7 Creative Food Options for Your Dinner Gala

So you’ve decided to avoid serving rubber chicken and dry potatoes at this year’s gala.

Great! But now what should you put on the menu?

You have to weigh broad appeal, cost, and friendliness to dietary requirements, not to mention match the ambiance of your event.

Let’s explore seven alternative food options that will have your guests raving!

Potato Bar

baked potato

Who doesn’t love baked potatoes? They are delicious, comforting, and, best of all, they won’t make your food budget skyrocket.

Not only is this a delicious idea, but it also allows each guest to select the ingredients they enjoy the most instead of having to settle for what you and the caterers picked for them.

Most likely, there will be vegetarians or vegans in the event, and they can select from non-dairy and meat-free options. For those who can’t go without a good meat serving, you can include bacon, ham, and other delicacies as toppings or side dishes.

There are countless fixings you can lay out for guests: Sour cream, salsa, cheese, steamed vegetables, mushrooms, chives, chili, butter, and so much more!


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly


shawarma vertical spit

Shawarma is a delicious Middle Eastern dish served in a loaf of flatbread. It usually contains sliced meat, vegetables, and ethnic sauces.

The best part is that the bread is wrapped in a cone-like shape, and it can be eaten without the need for utensils. This is a good option for a casual charity event, especially for lunches held outside.

Shawarma can include several different kinds of meat, such as pork, chicken, lamb, and beef. Vegetables used in its preparation are usually not too expensive. Onions, bell peppers, and garlic are the most common options.

Substitute falafel (a deep-fried ball made from ground chickpeas) for the meat to accommodate vegans.

You’ll need a catering company that rents a vertical rotisserie – the slow-turning vertical stove where the meat is cooked – as well chefs to slice the protein and wrap the flatbread. In this writer’s opinion, it’s certainly worth the cost!


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly
MediumLowHighYes, with falafelYes, with gluten-free pitas

Pasta Bar

Pasta bar

Much like the potato bar, a pasta bar gives your guests the freedom to select the ingredients they add to their dishes.

Also like the potato bar, a pasta bar has the benefit of having an inexpensive ingredient as the main meal. Consider fresh pasta to elevate your meal for fancier gatherings.

Provide a variety of pasta and sauce options. Include long pastas, like spaghetti, bucatini, and fettuccine, and short pastas like farfalle, penne, and fusilli. For sauces, a red, white, and green sauce (e.g., pesto) are customary, though consider a carbonara or puttanesca for fancier occasions.

Toppings can include: parmesan cheese, tomatoes, basil, olives, meatballs, bacon, chicken, and steamed vegetables.

A PSA about pasta: Please, please, please cook your pasta in small batches immediately before serving. Buffet line pasta overcooks and gets mushy. Your guests will ask, “Can I have the rubber chicken instead?”


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly
MediumMediumHighYesYes, with gluten-free pasta

Seafood Paella

seafood paella

If you want to go with a healthier and ethnic choice, a seafood paella is a good option to wow guests in the buffet line.

Seafood paella is a Spanish rice dish with seafood, beans, and vegetables. It is sometimes mixed with meat. You may include cheaper fish if your budget is limited or lavish your guests with stunning shellfish and chorizos.

The paella includes onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes, as well as rice, green beans, and several spices. Saffron grants the dish its characteristic yellow color.

Pair this meal with Spanish wines to grant the guests a real experience of Spain’s unique cuisine and bold flavors.

Paella is cooked in gigantic pans, and so seeing the chefs prepare the paella is also a form of entertainment for guests. As paella is served in big bowls, it’s an elegant option even if your are having a buffet.


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly
MediumMedium-HighMediumYes, a vegetable and bean paella optionYes

Pizza Party

personal pizza being sliced

Who hasn’t argued with friends and family over what kind of pizza to order? Most people have unique preferences when it comes to what they enjoy and can’t tolerate when selecting their pizza flavors.

Offering your guests individual-sized pizzas and allowing them to be the ones to select their preferred toppings is a sure way to keep everyone happy.

Hire a caterer to bring their wood-fired oven so you can cook thin crusts in just a few minutes. Or, pre-cook the crusts so all you have to do is assemble the pies and give them a quick bake.

You can include all kinds of ingredients for your attendees to pick from. There are classic options, such as veggies and pepperoni, or more luxurious ingredients, such as black truffles, fontina cheese, and even lobster!

Lay out several types of cheeses, but remember to keep them on the side instead of adding mozzarella on all your pizzas from the start. There might be vegans in your event that would prefer to stick with veggies. Remember to add a few gluten-free pizza crusts as well.


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly
MediumMediumHighYesYes, with gluten-free crust

Steak, Potatoes, and Veggies

steak and potatoes

Yes, it might be a bit traditional, but there is reason steak, potatoes, and veggies is a classic.

Include sour cream or cheese as a topping, or even a mushroom or peppercorn sauce. This will make your dish really pop and give a tasty twist.

For the veggies, consider a mix of bell peppers, onions, carrots, and sweet corn. If you want to try a delicious alternative, you can replace the potatoes with roasted pumpkin slices with just a dash of garlic!

It’s crucial to consider vegetarians and vegans when selecting a meal focusing around the meat. So consider including a fun alternative, such as falafel or breaded eggplant.


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly
MediumMediumHighNo, alternative protein neededYes

Goulash and Gnocchi

goulash and gnocchi

For your winter warm-up event, goulash and gnocchi provides an upscale alternative to chili.

Goulash is thick stew filled with the meat and vegetables of your choice, seasoned with paprika and other strong spices. Gnocchi (or other dumpling) make the dish even heartier.

The benefit of selecting this kind of stew for your event is that you don’t have to worry about reheating. Sometimes meat comes out dry when it’s been heated one too many times, but stew only gets more delicious when you allow it to simmer.


CostFancinessBroad AppealVegan FriendlyGluten-Free Friendly
LowMediumHighYes, with no-meat potYes, with gnocchi on the side

These seven options are sure to set your event apart and satiate your guests. Though, there are plenty of other options to pick from. Many organizers choose to match the food choice with the theme.

We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment with the creative dish you’ve used for your event.


Al McDonald is the Chief Product Officer for TravelPledge and author of the e-book “The Definitive Guide to Silent Auction Fundraisers.” Al has helped thousands of nonprofits exceed their auction goals through auction item procurement and advice. Al understands that successful auctions are hard work and is committed to delivering practical advice that will move the needle for you today.