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How to Determine Food Amounts for a Buffet

Updated April 17, 2017

More formal than family-style serving and more casual than plated meals, a buffet works well for many types of parties. The one downside to this elegant-yet-relaxed type of service is the difficult task of estimating how much food you need to prepare. Although there are standard recommendations, the main rule of thumb is to prepare a little bit more than you think you need. It is always better to have leftovers than to run out of food in the middle of your party.

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  1. Finalise your guest list and collect all responses so you know how many people to expect.

  2. Estimate food quantities based on the amounts recommended for a buffet by supermarket franchise and party caterer Giant. For a main dish, such as meat, fish or poultry, plan for a 142 to 198gr. portion per person if you're offering only one choice and between 4 and 6 oz. if your guests can choose from more than one item. Put out 0.454kg. of pasta for every eight to 10 people, a handful of vegetables or salad per person, and 10 to 12 appetizer items per person. One standard sheet or round cake will serve 10 people or up to 15 if the menu includes more than one dessert.

  3. Adjust amounts if your party has a specific clientele, such as mostly children, mostly vegetarians or mostly health-conscious adults. Change amounts accordingly, such as more salad and vegetables for a health-conscious crowd or smaller amounts of everything for a children's buffet.

  4. Prepare extra food if your party will run more than 3 hours because people tend to make more rounds of the food table the longer they are there.

  5. Adjust amounts if your party is being held between meal times, such as in the middle of the afternoon or late at night, after dinner time. At times like these, it is best to serve light foods, such as hors d'oeuvres, fruits, salads and desserts. Calculate amounts twice as much as the ones recommended above if the buffet doesn't include entrée items. If you choose to serve a full meal, prepare smaller quantities than the ones recommended above, which are intended for a mealtime party.

  6. Tip

    To calculate drinks, assume two drinks per person during the first hour of the party and one drink per person for the rest of the party. This includes alcoholic drinks, sodas and bottled water. Don't forget to buy ice to keep the drinks cool, as well. You will need about 0.907kg. of ice per person for a 4-hour party.

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About the Author

Brittney Horwitz started writing professionally in 2009 when she became the editor of "Mother's Helper," a bimonthly magazine geared toward busy mothers in the New York metro area. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education and Judaic studies from Stern College.

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