Cafe Rio for a Crowd {Our Teacher Appreciation Lunch}


A Delicious buffet lunch for our teacher appreciation, Cafe Rio Salads for 75 people!

I love volunteering to help with the PTA at my daughters school. Recently we hosted a Teacher Appreciation Birthday Lunch and it was by far the most popular menu we have done so far, Cafe Rio salads for a crowd!

There were so many who complimented on the Copycat Cafe Rio salads because it really did taste amazing. Another benefit to the type of buffet, is that because it was a build-your-own it accommodated several dietary needs – which can be really hard to do!

So, if you’re looking for ideas for a fantastic Teacher Luncheon or just want to know how to plan Cafe Rio style salads for a crowd, I’ll break it all down for you 

Teacher Luncheon Decorations

If you volunteer for the PTA, you know the budget is a tight one. My co-chair for this activity really pulled out all the stops. She volunteered to wash the dishes in order to make this a really nice lunch for the hardworking teachers. It’s fancy, and environmentally conscious. We used white table linens and added chargers, plates, utensils and napkins to the table. The centerpieces were a 12×12 piece of cute scrap-booking paper topped with a simple vase filled with babies breath from Trader Joes. The teachers were so excited to be eating off of real plates with real forks! It was actually really funny how excited they were! 

decorating for the teacher appreciation lunch
table set for the teacher appreciation lunch

Teacher Luncheon Desserts

When a mom on the committee mentioned that she used to make cupcakes for a bakery, I knew the desserts would be amazing! She made 3 types of cupcakes: Salted Caramel Vanilla, Chocolate Raspberry and Pineapple Coconut. Each cupcake had a filling and a delicious topping.

To make the cupcakes portable, we placed the cupcakes inside clear plastic tumblers and then placed inside a clear cellophane bag and tied with a length of jute twine. The gift tags were made using a free template on

We spent about $55 on cupcake supplies for 72 cupcakes. The teachers loved that they were able to easily take them to-go since they had eaten such a filling lunch. 

Teacher appreciation birthday from the PTA
Treats for the teachers

Cafe Rio Style Salads for 75 people

The food really was delicious. I did one big shopping trip and distributed the ingredients to the different Moms who cooked one of the main items so that none of us felt overwhelmed. For the spices, I purchased the jar and split them up for the different mom’s cooking.

cafe rio buffet line at teacher lunch
Copycat cafe rio buffet for a teacher luncheon

Here are links to the recipes and the shopping list with the budget breakdown so you will know exactly what to do:

Sweet Pork: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

  • We made this recipe 4 times with 15 pounds of pork shoulder

Taco Chicken: My recipe see attached document

Cilantro Lime Rice: Mels Kitchen Cafe

  • see attached document for how we modified her original recipe to use chicken bullion instead of chicken stock and to cook a larger quantity.
  • We used an instant pot to cook the rice. 

 Black Beans: My recipe

Creamy Cilantro Lime Ranch Dressing: Our Best Bites .

  • We made this recipe 4 times.  For each of these main recipes, we had to cook in batches.
  • We asked each mom to put 1/2 of the final product into a foil serving pan and 1/2 in the crockpot to set out on the buffet table.
  • We placed the foil pans in a warm oven and refreshed the buffet half way through.

Additional Items offered:

  • Tortilla Chips
  • Flour Tortillas
  • Lettuce
  • Sour Cream
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole
  • Sliced Limes

Here is the shopping list with the approximate budget allowance for each item at Walmart

Shopping List: 

  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Onion powder
  • Chili Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Salt-($6 for these 6 spices)
  • $3 – Pepper
  • $2 – Root Beer
  • $12 – Herdez Green Salsa 6 jars
  • $7 – Red Enchilada Sauce 8 cups
  • $2 – Brown Sugar 2 cups
  • $4 – Diced Green Chilis – 4 small cans
  • $5 – Ranch Dressing Packet 4
  • $4 – Mayonnaise 4 cups
  • $1 – Buttermilk 2 cups
  • $2 – Minced Garlic 8 oz jar
  • $4 – Cilantro 4 heads
  • $2 – Chicken Bullion
  • $3 – Long grain rice – 5 lb bag
  • $3 – Butter 2 sticks
  • $4 – Taco Seasoning 4 pkgs
  • $10 – Black Beans 16 cans
  • Costco Shopping List:
  • $35 – 15 lbs Pork Shoulder
  • $25 – 10 lb pkg frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • $22 – Salsa 48 oz 3 tubs
  • $25 – Guacamole 16 – 2.5 oz cup packages – buy 2
  • $5 – Limes – 5lb bag
  • $5 – Soft Taco Shells – 1 package of 40
  • $15 – Shredded Mexican Cheese Blend – 5 lb bag
  • $10 – Romaine Lettuce 6-pack buy 3
  • $10 – Tortilla Chips 2 large bags
  • $5 – Sour Cream 1 48 oz tub

Total $226

(That’s just over $3 per person – a total bargain for a really amazing meal!)

Recipe printable with scale changes

Teacher appreciation lunch with Cafe rio salads for a crowd

One Comment

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! We are feeding about 30 people which is just under half of what you planned for. But, this was so helpful in helping me to figure out how much of each item to make for 30. I had been looking online for quite a while and was so excited to see this post! Thanks so much!

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