacos For 125: Meal Overview

I was completely excited about making the food for this party as soon as I was asked to do it and was told "do whatever you think will work for 100 to 150 people."

Tacos, Mexican fiesta, sauces, nachos, chili - That was my first thought and the party hosts were totally cool with it.

Game on.

Close family friend, Joannie Schnellbach asked me to make the food for a party in honor of her daughter's recent marriage. The bride, Brittany and love of her life, Kevin Bewely tied the knot a few weeks before in a small private ceremony. They wanted to throw a big party for all the friends and family that would have attended a more public and larger wedding celebration. The shindig was going to be held at our family camp ground, so it was home turf to me.

A taco bar is a simple way to feed a lot of people, all of the ingredients can be mixed and matched. A simple taco or a hardy plate of nachos can be made from all the different ingredients. To take the taco bar concept into the gourmet realm I made a series of hot and mild sauces, a ranch-buttermilk based finishing sauce and the meats featured a special marinade and seasoning. For the kids, it was decided to have a small hot dog bar off to the side of the Taco fiesta.

When planning for a meal in general, a good ball park figure is 4 oz portions of meat per person. That is a lot of meat for a soft taco to hold, so I figured that for each person to get 4 oz of meat they would probably need at least two tacos. There were roughly 125 rsvps, Joannie told me to plan for 150, just to be on the safe side. Roughly 40 pounds of meat would be needed to make an estimated 300 tacos.

We decided to only put out small plates and little ballpark-style boats for nachos. This forced people to eat one or two tacos or a modest plate of nachos at a time. It was a little cruel to do it that way but if you give people a big plate, they will fill it – normal people in front of a giant spreads of food will pile food on plates as if they were Spartans prepping for battle. In my experience catering dinners and receptions I have become disgusted by what people do when an unlimited amount of food is set before them. Some people really just eat like hogs when given the chance. Others just pile it on a plate and throw half of it away.

If they were gonna eat like heathens at our fiesta, they were gonna have to do it with multiple trips.

The plan worked. People ate their fill, but there were no plates half full of food tossed in the dumpster.

The tomatoes for the sauces and taco garnishes were fresh from the garden. The party was Sept. 28, right in time for everyone to be bringing in their final harvests before tilling the garden under. I had a full 5-gallon bucket of tomatoes just for sauces and fresh salsa, with another bucket fresh picked before the party for garnish and an impromptu bowl of pico de gallo.

All the shopping for the Saturday party was done the Wednesday before. The sauces were made Thursday, the meat and chili on Friday. All of the little taco and nacho garnishes were done Saturday morning. Being able to do the sauces and meat ahead of time allowed for a really relaxed catering job, there were no moments where I felt I was in the weeds and the prep couldn't have went any better than it did.

Recipe for the meats

Ancho chili sauce
Guajillo chili sauce
Salsa verde
Ranch tomatillo dressing

The biggest surprise was the amount of people who opted for a plate of nachos rather than soft tacos. They covered the chips with all the gourmet meats and sauces like they would have a taco, many just opted for tortilla chips to deliver the goods.

Another huge surprise was raw onion. I could not keep the container full, I diced at least 10 large red onions before and during the party. When it comes to a taco bar make sure you give them onions!

Another unexpected dilemma was the nacho cheese sauce. We purchased a large gallon container of it and I thought it would be nice for the nacho chips but it was really intended for the hot dog bar put out for the kids. But, like the onions, I couldn't put enough out. People were drowning plates of nachos with the stuff, there was a group of teenage boys that should have just grabbed pint glasses of it and drank it because that would have been more practical than the runny mess they made at the counter. So, if you put nacho cheese on a taco bar, PLAN TO HAVE AS MUCH NACHO CHEESE AS YOU DO MEAT! It was the first and only item that I ran completely out of.

The party had three main waves of eating, and there were people snacking at all times. The first big wave was right when the party started at 2 p.m. and it was mostly the bride and groom's family. The second wave was around 5 or 6 and was a mix of family and a younger crowd of friends that were there to party. The third wave was later that night when all of the party people got the munchies. The late night run got crazy with people using the chili as taco filling. (Which was pretty tasty I must say.)

In the end, small portions of meat were left, a few soft tacos and a half bag nachos. The mild sauces ran out, but I had a lot of the spicier salsa left over. There was just a small amount of chili left and a few dogs. If I had to do it again I would do it exactly the same way, except I would probably make more mild sauce than hot and I would have purchased 2 gallons of Nacho cheese instead of 1.

It was a complete success.

FYI - Desert and cake was provided by the Mother and drinks were BYOB ... 

My grocery list that became the meal:
300 tortillas
30 lbs chicken
1 gallon margarita mix
30 lbs ground beef
2 Cups  Chili powder
1 Cup Cumin
5 lbs tomatillos
15 pounds tomatoes
30 red onions
30 to 40 jalapeƱos
3 lbs green peppers
20 limes
10 bunches of cilantro
Half gallon buttermilk
Jar of mayo
2 packets of ranch seasoning mix
1 Bag each of dried ancho and gaujillo chilis
10 heads of garlic
5 heads of lettuce
5 lbs shredded cheddar cheese
150 oz of tortilla chips (6 25 oz bags)
1 gallon of salsa for chips
60 hot dogs
60 hot dog buns
1 gallon Hot dog chili sauce
1 gallon nacho cheese
2 30 oz can refried beans
5 cans black beans
5 cans corn
4 32 oz boxes beef broth

What it makes
300 Tacos - meat, garnishes, sauces
10 quarts of Southwestern Black bean and corn chili
60 hot dogs - chili or nacho cheese
Chips and salsa, or a plate of nachos for 125 people

This party was a total success, it seemed as though there was enough variety that everyone was able to build the taco or nacho plate that they wanted. Cant wait to do it again.

Eat well, cook often ...


Stellabug said...

I am following your outline for a taco bar. My question is: did you do anything to prep tortillas and keep them moist?

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

I used flour tortillas straight out of the bag. In fact I just placed unopened packages at the beginning of the line and let people open them as they needed.

Christina Newman said...

Can I ask what your budget was for this? I am planning a wedding with a taco bar, and want to keep it simple. I'm trying to guess how much a meal like this would cost and really have no idea! We would not
do the hot dogs, just tacos and some nachos.

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

I don't know what the exact total was, (the person financing the party went shopping with me and told to buy what I needed) but you should be able to create a spread like this for $300 to $400. BUT, that is doing all the work yourself. Hire someone and it will be at least double.

Unknown said...

Sorry if I keep posting multiple comment. I wasn't sure I was doing it correctly. Where is the recipe for the southwestern chili you mentioned? I search the blog and nothing. Thanks. I want to use your recipes for a Cub Scout function in February.

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

Check this recipe: http://www.behindthebites.com/2013/12/black-and-red-chili.html
That's pretty close to the southwest version.

Anonymous said...

Just had a graduation party and used several of your suggestions for quantities of food. We ended up with more than half of the food left over. We had approx. 140 adults + some kids. Granted, some of the guests attended multiple grad parties the same day but I would guess that we would still have had quite a bit of left over food.

We plan to freeze our left over fajita chicken (made 10 lbs), fajita steak (made 11 lbs) and taco meat (made 16 lbs). I've heard shredded cheese can also be frozen (used less than 5 lbs). We only used approx. 90 (large) soft tortillas and 46 individual bags of Doritos for walking tacos (bought 150). The nacho cheese was a hit for putting on tortilla chips (used 2 bags) but only needed 1 large can. As for red onion (chopped), we would have only needed maybe 2 large onions (chopped almost 5 lbs). We used yellow onion and multi-color peppers for the fajita veggies (they cook down a lot - 15 lbs of onion & approx. 16 peppers) that were mixed with the chicken and steak. Next, we used a little better than 3-16 oz. containers of sour cream, about 1 jar of salsa (medium), 1/2 jar of mild taco sauce and 1/2 jar of hot taco sauce.

Hope this helpful!

Anonymous said...

FYI - the party was held from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, June 6th. Weather was amazing.

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

The party that I prepared the feast that I wrote about in the post was all day and went until late at night. People came to be fed. I was amazed at how much food people went through. I have catered a couple of graduation parties and most people do not eat a typical amount for a meal at them because they are usually going to more than one that day. That may have been why you had so much left over. But when you put on a big party its better to have left over than to run out ...

Unknown said...

Thank you so much you help me out .. Planning a taco bar party soon .. I just needed a meat estimate .. I'm excited ..

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this info. I'm going to do a taco and nacho bar at my daughter's graduation party in a few weeks. The input from the people who made comments really helped to.

Kate said...

Getting married next month and we're making our own taco bar - these detailed quantities are super helpful!! Thanks for posting this!

Anonymous said...

I am doing one this weekend and I hope I get all the quantities right! I will keep you posted!!

Snoop Bloggy Blog said...

Can you please tell me how many batches of each sauce recipe you made? ie ancho, guajillo, tomatillo?

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

Mathew - 1 batch of each. I did have leftovers. But I planned for that. The last thing I wanted to come up short with was the sauces. Gave away what was left. Should be good in the fridge for a couple days, use best judgement.

Unknown said...

Hi Justin, I am getting ready to price out something like this for 125 people. Thank you so much for posting this information. It is so helpful. Would you mind if I ask you what you charge for your fee? I'm pretty good about figuring out what food will cost, but I think I'm under charging for my services. Thank you in advance!

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

Melissa - I did this for a family member, so I had them buy all the supplies and made the dinner for them as a wedding gift. The mother of the bride did give me a handsome bonus after it was all said and done though. That said, I don't think it is unreasonable to charge $10 to $12 per person, reception halls charge way more for much less! Ultimately you should price it by what you think is a good price for an adult to eat the meal you're making for them. I hope this helps ...

Unknown said...

This has been so helpful. My question is I'm doing this for a wedding soon. We are only doing ground beef. How many pounds would you say I need for 150 people? Only for tacos but as you said people will probably do nachos also with this meat. Evening wedding with reception following with alcohol. Lol thank you....

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

Jenny - I would plan to have 4 oz of ground beef per person. That's the typical serving size for just about any protein you're putting out. The meal I made that I blog about in this post - I thought we were going to have leftovers after the initial dinner rush, but once the booze kicked in there was a second rush that wiped us out! Good times. I hope this helps!

Mrs D said...

Thank you! I'm trying to plan a taco bar for work and on a budget. Your list and suggestions make it much easier to plan :)

Unknown said...

I just want to say thank you for making this post. So many other people chimed in to make this so much more informational. There's not a lot of info out there on doing taco bars for weddings, this one is awesome!... even if it's over a year and a half later

Unknown said...

Here it is a year and a half later at least and this thread continues to be informational. Just want to say thanks to the original poster, there isn't a lot of info on taco bar costs on the internet, especially for weddings. I'm thankful for all of this because I had no idea what to even think the budget may be to feed roughly 150 guest tacos. Thank you!!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for the above comparison of the grad party vs. a wedding. I hadn't thought of the fact that grad party goers are often going to multiple parties and don't necessarily eat a full meal. This has been extremely helpful to this first-time grad mom! Thanks, all!

Anonymous said...

I have a question about the black bean and corn portion. In your recipe I see that it serves 4 people. On your grocery list, I read 5 cans of black beans, 5 cans of corn. Did you run out? Is there a certain way to calculate how much to prepare based on what each item is?

behindthebites@gmail.com said...

The 5 cans of corn and black beans went into the chili which made 10 quarts. The chili was gone at the end of the night. Not sure if that answers your question.