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Party Planning? Here’s how Much Food to Serve

You send out the invitations, you order the décor, you begin making your grocery list, but wait…how much food should you buy? One of the most stressful parts of party planning is deciding how much food and drink to buy and prepare. You, of course, don’t want to run out (what a faux pas!), but you also don’t want to be stuck with a fridge full of leftovers. So, how much do you buy and prepare?

The most stress-free route to take is to hire a full-service catering company to come to your home! This is what at Messina’s Catering & Events does, we’re pros at in-home catering! However, should you decide to go it on your own, we’ve put our years of catering experience to work by sharing our recommendations on how much food to serve, whether you are hosting 5 or 50 guests.

General Party Planning Food Calculations

Messina’s Catering & EventsWhile there is no perfect formula to calculate how much party food and drink you’ll need, we employ some general guidelines. Keep in mind there are several factors at play including the length of the party, the composition of men, women, and children as well as the richness of the food you plan to serve.

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

On average, plan for each adult to consume about 1 pound of food total (not including dessert). Count on children to consume about a ½ pound. Remember; the more options you have, the less you need of each.


Messina’s Catering & EventsIn our experience, guests consume 3-4 apps per person in more formal situations, assuming the event features a main course. Guests may enjoy as many as 4-6 appetizers in more casual settings. Hosting a cocktail party? Plan for 4-6 apps per person per hour. Pro tip: stock up on bulk items that require no work such as nuts, pretzels, and olives so that 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 Catering & EventsNo 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

The Bar

There are several approaches you can take to the liquid part of your party planning. Below are some planning tips for a variety of scenarios:


  • You can create a few signature cocktails to be served punch-style, or pre-poured into glasses. If you go this route, prepare one gallon per 10 guests. If you opt to provide a do-it-yourself array of liquor and mixers, know that a 1-liter bottle of alcohol will make about 17 mixed drinks, and pick up a quarter of mixer for every three guests. Each guest imbibing in cocktails will consume an average of 3 drinks each.


  • For those guests who opt for wine, plan on one bottle of wine per two guests. If your party is during the day and/or in the summer, take into account white wine’s popularity over red.


  • signature cocktailsPopping bubbly? Plan for 1.5 glasses of champagne per person before the main course, 3 glasses per person if offered at dinner.


  • Beer drinking guests will typically consume two drinks in the first hour, and one drink 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 3 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 1-2 pounds of ice per guests (2 if it’s a summer party) and a variety of relevant garnishes.


Note that these are general guidelines, however, if you feel that your guests are heavier drinkers, round up! After all, you want to make sure your guests stay properly, ahem, hydrated! 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. So, feel free to stock up in the bar department!

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, serve more of them than the guidelines suggest. For example, everyone loves shellfish, so plan accordingly. (Ultram) Also, consider the colors of the food that will be served together, and make sure there is variety for a beautiful display.

For more information on Messina’s Catering & Events in-home catering services, check out our blog: Full-Service Catering at Home. We are proud to have been voted Best Caterer for the third year in a row by New Orleans CityBusiness Readers!


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