Tips from a Caterer: Plan Your Food and Drink Quantities Like a Pro

Have you ever hosted a party and ended up with way too much leftover food and drink? We've all been there. But fear not, there are ways to avoid this common pitfall. Whether you're throwing...

Have you ever hosted a party and ended up with way too much leftover food and drink? We've all been there. But fear not, there are ways to avoid this common pitfall. Whether you're throwing a small gathering or a large event, proper planning is the key to success. As experienced caterers, we're here to share our insider tips to help you plan your next party with confidence.

General Guidelines for Food and Drink Quantities

When it comes to estimating how much food and drink you'll need, there is no one-size-fits-all formula. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you make an informed decision. Factors such as the duration of the party, the composition of your guest list, and the richness of the food you plan to serve can influence the quantities required.

Keep in mind that guests tend to eat and drink more during nighttime events compared to daytime gatherings. Additionally, serving small bites like hors d'oeuvres and miniature versions of dishes can allow guests to sample a variety of options without excessive waste.

How much to serve for catering Image: How much to serve for catering

Starting Off Right: Appetizers

In formal situations, guests typically consume three to four appetizers per person, assuming there is a main course. For more casual settings, guests may enjoy as many as four to six appetizers. If you're hosting a cocktail party, plan for four to six appetizers per person per hour.

Pro tip: Stock up on easy-to-serve bulk items like nuts, pretzels, olives, and charcuterie to keep guests satisfied while they wait for the hot appetizers to be served.

Catering snacks Image: Catering snacks

The Star of the Event: Main Course

The following estimations will help you plan for the main course. Remember, if you offer a wider variety of options, you can decrease the portion size for each item.

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

If you're hosting a buffet, consider decreasing the main course portion sizes by one to two ounces, as guests tend to try a variety of options.

Save Room for Dessert

No party is complete without dessert! Here are some guidelines to help you plan the final course:

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

Catering desserts, macarons Image: Catering desserts, macarons

Don't Forget the Drinks

Planning the bar for your party can be a bit trickier. Here are some tips to help you navigate the world of beverages:

  • Signature Cocktails: If serving punch-style or pre-poured into glasses, prepare one gallon per 10 guests.
  • DIY Liquor and Mixers: A one-liter bottle of alcohol will make about 17 mixed drinks, and pick up a quart of mixer for every three guests. Guests who enjoy cocktails typically consume three drinks each.
  • Wine: Plan on one bottle of wine per two guests. For daytime or summer parties, consider offering refreshing white wine.
  • Champagne: 1.5 glasses per person before the main course, and three glasses per person if offered at dinner.
  • Beer: Guests typically consume two drinks in the first hour, and one drink every hour after that.
  • Liqueurs and After-Dinner Drinks: Plan for one drink per guest, with 15 drinks per bottle.
  • Non-Alcoholic Drinks: If not serving alcohol, plan for three non-alcoholic drinks per person. If you are offering alcoholic beverages, still plan for one non-alcoholic drink per person in addition to the alcoholic options.
  • Ice and Garnishes: Buy one to two pounds of ice per guest (two pounds if it's a summer party) and a variety of relevant garnishes.

Catering platter Image: Catering platter

Please note that these are general guidelines, and it's always a good idea to round up your estimates to avoid running out. Additionally, consider what dishes are likely to be the most popular among your guests and adjust your quantities accordingly.

Reduce Waste and Overconsumption

To prevent overindulgence and minimize waste, here are some simple hacks you can employ:

  • Pace the party by not putting all the food out at once.
  • Display food in smaller serving bowls and platters to discourage over-indulging.
  • Provide smaller plates, forcing guests to make multiple trips for food.

Catering Pro Tips

Here are some additional tips and tricks we've learned over the years:

  • Always round up your estimates, don't round down.
  • Anticipate the popularity of certain dishes and serve more of them than suggested.
  • Have fun with the colors of the food you serve and aim for a visually appealing display.

In Conclusion

While there are general rules of thumb for party planning, remember that you know your guests best. If you need further assistance, don't hesitate to reach out to a professional caterer, like Messina's, who can help you plan the perfect amount for a truly memorable event. Happy hosting!