Here are the steps l used to run our successful spaghetti dinner:
1. Free, Free, Free: First and foremost, remember to get anything you need from the venue to the supplies for free. You are trying to raise money, not spend it!
2. Secure a venue: I was fortunate that a team member had access to a newly built facility that had a kitchen, tables and chairs and an area large enough for the dining hall. In order to secure a location that is (a) free or (b) willing to give a huge discount try looking into church halls, rescue squad buildings, other club and organization buildings such as the VFW, Knights of Columbus, Elks (B.P.O.E), retirement club facilities, community centers, schools, etc.
Take full inventory of what the venue has to offer. For example, does it have an ice maker? If not you’ll need to purchase bags of ice for the drinks. How much room is available for prep work, storage, cooking, etc. Make note of anything regarding the venue that will have an impact on the plan.
3. Set the date: Naturally this will take place when you secure your location, but make sure the date and time is firm. Confirm this information with your point of contact at the venue about 2 weeks out from the date and then again 3-5 days out from the date.
4. Predict Attendance: This is the tough part. The amount of food and supplies you’ll need will be based on the number in attendance. If you’ve been involved in a fundraiser of this sort (such as a pancake breakfast, etc) then you will have an idea of how many people in your community will come out to support the event. However, I had no point of reference. So, what I did was survey the team. I asked them to estimate the number of their supporters (friends, families, acquaintances) who would attend. This helped give me a base number. I doubled that base number because many of our personal supporters would bring guests and they would also pass the word. Then I took that number and increased it by one fourth. For example: 100 (base number) doubled= 200. One quarter of 200 is 50. Plan for 250 people.
5. Create your menu and make a shopping list: Make a clear menu and keep it simple. (See list menu and list below.) Save receipts! And, if the item is donated note the amount it typically costs! This is important.
6. Go shopping: Free! Free! Free! This part of the preparations will require a lot of footwork so get your other volunteers on the task. Assign stores to volunteers. Each volunteer should make contact with the store regarding donations. I recommend calling, talking to the point of contact regarding donations and scheduling a time to meet. It may take a few phone calls and/or trips to the store, but it is worth getting free supplies. Take whatever the store can give. If everyone gathers a small amount from each store you will be amazed at what you will have in the end.
7. Pricing: Once you have all your supplies you can tally the cost of them. (All supplies from food to tableware and decorations should be tallied, even if donated!). Calculate what one individual serving will cost you to make (even if the supplies were all donated you must figure out a monetary sum based on what the food supplies would have cost.) Don’t forget the drinks! Factor in all other costs (non-food items, advertising, etc). If they tally $200.00 that cost must get factored into the price of the ticket (even if the products were donated). So, if you are planning on selling 250 dinners the cost added to each dinner would be $0.80 (80 cents.). Once you have your total cost per ticket increase the amount to a round figure that secures you a nice profit. You will know better than anyone what your community is willing to spend. (All items that were donated just add to your profit!) Cupcakes and Desserts should be calculated separately as they are being paid for separately.
8. Raffles/Door Prizes: If you decide to include a raffle and or door prizes make sure you secure donations for this as well. You will most likely get gift baskets, gift cards, even labor “gift cards”. For example: a person can make a “gift card” for 4 hours of yard work. You will not believe how popular those door prizes are! If you have many small items, create a gift basket with them.. Running a 50/50 raffle is an easy way to raise even more money at the event. I recommend issuing one ticket with each purchase of the dinner. You can then sell more (and most people buy more). You can charge $1 per ticket and then offer a special such as $4 for five. Most party stores sell rolls of raffle ticket.
9. Pre-selling: If you are organized enough and have the volunteer manpower you can pre-sell dinner tickets for a dollar less than the door price and you can also sell raffle tickets (attendance not required). Just make sure you get phone numbers on the other half of the raffle ticket!
10. Get the word out:
Contact your local paper(s), radio station, etc. Most papers will list local happenings for free, but if you want more control over publication make sure you ask for a discount if they are unwilling to do it for free. Make fliers and posters to locate wherever possible. Keep fliers handy to give out at any opportunity. Make large, durable signs to post on the major intersections on the day of the event. (I usually do this one or two nights before the event, weather permitting, to save time and get the attention of more people.). All fliers, posters and signs should include the following: date, time, location, event description and cost. Keep the signs simple, with large print. Too much clutter makes it difficult to read.
11. Two weeks out:
All supplies and food should be purchased and inventoried by now. Any changes in attendance prediction (based on pre-selling or more information, for example, if a friend tells you she is bringing everyone from her office) can be handled at this point. If you haven’t already, hold a meeting with your volunteers. Delegate responsibilities and make sure that each person is clear about their responsibility. Do not leave anything to chance. Even the youngest volunteer can be held accountable. I helped as a child and my children helped me as did my team members’ children. Call the venue and confirm date and time. Also confirm how early you can arrive to set up. This will have a huge impact on your event.
This is when you can start cooking the meatballs/ sauce and then freeze. If you have more than one volunteer doing this you could get together and do it all in one day. If that is not possible make sure everyone has the same recipe to follow.
NOTE: This can be done the day of the event if and only if you (a) can get the venue early in the morning (b) have many helping hands and (c) enough space/ burners to do all the meatballs in one location in a short period of time. The meatballs will need several hours to cook. (Because I was the only one making meatballs I made as many as I could for as many days as it took. More details follow with the recipe.)
12. One week out: At the risk of sounding like the Marine Corps spouse that I am I have this advice to offer: You get what you inspect not what you expect.
- Day 7: Hold one more meeting with your volunteers. Confirm everyone’s duties, how the event will unfold. Make a timeline and give copies to your team. This will help them see how the day will progress. (More details below) You may want to have a sign making party at this meeting so that the street signs are finished and not done sloppily at the last minute. If the signs are sloppy and carelessly made people will be less likely to attend.
- Day 6: Check in with anyone who has a critical task on this day.
- Day 5: Check in with anyone who has a critical task on this day.
- Day 4: Check in with your “bakers” and make sure they are prepared to bake. No one wants cupcakes that were rushed at midnight, the day of the event. (Desserts are paid for separately so they should look pretty and appetizing!)
- Day 3: Check in with your “bakers” again and anyone else who has a critical task on this day. Take out frozen meatballs and sauce. Thaw in refrigerator(s).
- Day2: Check in with the pasta maker. Pasta can be pre-cooked and put in baggies, stored in the refrigerator and then reheated the day of the event. (More details below.)
Hang street signs (weather permitting). Make sure you have a “bank”. $100.00 worth of small bills: singles and fives (Coins should not be necessary if you keep your prices rounded) Pick up the loaves of Italian bread, hopefully sliced already. If the loaves are not sliced ask the bakery department to do it for you. Most supermarket bakeries will slice the bread for you. And, if you have space in a freezer pick up the ice cubes for the drinks.
13. Event Day:
- Arrive at venue as early as possible.
- If you haven’t, purchase the ice cubes for the drinks and bring to venue.
- Set up the dining area and entrance area. This can be done as early as you are allowed. Get it done and out of the way. (Details on the dining area are below.)
- All hands in the kitchen. (Details on the kitchen prep below)
- Showtime! (Details on how to manage are below.) BIG NOTE: If your event is being held from 5pm-7pm the main part of the crowd will begin arriving between 5-5:30pm. You will see your biggest crowd early so be ready to go.
14. Pat yourself on the back and repay yourself: After you clean up, take a seat and count the money! Deduct what you need to repay yourself. You have succeeded in supporting your cause! If you must purchase any supplies or pay for the venue you must repay yourself, unless, of course you are able to absorb the loss, which along with your time, is a huge donation. Save receipts to use for a tax write off. Now, check out how much you’ve made and give yourself a little pat on the back for a job well done.
Event Day Timeline:
1. Arrive at venue. Everyone should meet at the venue at the same time. An inventory of all necessary items should be taken. Make sure everything is accounted for and if any last minute items are needed assign a person or two to do the legwork
2. Split the team into two unequal parts: the larger group sets up the dining area. The smaller group gets the meatballs and sauce in the crock pots or on the stove.
3. Set up: Depending on your venue you may have to do more or less work. First things first, make sure the dining area is clean. Set up the tables and chairs. Decorate with table clothes and anything non-perishable that can be set on the table. Take a few tables to set up the dessert area where the cupcakes will be displayed. In this area you can also set out all the door prizes and a volunteer can man that section, selling more raffle tickets and the cupcakes.
4. Check the venues bathrooms, post signs to where they are for your guests. Tidy up the bathroom if needed. (If you are paying full price for a facility you shouldn’t have to do this, but it is always nice if your venue is donated to do this before and after the event.
5. Once the “front of the house” is set up, everyone should be in the kitchen. Depending on your timeline, give your team of volunteers a little break. This is a good time to talk to the servers (mostly the children and a few adults to supervise).
The servers will take the drink orders and serve the beverages.
- Then they will bring out the salads.
- After the salads the servers will bring out the dinners.
- When the guest is finished they will clear the tables. If you think the servers will be too busy and you have enough volunteers, designate table cleaners whose only job is to clean the tables.
6. Prep the kitchen area: Set out the plates, cups, etc. In a convenient location.
7. Prep the salads. Wash the lettuce, cut and toss in a bowl, refrigerate. Cut up the tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. Refrigerate.
8. Make sure your kitchen is set up for maximum maneuverability.
9. About 30 minutes before show time, plate salads and refrigerate as many as possible.
10. Slice the Italian bread if it isn’t already done and place in plastic bags to keep from drying out.
11. Man your stations:
- At least one adult should man the entrance, taking in the money for the dinner and issuing one raffle ticket per purchase. If the person is not going to be there for the raffle write down their phone number on the ticket.
- One or Two adults should man the dessert table/additional raffle ticket sales table.
- An adult should man the drink “station” pouring the drinks as the servers come in with the order.
- Many salad plates should be prepped and ready to go, an adult can hand out to the servers as they need. And, this person can keep prepping the plates, keeping a continual supply.
- Three people (adults) should man the dinner station. One person can plate the hot pasta, another can meatball and sauce it while another places the slice of Italian bread on the plate and hands off to the server.
12. When the dinner is over clean up thoroughly. Leave your venue cleaner than you found it and you will be welcome back another time.
Note: If you are doing all the cooking on the morning of the event get the entire team busy in the kitchen ASAP. The sooner the meatballs are finished, the better. And, pasta can still be prepared ahead (see below) and stored in the refrigerator.
Spaghetti Dinner Menu
- Garden Salad
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Drinks: Iced Tea, Water, Coke and Sprite (or Pepsi and 7up). Do not offer too many choices. Keep things simple.
- Cupcakes (for sale separately)
- Food Supply List (Based on recipes below.)
- olive oil
- tomato puree
- ground pork
- ground veal
- ground beef
- parmesan (for use in meatballs and for serving)
- bread crumbs
- bread (for use in meatballs)
- bread for serving
- (Any items you may want to add in the salad)
- Salad dressing (only offer one option: Italian)
- For the Cupcakes
- All-purpose flour
- Baking powder
- Vanilla extract
- Frozen raspberries
- Semi-sweet chocolate
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Supply List (non-food items)
- Table cloths (have a few extra for spills and other messes)
- Salad plates (sturdy disposable)
- Dinner plates
- Small plastic cups (These are the small plastic cups used in to-go meals, they hold sauces, etc. If you do not want to put the whole bottle of salad dressing on the table you can put them in these small cups, on the side of the salad
- To-go boxes if you think you can do carry-out sales. (I was surprised at how many people wanted the meal to go!
- Decorations: Balloons, Streamers, whatever you fancy. But, keep it simple.
- Raffle tickets
- Money box (Any box will do, but one with compartments is helpful)
- Pots, Pans, Strainers, slotted cooking spoons, cooking spoons, ladles, large bowls, spaghetti scooper, crock pots(as many as possible), hot plates, oven mitts, any cooking supplies you may need.
- Garbage bags, paper towel, cleaning supplies such as dish soap, spray cleaners, sponges,
- Music: optional, but fun. I made a play list of Frank Sinatra, Italian music, etc.
“Uniforms”: All the volunteers wore hot pink t-shirts…even the men.*
Note: Make sure your charity is present! Wear the colors; use those colors for the table cloths, etc. Set out informational fliers regarding your charity at the entrance and on tables.
The following recipes are used to create one pot of sauce and enough meatballs to serve with one pound of spaghetti; serving 4-6 people.
Basic Marinara Sauce
4-6 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, diced
6-8 leaves fresh basil, chopped
2 tbs chopped, fresh parsley
2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 large cans tomato puree
NOTE: Typically ½ cup of red wine is added to this sauce. However, this ingredient should be omitted for the fund raiser.
1. In a large pot (make sure it is large enough to hold meatballs if adding), over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Heat, stirring continuously, until leaves of basil wilt.
2. Add the tomato puree and the red wine. Stir thoroughly. Bring to a low boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 1 hour for plain marinara. If adding meatballs simmer for at least 2 ½ hours.
1 cup bread crumbs (store bought or make your own)
2 slices fresh, soft bread, pulled apart into ¼ inch pieces
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tbs chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
2 tbs chopped fresh, basil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 medium onion, grated (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup olive oil
1. In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs, fresh bread, red wine, pork, veal, beef, Parmesan, parsley, basil, salt, onion, garlic, and egg and mix until combined.
2. Using your hands, gently form the meat mixture into 18 slightly larger than golf ball-sized balls. (Packing the meat mixture too tightly together will result in tough meatballs).
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the meatballs and cook, turning occasionally, until slightly browned on all sides, about 6 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to the marinara sauce. Repeat until all meatballs have been slightly browned and transferred to the marinara sauce. The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce. Do not stir the sauce too vigorously or the meatballs will fall apart.
4. Let meatballs and sauce cool. Then place meatballs, with some sauce in large freezer bags. (Place equal amounts in each bag) and label. Take the remaining sauce and do the same.
5. On the day of the event place meatballs with sauce and extra sauce in as many crock pots as you can gather. This is easier than having everything on the stovetop and you won’t have to worry about the sauce and meatballs sticking to the bottom of a large pot.
In order to keep things humming at the spaghetti dinner you can prepare the pasta ahead of time. Cook the pasta al dente (firm, but not hard). When the pasta is strained, coat with a little olive oil (very gingerly…only about 1 tablespoon for a pound of pasta). This keeps it from sticking together. Place pasta in freezer bags, but store in the refrigerator. On the day of the event reheat the pasta in boiling water for about 1 minute. Strain and serve.