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You have the perfect Taco Tuesday recipe for your friends, and normally this is a piece of cake. The problem is you’ve got a huge group this time. This is how you serve tacos for a crowd.
Serving tacos successfully requires having adequate supplies, proper location, prior food preparation, and considering the presentation and eating experience. The use of chafing trays, slow cookers, and adequate serving bowls will create a memorable meal.
A taco bar is one of the easiest ways to make a crowd happy. A good portion of the weddings that I’ve been invited to lately have even been using tacos to feed the crowd. Not quite traditional, but I love tacos so much I’ll take it!
There are two main ways to serve tacos, pre-made tacos, and a taco bar. Both options can be swapped from self-serve to having servers portion out the food. I’ll mainly focus on the self-serve taco bar method.
Taco Bar Supplies
A taco bar is by far the easiest of easy meals to prep for a group. People can easily serve themselves, that means that they get the exact portion they want, and the exact amount of toppings.
You also don’t have to slave over serving everyone their food. Tacos are meant to be enjoyed together, a taco bar lets you eat with your guests.
What do you need for your taco bar?
You’ve gotta have warmers, use slow cookers, roasting trays, or chafing trays. These work great for meats, rice, and beans. The slow cookers are amazing because you can cook a meal in the same container to make the food and serve it. Roasting trays are really similar to slow cookers but they’re designed to fit a turkey in them. They offer more space and are typically rectangular. That will save a lot of table space.
Use good bowls. If you only have circular bowls that will work. You can use the crowded space on a table a lot easier if you have square bowls to hold the lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese.
Taco bars are typically a casual affair. Paper or plastic plates and cutlery are going to be your best friend. Clean up is going to be 1,000 times easier, and you won’t worry about any dishes getting dropped. If you’re the kind of person that likes to make really juicy tacos, make sure to have more napkins than you think you’ll need. They get messy!
Some say the devil is in the details, but the details are also the things that separate the good from the great. This goes for taco bars too. Don’t just get the perfect meat recipe, make sure to find really good salsa, guacamole, and drinks. You can even make your own.
Pay attention to serving utensils. If your meat is served with a lot of juices you might want to use a spaghetti spoon that has a hole in it, rather than a lade that’ll catch every drop of juices in your serving tray. Use tongs for celery, and cheese, rather than a spoon, or serving spatula.
The last few items in this section are just little things that will take your serving experience to the next level.
Picking Your Location
We all know the basics. Have enough to serve the food, enough room for the guests to sit, that kind of thing. Also, consider whether the food will be served inside or outside. This changes a few things.
Setting Up an Outdoor Taco Bar
When outside consider things like access to electricity and wind. When working outside it might be wise to use chafing trays with alcohol-burning warming cans, rather than slow cookers. You might need to bring out some extension chords if you’re close enough to your house or some other structure.
Also, try to find a spot that’s covered. A back porch works great to offer a little protection from the wind that might blow napkins and lighter veggies off the table.
When serving outdoors it’s important to think about the potential litter that your even might create. It’s important to have easily visible garbage cans that make it easy for people to clean up after themselves.
Setting Up an Indoor Taco Bar
Are you in a house, a banquet hall, or renting a restaurant space? If you’re in a house, how big is the house? How well equipped is it to serve large groups of people?
Most people will be serving tacos out of their homes. If you’re in a group of over 10 or 15 people you might have to adopt a mixed strategy of serving the food indoors, and then having everyone eat outside.
This is a great method because it helps to keep the flies and insects off of the food. You’ve got the great ambiance of sunlight and fresh air, with easy access to electricity and you can serve the food really close to where it was prepared.
Serving Tacos Away from Home
If you’re serving in a place such as a church, dining hall, or event center you then have to consider the transportation of food, as well as the electrical capabilities of those spaces. In this situation, slow cookers seem like the silver bullet of serving. You can use them to make, transport, and serve whatever meal you just made.
Preparing the Food for your Taco Bar
This can go from really simple ground beef to having 3 different kinds of meat and tons of different fresh ingredients for toppings.
The simplest taco bar setup is to make street tacos. These are beautifully simple. Just 1-2 corn tortillas per taco, some ground beef, then topped simply with diced onion, chopped cilantro, and then have some cut up lime as well as some red and green sauce for topping.
If you want to really get aggressive about it you can add rice, beans, avocado, jalapenos, serrano peppers, different salsas, and even drinks like horchata, Mexican coca-cola, cucumber water, or whatever your favorites are.
Preparation will take a lot longer if you choose to fill the tacos before serving them. This can make it a little more convenient to at least have the meat, onions, and cilantro in the tacos before it’s time to serve them. I wouldn’t do it myself, but it’s an option worth considering.
When preparing food, prepare the more time-consuming foods first. If you cut up the cilantro and make guacamole before preparing the meat, you’ll have some really floppy cilantro, and the guacamole will begin to darken and harden.
For some really great help on deciding on the kind of meat, or how much to make for your group size check out our other articles here
Taco Presentation & Placement
This is the step where everything comes together. If you’re reading this, you want to know how to serve tacos, and the fact that you’re doing research shows that you at least have some desire to be a decent host.
If this is the case, you know it’s important to consider your guest’s experience. With a lot of people, it’s best to keep everything moving in a line. This means that the order you place the food in is important.
Place items on the serving area in this order:
- Silverware, or Plasticware, Plates, Napkins
- Corn Tortillas, Hard Shell Taco Shells, Flour Tortillas
- Meats (Beef, Chicken, Pork, Tilapia, etc.)
- Rice & Beans
- Toppings laid out in eating order
- Shredded Cheese (Have a lot!)
- Diced Tomatoes, and Lettuce
- Diced Onion, Chopped Cilantro & Jalapeno
- Salsa, Sour Cream, & Guac
- Drinks (Mexican Coca-Cola, Horchata, etc.)
Presentation is where this becomes a memorable event. Events can have a theme, an aesthetic, or not. Some people want to convey to their guests that the food is authentic, (whether it is or not who knows?), some people want to show a little class, and others just want everyone to feel welcome.
A combination of some light Mexican music, some festive table covers, and serving bowls, and using a mortar and pestle for serving guac or salsa can create a nice “authentic” atmosphere.
For a little more of a “classy” vibe make sure to use matching bowls, solid cover table cloths, and matching serving spoons. Try to serve the food away from the place where it was prepared. This helps to keep the food as the centerpiece of the night.
Consider feeding young kids first. They are going to eat less, and are less likely to go back for second helpings. Then have adults and older kids serve themselves. It’s important to plan portions.
If you are worried that you might not have enough tacos for everyone to have second or third helpings, you might want to use the middle school tactics of waiting until everyone has had a first helping before letting people go back for seconds.
By focusing on the eating experience, using tools like warming trays and slow cookers, and carefully planning the portions needed for your group, you’ll have a killer taco night! You’ll save money, have easier set up and take down as well as being able to make a really great meal.