Food & Catering
Dare to be different! What are your teen's favorite foods? We encourage you to be imaginative! For example, if your teen loves Asian food, serve it! If they will only eat pizza then serve that. This is a party to let the birthday girl or boy's personality shine through.
If your teen loves desserts, have a dessert party that starts at 7:00 p.m., and specify “dessert party” on your invitation so people know to eat dinner earlier. Desserts can be made ahead and require little serving time. The bakery is an easy way out. Or how about make your own sundaes and banana splits? Contact your local rental stores about renting a freezer for the ice cream.
Keep it simple. Make it easy on yourself. Serve a limited number of different menu items. Five to seven is a good number. The most common mistake at any party is serving too much food. Read on for advice on quantity.
Ask for help in the kitchen. Hire a caterer if you can. This is one party you don't want to miss! If you can't afford a caterer, ask friends and neighbors to help. See our Ask for help page. If you’ve agreed on a theme, try to find foods that fit the theme.
For caterers in your area, just go to our Local Vendors & Caterers webpage and search in your state. We may have some local businesses listed.
Keep hot foods hot & cold food cold: As you plan your menu think about how you are going to set up your buffet table.
Chafing dishes are available for purchase or rent and make an excellent presentation. You may want to borrow one or two from a friend. Or you may be able to rent them at your local rental company.
To keep cold foods cold we recommend setting up an ice table. These may be available for rent. Or buy a cheap kiddie's swimming pool and fill it with ice. It will double as a fun & unique decoration especially if you can find one that suits your party theme.
A Weekend brunch is a good time of day to have a Sweet 16 party, especially if it's a family event. You'll get a great turn out and your guests will be hungry.
- Make it simple - offer a variety of fresh baked bagels and a selection of spreads. Serve fruit and juices as well. If it might be a warm day, order water bottles with your Sweet 16's name and photo on them. Go to our Customized Water Bottles page for details.
- Cook pancakes or crepes on a big griddle and serve them with different toppings/syrups. You can hire a professional to bring their own griddle.
- We all love frosted doughnuts! Order ahead for a quick stop at the bakery. You can even request frosting in your teen's favorite colors. Be sure to have lots of napkins!
- Coffee bar kiosk: Check with a caterer or the local coffee shop for service or supplies. Or create your own with rental equipment and supplies. Check out our Local Venders & Caterers page.
- Serve exotic juices, or use your juicer to prepare custom beverages.
- Serve fresh fruit in a watermelon boat. Cut your teen's name out of the watermelon.
Afternoon and evening menu ideas:
- BBQ sandwiches, ribs or chicken served with coleslaw and chips, baked beans and a fruit salad. Tip from a professional caterer for the BBQ: If you want to use the grill, reduce your stress and precook your meat.
- Mexican taco bar: Serve spicy ground beef in a crock pot, and put the cold items (lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa, olives, onions) in bowls floating on ice to keep them cool. Arrange the taco shells in a Mexican serving bowl or basket. Or better yet, serve "Walking Tacos". You can rent equipment for dispensing hot cheese. See Party Rentals.
- Buy large bread shaped like the numbers "16". Serve it with spinach dip or do a big submarine sandwich. Plan ahead on how you are going to keep the hoagie cool while it sits out for several hours. We recommend setting it on ice.
- Hoagie or Sandwich Bar: Let your guests assemble their own sandwiches. Stop by your local submarine sandwich shop for inspiration. Or order a big variety to be sliced and served as needed. Keep the extras in your refrigerator.
- Rent a cotton candy machine or popcorn machine. It adds a festive flair and the kids love to serve themselves. Beware: Cotton candy machines can be messy so you may want to set this up outside.
- Salad bar and fresh fruit for the health nuts
- Oriental Food - See Hiring a Caterer
- Baked Potato Bar
- Pizzas – order them from a local delivery service. Order some "gourmet" pizzas for the adults.
- Swedish or Barbeque Meatballs
- Tortilla Wraps – ordered from a local restaurant
- Pasta Bar
- Veggie Tray
- Serve water with your Sweet 16 labels on them!
- Custom cakes: Have you seen photo cakes? How about a custom cake made in the shape of a basketball or tennis shoe? Order one custom cake to display and a second cake to cut and serve.
- Cupcakes: Fun cupcakes with brightly colored icing and fun decorations. Choose your teen's favorite colors or their high school colors. Cupcakes are often easier than a cake because you don't have to worry about when to cut the cake and they're less messy too. Sweet stations and cupcake trees are available from Shindigz. Just go to their website and search on "sweet station" or "cupcake tree".
- Another fun option is candy bars (big or small) with personalized wrappers to give out to your guests. Check out the selection of candy bar wrappers at Announce It!.
- Smores at a fire pit. Provide several baskets full of marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers. Have plenty of roasting sticks on hand.
- Ice cream sundae bar: serve ice cream with different toppings, fruit, cookies, and coffee. Its easy and fun and guests will love it.
- Frozen treats from your favorite ice cream specialty store, packed on dry ice. You can also rent an ice cream cart or freezer for the day.
- Trays of your teen’s favorite bars, cookies and candy. If you have family members who like to bake, ask them to help.
- Fortune cookies
- Custom made chocolates: Order gold foil-wrapped coins with your teen’s name on one side and the year on the other.
- Root beer floats were a huge hit at our friend’s party. She offers this time saving tip: Scoop the vanilla ice cream into plastic cups and freeze them overnight. Then at the party all you have to do is add root beer and a straw. You can buy a keg of root beer from the liquor store.
- Cheesecakes in a variety of flavors served with different toppings. For example: hot fudge, strawberries, blueberries.
- Buy lots of suckers in your teen's favorite colors.
The most popular beverage at sweet 16 parties is bottled water. Stock up when water is on sale. You can use it all summer if you have leftovers.
Or splurge a little and buy personalized water bottles or water bottle labels that you can apply to store-bought water bottles. Go to our Customized Water Bottles page for details. These are always a big hit!
Provide your guests with a variety of beverages to choose from. Here are a few suggestions:
- A summer tradition of big pitchers of iced tea, lemonade or Kool-aid are refreshing.
- If you want to serve soda, most people we interviewed suggest liters instead of cans. It goes a little further, and you don’t have half empty cans all over your house.
- If you do serve cans, put out a couple of recycling bags or boxes. People will hound you if you don’t. You can clean up the official recycling bin you got from your garbage company so that it looks more presentable. If you want more than one, borrow your neighbor’s.
- Always provide water for your guests who don’t like carbonated beverages. Bottled water is very popular with high school seniors.
- Serve water bottles with a Sweet 16 theme.
- Punch bowls are fun. Make an ice ring using one of the punch ingredients so that as it melts it will not dilute the punch. A bundt pan works well for an ice ring.
- Borrow or rent tubs for ice. You can put the sodas right on ice. If you use coolers, label them so people don’t have to dig around. Or use a plastic wading pool.
- Rent a slushy machine from a party rental store.
A Word on Alcohol
Design your Sweet 16 party so it is free spirited, but "spirit-free". After all, most of the guests will likely be teenagers.
Keeping your teenaged guests entertained at parent-sponsored and supervised parties can prevent a tragedy. Do not serve alcohol to minors. Even if no one gets injured, adults that provide alcohol to minors can be charged with a gross misdemeanor, go to jail for up to one year and be fined thousands of dollars.
Tip: If you host your party during the day, your adult guests won't even miss alcoholic beverages.
The Food Formula
The number one complaint we hear after a party is –
“I have so much food left over!!”
To help you determine how much food to serve you need to determine how many people will come that are hungry. Start by reviewing your invitation list. Divide the people into one of the following lists (a or b).
Add up the number of people you can count on to come hungry (close relatives, close friends)
Add up the rest of the people and cut in half. Our logic here is that more may come but they won't eat much.
Add A and B lists together to determine the number of people you should plan to serve:
If your party will overlap with other parties, scale back, because your guests won't be hungry. Have more bottled water on hand.
General tips on food:
- Limit your menu to five items to keep it simple.
- Single servings may consist of 6 oz of meat, one half cup of two side dishes and one dessert.
- A watermelon boat full of fruit can serve 75 people.
- 15 heads of chopped Romaine lettuce serves 75 side salads.
- People will drink 8 ounces of juice.
- If you offer two entrée choices, only serve 60% of each entrée.
- Have lots of disposable containers on hand to send leftovers home with your guests.
- Food can be left at room temperature for up to 3 hours, but must be refrigerated soon after that.
- Serve or freeze leftovers within 48 hours.
- Have non-perishable back up items that you can bring out if you run out of your main menu items. For example: mixed nuts, chips and salsa, frozen mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, pizza, candy, cookies.