Catering quantities are a common concern with party hosts

As caterers, we are very careful to recommend enough food for your particular occasion when you book. We also know that even our well prepared menus and quantities are a guide rather than gospel as all functions are different.

We are also asked this question a lot, so here are our guidelines.

Factors that Affect Your Party Catering Requirements

It is a little more art than science, but the main factors to consider are:

  • number of guests
  • are they all adults or will there be children?
  • age of adults and children
  • mix of men and/or women
  • the overall menu
  • length of the party and whether it is over a meal time
  • richness and denseness of the food being served
  • the mix of food being served
  • type of event
  • ‘style’ of guests – are they plain eaters, an active sports group, are they expecting something unusual on your menu?
market garden wedding afternoon tea sandwiches

Age Plays a Factor in Food Requirements

We find that generally, younger adults eat less than older adults. Ask a friend who works in aged care about how much an older person can eat in a day. Younger adult and adolescent girls tend to pick at food rather than heartily devour a large meal, especially in front of her peers. If you have a sporting crowd, they usually eat well.

If your party catering time is under an hour, consider whether you will have enough time to serve out enough food for a meal, or whether to only offer afternoon tea, pre-dinner drinks or light finger food. Make sure your guests know if you are only offering a light serving over what some may consider a meal time. Also let us know if we are preparing your menu.

The time of your party is also very important. An after-dinner cocktail party requires less food than an all-day barbecue.

If you have primary school aged children, you can use a simple ratio of 2:1 for food quantity needed, ie, 2 children to one adult portion. Always check with parents for allergies!

Party Catering Planning Guidelines

These are general rules of thumb. They are a good place to start, however, as you are talking to your guests when they RSVP, keep a note of any adjustments you may need to make.

  • Round up your food quantities, don’t round them down. It is not nice when guests need to drop in on the local take-away on their way home, or worse, leave early because they are hungry!
    How Much Food Do I Need For My Party? This wedding chocolate fountain dessert buffet at Melbourne Pavilion for 300 guests was well received by all.

    How Much Food Do I Need For My Party? This wedding chocolate fountain dessert buffet at Melbourne Pavilion for 300 guests was well received by all.

  • Anticipate which food selections will be most popular and serve more of them and less of some others. Seafood and mini hamburgers are often more popular than quiches, for example.
  • The more menu items you offer, the less of each is required.
  • For ‘petite food’ cocktail party menus, provide a good variety throughout the party. Keep in mind that the little morsel you are so looking forward to serving may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, and if there are only 2 rounds of that one item being served for the next 40-50 mins, some guests may go hungry.  If a guest has dietary or other considerations that prevent them from taking a few of your menu items, it is important to take care of their needs in their own time.
  • Even the most popular menu items are unlikely to be popular for more than a couple of service rounds, so again variety can be a better choice than more of the same foods.
  • Buffets always require greater food supply than plate service or cocktail catering. Guests tend to have a taste of everything, and it is poor taste to run out of a buffet item, so there is a lot of waste.
  • Palates need ‘a rest’. Plan a balanced menu with some simpler foods and some richer foods.
  • If your are planning a meal, don’t forget the starch – bread, potatoes or rice. If your menu is being served cocktail style, include some bulk items. Our cocktail catering menus and cold platters can give you plenty of ideas. You can add nuts, pretzels, dips and flat breads on platters prepared before the party starts without a lot of extra work. Fresh sushi platters are also popular easy, bulky starters.
  • Consider whether all of your guests will arrive on time. The younger generation have redefined fashionably late.

Here are basic guidelines for individual serving sizes of various foods. Multiply these estimates by your number of guests and, once again, always round up your estimates.

How much food do I need for my high tea party?

  • 3 pieces per hour for light catering (less than lunch quantities)
  • include a mix of sweet and savoury
  • creative presentation is a popular attraction

How much food do I need for my cocktail party?

  • ‘meal replacement’ catering – 4 pieces per hour for the first two hours then 2-3 per hour after that – depending on the piece size
  • pre-dinner, after work office parties or after-dinner menus – 3 pieces per hour for light catering

How much food do I need for my dinner party?

  • Overall – 300-400g per person
  • Poultry, meat or fish – 160g with one main dish, 200g if two or more main dishes are offered
  • Rice, grains – 50g as a side dish or 60-75g  if it is a main dish such as risotto
  • Potatoes – 80-150g
  • Vegetables – 120-150g, best to have a higher vegetables to potato ratio
  • Beans – 50-60g as a side dish
  • Pasta – 50-75g for a side dish, 70-90g for an entree, 200-300g as a main dish
  • Green Salad – 30g before dressing

How much food do I need for my party desserts?

We often observe that not everyone is a sweet tooth, so cake is not eaten by all. But, we do notice cake or cupcakes often being taken home for the children. This has guided our recommendations here:

  • 1 slice of cake, tart or cupcake – this may include a piece of birthday cake, though these are often cut into 2.5cm wedding serves rather than cake & coffee serves at your local cafe. When ordering a custom celebration cake, check on the size of the pieces.
  • 1-2 pastries, depending on their size
  • 2-3 mini desserts, petit fours, mini slices
  • 1 freshly prepared fruits platter per 40 guests based on the platter size we offer at Party Food Melbourne
  • 120g of a creamy dessert such as pudding or mousse
  • 2-3 scoops ice cream (about 120-150g)

Where a mix of these is offered, allow a little extra (same rationale as for a buffet).

For a dessert station, or dessert party, you will need a lot more. Contact our experienced team for a confidential discussion.

Other Menu Planning Tips

  • Don’t repeat a main ingredient for a meal. For example, don’t feature pumpkin in your entree and main course.
  • The converse applies in cocktail fingerfood catering – to ensure variety, especially over a longer party, offer a couple of different menu items using a more popular base product, eg, chicken.
  • Check your fingerfood menu items are compatible – eg, if you have one Asian item with a European menu, the flavours may jar on the palate.
  • Consider the colours of the food that will be served together to ensure variety. We eat with our eyes before our mouths. Garnish is underrated and often forgotten in menu planning.
  • Offer both hot and cold foods on a buffet.
  • Consider textures and balance – creamy, crisp, crunch, light, dense.
  • Allergies & special food requirements – unless you know, ask. Nearly all of our catering now include special food requests. We have countless stories of a guest not mentioning an allergy until at the party being served the first menu item. It is too late for the caterers by then.