All About Food and Beverage Quantities

No matter what your occasion, holiday or even theme or wedding parties, these guidelines are designed to make your planning tasks as easy as can be.  Take it from the expert, Phyllis Cambria.


Party Food and Drink: How Much is Enough?
by Phyllis Cambria

One of the most frequently asked questions has to do with menu ideas, quantities of food and drink to buy, or beverages to serve. While there are no easy answers, here are some guidelines that should help steer you in the right direction.


If you are hosting an event such as for graduation, either on the same day as graduation or on the weekend
immediately preceding or following the graduation ceremony, plan on an event
with fluctuating attendance. The same holds true for busy holiday parties.

Many people host parties on these special occasions, so guests are often
invited to one or more celebrations. This means that they will "party hop"
and are likely to be at your party for only an hour or two.

When you collect your RSVPs (and you should do this even for an open house
event), try to determine if your guests will be there for the whole event, or
have more than one party to attend. Also ask when they plan to arrive. This
will enable you to calculate your food consumption more accurately.


There are several ways to determine the type of menu you are planning:
For parties that take place before the dinner hour, you can plan a cocktails
and canapés event. When the scheduled start time of your event is after
dinner, a desserts-only menu is perfectly acceptable.

Whatever menu plan, be sure to state what type of refreshments will be
served on your invitation. For instance, state if it's cocktails and canapés,
desserts only, dinner, brunch, barbecue, hot and cold buffet or whatever you
have planned.

If the party is before or during mealtime, you really should plan to serve a
more substantial menu since guests will likely be hungry.

You don't have to break the bank, but you should plan on something more
hearty than light hors d'oeuvres or desserts alone.


Nothing tastes better than something from your grill -- no matter what type
of grill you own.  Whether for an outdoor summer event or winter grilling carried in to serve.

To feed the hungry hordes on a budget, hot dogs, hamburgers and/or chicken
will have them lining up at the barbecue the moment they hear the first
sizzle. Figure on one piece of each meat per guest, adding an extra portion
for every 4-5 guests.

This should ensure you have enough for seconds and for those guests who
prefer one type of food over the other.

This assumes that you are not serving just one type of meat. If that's the
case, raise that number to 2-3 pieces each.

Shuck and grill or boil one ear of corn per guest. If you have a
quarter-pound of each salad or baked bean casserole per guest, you should
have more than enough to make them feel satisfied.

Don't forget to add an extra portion for every 4-5 guests. If you plan to
serve less than 3-4 different side dishes, increase the quantity of each from
one-third to one-half pound per person.

When money's no object, individual steaks and/or one and a half to two-pound
lobsters can't be beat. If you roast potatoes, steam corn, and serve with a
tossed salad and sliced sweet watermelon, you'll have a menu that will have
guests planning to spend every holiday at your house!


Cold cut platters and prepared sandwiches are a party staple, budget-friendly
and can generally be found already prepared at most supermarkets or sandwich

Don't forget those meal-by-the-foot sandwiches that can be purchased from a
variety of stores. In fact, the Subway chain offers six-foot sandwiches with
a wide selection of fillings. And with over 15,000 shops in more than 70
countries, they can be found in most communities.

To find a store near you, visit their site at

For greater savings, you also can choose to buy the sliced meats and cheeses
at your local supermarket or delicatessen and arrange on a platter or make
the sandwiches yourself.

Here are some quantities to help you make sure no one leaves hungry.

Plan on one and a half sandwiches per guest. Add a portion for every 4-5
guests to allow for seconds, waste and teen boys who are often "eating

Figure a quarter pound of sliced meat, adding a portion for every 4-5 guests
if you are placing the cold cuts on a platter.

With side salads, also plan a quarter pound of salad per guest. There is no
need to add additional portions if you are offering 3-4 different types of
side salads. If you have less, increase the quantities.

The one problem with this calculation is that you are likely serving a
variety of meats and you don't know who is going to eat roast beef, who is
going to eat ham, or who is going to eat salami. While you don't have to have
full portions of each, with adult guests, you can assume that you're likely
going to go through more roast beef, turkey and ham than salami or bologna.

Figure 2-3 slices of several types of cheese for sandwiches or 4-6 cheese
cubes and 5-8 pieces of vegetables on a veggie tray.
If you are serving a tossed salad, put your dressings on the side, including
one or more non-fat varieties, so your salad won't wilt.

Don't forget to offer toppings such as sliced tomatoes, lettuce, sprouts,
pepper rings (hot and sweet), sliced olives or other favorites. This also is
a great way to extend your meats and cheeses without a lot more expense.

For sandwiches, be sure to also put out condiments such as mayonnaise,
mustard (several varieties are nice), ketchup, and a mixture of oil and
vinegar (or prepared Italian salad dressing). And don't forget the pepper and
salt shakers!

Select sliced breads (white, whole wheat, rye and/or pumpernickel) or small
rolls instead of large sub, hoagie or Kaiser rolls. This will help with
smaller appetites and will give your guests the chance to make several
sandwiches with different fillings.


If your budget allows, you might want to choose a menu comprised of hot
entrees. If you make the food yourself, this menu idea will likely cost only
a little more than cold cuts.

These dishes are selected because they are party favorites, budget-friendly
and will hold their heat well (assuming you use chafing dishes and sterno,
crock pots, or electric fry pans on a low setting). They also can be prepared
ahead of time and freeze well.

Baked pasta or lasagna, sausage and peppers, roasted chicken, meatballs,
tossed salad and rolls are perennial people-pleasers. There are thousands of
variations and you can find some great recipes at

Again, although the problem arises in that it's difficult to determine who
will eat more of what, here are some time-tested guidelines.

As a rule of thumb, figure on one sausage link, two meatballs and one piece
of chicken per guest (not counting wings). Cook two peppers and one medium
onion per one pound of sausage. (For color and variety, select the sweeter
red, yellow and orange varieties of bell peppers.)

For every 4-5 guests, add a portion. Once more, this will help you have
enough for seconds or people who put more on their plate than they'll eat.

If you're making pasta without a set recipe, plan to cook a pound of pasta
for every 6-8 guests and add a portion for every 4-5 guests of this too. A
baked pasta in a casserole recipe works better than plain pasta because it
doesn't get as sticky, mushy or cold as loose pasta will.

Depending on the type of lettuce and what other veggies you put in there,
you're looking at one good-size head of iceberg lettuce to feed 6-8 people.
If you're working with smaller heads such as romaine or Boston, you have to
figure accordingly. Don't forget to keep dressings on the side for variety
and to keep the salad from wilting.

To save time and ensure crispness, cut, clean and dry all your lettuce and
veggies a day or two ahead. Keep them in separate plastic bags (with a
slightly damp paper towel), refrigerate and mix at the last minute.

The good news is that except the salad, it all freezes well.

There are dozens of cookbooks devoted to leftovers, but here are some
standard ways to use any extra food you may have.

You can make sausage and pepper or meatball sandwiches on a hard roll or
Italian bread. You may use the sausage, meatballs and chicken to make a
savory tomato and meat sauce. Dice the chicken for salads and casseroles. The
peppers and onions can be mixed with eggs for omelets.

We suggest two to three small rolls per guest, with no need to add extras.


For those parties that are held in-between meals, you can offer a variety of
hot and cold hors d'oeuvres instead of a full meal.

At parties that run one to two hours, without serving dinner, you should
figure on 5-6 light hors d'oeuvres or 5-8 heavy or combination (light and
heavy) hors d'oeuvres.

(See our BELLY UP TO THE BAR suggestions below for cocktail quantities and


Use your baker's or recipe's recommendation as the initial basis for serving
sizes of a cake. Experience tells us, however, that at a party with a
substantial menu and a cake with heavy frosting, will serve about one-quarter
more guests than is recommended. In other words, for a cake that serves 12,
you can count on it serving 15-16 guests.

As a general rule, small children and grab-and-go teens prefer cookies and
bite-sized treats such as brownies or mini-Danish.


When the party starts after dinner, indulge everyone's sweet tooth with a
selection of decadent desserts. In addition to your grad's special cake or
all-American apple pie, offer your choice of donuts or Danish, sherbet or
sorbet, patisserie or pies, flan or fresh fruit, or any confection you wish.
An ice cream sundae bar, supplied with all the fixings, is always a real
crowd pleaser.

To calculate your servings, plan on 2-3 scoops of ice cream, yogurt or
sorbet, 3-4 mini-pastries, 2-3 pieces of fruit, and/or 2-3 thin slices of
cake or pie.


If you want to stretch your overall food budget, add a vegetable crudités
platter, chips, pretzels, popcorn, etc. for guests to fill up on before
dinner. This is also a good idea when you may have an extended time from when
the party starts until the buffet is ready. Plus, the snacks will help keep
small children and always-hungry teens in good spirits until the meal is

Don't forget, leftover vegetables can be steamed to serve with meals, used
for soups, casseroles or as snacks when packing lunches after the party. So
buy in bulk.

For greatest use of your menu extras, take a few moments to divide your
leftovers into individual servings or meal-sized portions before storing.

To control waste, find a store that will allow you to return any unopened
packages of snacks. You also may want to keep a bag or two on hand for
unexpected company in the future. However, many products can become stale or
rancid over time. Be sure to check the product's freshness date and use
before then.

WARNING: If you have any food that has been left out, away from direct
contact with heat or ice, for more than two hours, do not save. Food spoils
quickly and while it may appear fresh, can contain harmful bacteria that will
grow whether it is refrigerated, frozen or re-heated. Remember, when in
doubt, toss it out!

Keeping food properly chilled or heated is essential during the party too.
Replace any dairy-based salad, condiment or meat, unless it is kept DIRECTLY
on heat or ice, for longer than an hour or two, more frequently in warm
weather. For safety's sake, serve smaller portions and replace frequently.


To determine drink quantities, follow this formula. In general, plan on two
drinks per guest in the first hour and one drink per guest each hour

If the weather is warm and/or people are involved in strenuous activities
(dancing, sports, swimming) and/or you have many teens or small children,
increase your quantities.

There is a trend lately that some guests are starting with
alcohol and switching to soft drinks or water after the first hour or two.
Don't forget that some people are either non-drinkers or are the designated
driver, so be sure to have delicious and attractive non-alcoholic drinks
available as well.

However, what people drink is completely unique. That's why bars offer such a
variety. Who prefers beer to wine? Who likes a soft drink instead of wine?
Who drinks red wine, who drinks white? Who likes a mixed drink, who likes
beer? That's why bars have such a large stock -- to satisfy the tastes of so
many people.

White wine (Chablis or Chardonnay) used to be more popular, but lately more
people are choosing a red wine (Merlot or Cabernet). On the other hand, if
you want to "split the difference," serve a white zinfandel or rosé.

If you need to limit the choices of hard liquor, select vodka because it can
be mixed with so many things. If your budget allows, also can add favorites
such as scotch, rye, rum, tequila and one or more sweet drinks such as
Amaretto, Frangelico or peach schnapps.

At large parties with many beer drinkers, a keg is a more cost-conscious way
of serving, but it is also more labor-intensive and requires more space and

Note: Personalize plastic drink glasses by writing guests names on them with
permanent ink. This will save you the trouble and expense of a lot of
half-full glasses being discarded because a guest couldn't remember which
glass was his or hers.

TIP: Serve soft drinks and juices from large bottles or pitchers in personalized

glasses to avoid the waste of unfinished cans of beverages.

Don't forget that if you mix ginger ale, fruit juice, 7-Up, club soda or
Sprite, you can turn the wine into a spritzer which gives you more options.
These mixers without the wine also can served to guests who aren't imbibing.

Don't forget to add bottled water to your list as well.

When you are concerned about buying too much liquor, here is a suggestion.
Find a liquor store that will allow you to return any unopened stock. That
way you can bring back cases of beer or soda that aren't used. Check with
warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s Club. In addition to getting a good
price, they can help you decide on quantities and are usually open to taking
back unopened bottles and six-packs. However, they do have some restrictions,
so check with them first.

Remember that a good bottle of wine or quality liquor also makes a nice
hostess gift throughout the year.

If you must stay within a beverage budget, then serve wine, beer and/or soft
drinks alone.

For the greatest savings, serve an alcoholic and plain punch. You can find
numerous drink and punch recipes on our Web site:
under "Party Potables".

TIP: To avoid youngsters "accidentally" dipping into the "spiked" punch bowl,
choose recipes that are two different colors and use see-through drinking
glasses. This will tell you at a glance whether you need to make a


One of the most important considerations, and the one most likely overlooked
is ice. You can never have too much ice.

On average, for a four-hour party, figure on 2-3 lbs. of ice per
guest. In warm weather, making frozen drinks, beverages on ice or guests are
up and active, figure on 5-6 lbs. per guest.

You also will need 3-4 ten-pound bags of ice for each large cooler or tub.
Add a little water to the ice to make the drinks chill more quickly.

TIP: Don't let your guests get frostbite by having to dig through a cooler,
large tub or trash can for a cold beverage. If it's a serve-yourself bar,
then keep a smaller container for guests' consumption. Re-stock often, using
heavy-duty rubber gloves or tongs, to retrieve iced beverages from your main


At parties where you want guests to mill around, you won't require seating
for more than one-third to one-half of your guests. However, if you are
planning for everyone to eat at the same time, especially if it's a full
meal, do make certain that you not only have enough seats, but also enough
places for guests to rest their plate. There's few things more annoying than
trying to eat a full supper while juggling a plate, drink and utensils.


Be a good host to yourself first! Don't get stuck in the kitchen bussing
tables or restocking the buffet or bar during the party. Get help. Hire
responsible teens who are not in the graduating class or look through your
yellow page directory. You will likely find qualified servers under
HOSPITALITY STAFFING or MAID headings. You also might ask a favorite waiter
to make suggestions for host-helpers.

It's a small investment that will pay for itself when you consider you will be able to relax more and be a better host.

***More Summer Party planning ideas and tips at Picnics.


***One of the longest party planning link lists on the Internet can be found 
On This Page.

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