How to Serve Just the Right Amount of Food at Your Next Party

Messina's charcuterie display

You’ve thought of everything–down to the theme, décor and setup. Now the RSVPs are rolling in and you’re making your punch list for event-day.  Now for the million-dollar question: How much food and drink should you buy for your guests?  You want to have plenty for guests to enjoy, but not so much as to waste food, drink, time and money.   So, how much do you buy and prepare?

In this article, you’ll find best practices for determining how much to buy.  Of course, the most stress-free route to take is to hire a full-service catering company to come to your home. New Orleans caterers like Messina’s Catering & Events are pros at in-home catering.

How much is enough?

While there is no perfect formula to calculate how much party food and drink you’ll need, you can follow these general guidelines. Remember, there are several factors at play including the length of the party, the time of day, the season, the ratio of men, women, and children, and last, but certainly not least, the richness of the food you plan to serve.

The time of the party is key. Guests tend to eat and drink more at night than during the day. However, an after-dinner cocktail party requires much less food than a dinner party.

On average, plan for each adult to consume about one pound of food total (not including dessert). Count on children to consume about a half pound. Remember; the more options you have, the less you need of each.

Appetizers

In our experience, each guest consumes three or four appetizers in more formal situations, assuming the event features a main course. Guests may enjoy as many as four to six appetizers in more casual settings. Hosting a cocktail party? Plan for four to six appetizers per person, per hour. Be sure to stock up on ready-to-serve items such as charcuterie, nuts, pretzels, and olives so guests can munch on these items as soon as they arrive before the appetizers are served.

Main Course

The guidelines below help you plan for the star of the show. Remember, the more options you have available, the smaller each portion size can be.

  • Meat/Seafood: 6oz
  • Grains: 1.5oz as a side dish, 2oz as a main dish casserole
  • Potatoes: 5oz
  • Vegetables: 4 oz
  • Beans: 2 oz
  • Pasta: 4 oz
  • Green salad: 1 oz without dressing
  • Breads (buns, rolls, tortillas, etc): 1 to 2 pieces (more if each piece is small)

Hosting a buffet? Decrease the main course portion sizes by 1-2 oz as people tend to like to try a variety of options from a buffet.

Messina's sliders

Desserts

No matter how stuffed your guests are after your amazing appetizers and main course, there’s always room for dessert! Below are some guidelines to follow for your final course.

  • Cake/tart/pastry: 1 slice
  • Creamy dessert: 4 oz
  • Ice Cream: 5 oz

Messina's cheesecake slices

The Bar

Serving the right amount of alcohol is an important factor in keeping your event within budget.  Sure, it’s nice to have an open-bar with premium liquors, wines and beers, but the price tag can be steep.  Here are some factors that can keep your guests satisfied while you watch your bottom line.

  • Signature cocktails can to be served punch-style, or pre-poured into glasses and can go a long way. In fact, one gallon can serve up to 10 guests. If you opt to provide a do-it-yourself array of liquor and mixers, know that a one-liter bottle of alcohol will make about 17 mixed drinks, and pick up a quarter of mixer for every three guests. Guests, on average, consumer three drinks each.
  • A single bottle of wine can typically serve two guests. If your party is during the day and/or in the summer, take into account white wine’s popularity over red.  Also, sangria or mimosas might be even better options on a hot summer day.
  • Serving champagne? Plan for one-and-one-half glasses of champagne per person before the main course or three glasses per person if offered at dinner.
  • Beer drinkers usually knock down a couple of beers in the first hour, then one beer every hour after that.
  • Serving liqueurs and after-dinner-drinks? Plan for one drink per guest, and 15 drinks per bottle.
  • If you are not serving alcohol at the party, plan for three non-alcoholic drinks per person. Consider some creative mocktails! If you are offering alcohol, plan for one non-alcoholic drink per person in addition to the alcoholic beverages.
  • Don’t forget the ice and garnishes! Buy one to two pounds of ice per guests (two if it’s a summer party) and a variety of relevant garnishes.

Don’t be afraid if you do over buy alcohol.  The good news is that unopened liquor, beer, and wine don’t go bad, and can often be returned (depending on the state and the retailer’s policy). Opened liquor doesn’t go bad, and can be added to your personal stash and consumed at a later date.

Messina's custom bar

Reduce Waste & Overconsumption

We eat with our eyes! Therefore, there are also some hacks you can employ to help reduce overconsumption and waste. Consider not putting all the food out at once, pace the party. Also, display food in smaller serving bowls/platters to encourage guests not to overindulge.

There are a number of “rules of thumb” to use in party planning. However, you know your guests best. A few other tips; always round up your estimates, don’t round down. Anticipate what the most popular dishes will be and serve more of them than the guidelines suggest. For example, everyone loves shellfish, so plan accordingly. Also, consider the colors of the food that will be served together, and make sure there is variety for a beautiful display.  Need assistance, a caterer like Messina’s can help you execute the perfect amount to serve for a perfect event.