How to determine how much food to make when catering

Updated July 18, 2017

Catering a party is fun, and choosing how much to serve is as important as choosing what to serve. You should consider your guests, the time of the day and the purpose of the catering in order to determine just the right amount of food to serve. Also, consider the type of food being served, such as plated food, buffet items or finger foods. When a variety of foods are offered, you should plan on serving at least one serving of each. Finally, do not forget to offer selections for those who follow restrictive diets.

Determine the number of guests you expect to serve, including how many adults and how many children. Depending on the type of event, you may want to increase the number of portions by 10 per cent, because some events, such as weddings, may have more guests than the RSVP cards show.

Confirm the type of event, and plan your menu and style of service accordingly. If you are serving a buffet meal that has a limited time, you should plan to put out most of your food all at once. If you are serving a plated dinner, you will be serving all of the food at the same time. If you plan on an appetiser event without a follow-up dinner, then you should plan on restocking the items several times, as guests will take several portions of each throughout the event.

Calculate your number of portions using the following guidelines, which are reflected on the Chef Menus website and the Caterista website. Serve 10 to 15 servings of appetizers per person if the appetizers are the only items being served, and no dinner is following up. Serve three to five starters per person if dinner will be served. When catering a meal, serve a 142gr. entrée with two sides for each person. If your event occurs between meals, such as in the early afternoon, you can reduce your starter servings to four to six per person. You should also plan on serving one to three servings of beverage and at least one serving of each dessert option provided.


Remember to feed your catering staff, and consider some contingency options for those worst-case scenarios that can often occur, such as unusual kitchen space, limited oven or range top space or event spills and disasters.

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About the Author

Kimberly Schaub is a nutritionist, writer and cook whose passions have led from serving in the United States Air Force (2005-2006) to R&D for Day by Day Gourmet (2009) and into professional writing for publications since 2006. She has been published in Pepperdine's "Graphic," "That's Natural in Pueblo" and "Pike Place Market News." Schaub earned her Bachelor of Science in nutrition at Pepperdine.