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How to Calculate Food for Party Menus:
Food Quantities for Parties

There's no question that planning a party can get rather tricky, particularly learning how to calculate food for party menus.
In lots of party hosts and hostesses, the thought of figuring out the food logistics can cause a bit panic... particularly for larger scale parties. But panic is a part of the process, as not everyone can afford to hire a caterer or chef and just put their feet up. Sound like a familiar position? Don't sweat it. There are some very simple guidelines to calculating food quantities for a party that will help you greatly.

Looking for recipes for party food? When you're done here, check out:

A VERY Basic Food Amount Guideline

The simplest equation that answers the question of how to calculate food for a party is the "One-Pounder Rule."

This rules says to have about one pound of food for each guest (not counting dessert or drinks).


But when you are serving appetizers, soups, main dishes, etc., that one pound seems pretty hard to calculate. Thankfully, there are ways to simplify the whole process-- all you have to do is break down your party menu bite by bite.

To learn more about how to calculate food for party menus, read on, or check out my dish-by-dish party amounts chart below.


Calculating Appetizer Quantities for a Party

How to Calcualte food Quantities for a PArty
Let's start out with appetizers, as it's your appetizers start the meal. How many apps people eat, however, depends on how long it will be until dinner, and how large a main dish you plan on serving. Got a lot of time between courses? Offer more. Only a few minutes for nibbles? Offer less.

Not serving a main dish at all? Check below for calculating food quantities for a party of only appetizers.

In general, though, when calculating food quantities for a party, here's a general guideline:


Most adults nibble 6-7 appetizers in an hour.

This is during the first two hours-- they'll generally eat about 3-4 an hour after that (though if they're very small bites --like shrimp-- they'll eat more). Also, make a little extra, since appetizers often become "snack food" for after-dinner socializing too.

Note: If appetizers are served, guests will generally eat about 10 percent less at the main meal.

Check my other pages for some great appetizer recipes and cold appetizer recipes!


Calculating Appetizer Amounts with No Main Dish

Not serving a buffet dinner or main dish at your party? Then you'll need to plan about 15-20 pieces of food per guest per hour, or more if the party is taking place during a meal time (with up to 40 pieces per guest per hour for an all-day shin-dig).

When there's nothing else on offer, they'll eat a lot more!

Choosing Your Appetizers. How to calculate food for party planning isn't the only important consideration-- also offer the right things. If serving only snacks and appetizers, be sure to offer a few protein options, and a few fresh options, such as veggies and dip or salad cups.


Chart: Specific Food Amounts for Parties

The chart below will help you know how to calculate food for parties, with different foods highlighted. These amounts assume that you will be serving a main dish, as well. If no main dish will be served, you'll need to make 3-5 times as much, especially if your party takes place at mealtime.

Food or Dish Amount to Make
Appetizer and First Course Quantities for a Party
How Much Dip to Make for a Party If dips are included in your appetizers, you'll want about a pint of dip for every 10 guests or so.
How Much Salad to Make for a Party For the health-conscious crowd, salad is a great option to offer. For a dinner party, you need one good sized handful of salad per guest plus a little extra.
How Many Chips to Buy for a Party For chips, when served with dip or alone, calculate about 3/4 lb to 1 lb. per each 10 guests as a before-dinner snack. Add more if no main dish will be served later. (Tortilla chips are heavier, so buy more!)
How Many Crudités to Make for a Party When served with a dip, calculate about 8 pieces of vegetable per guest.
Cheese and Cracker Quantities When serving cheese and crackers for a party, calculate at about 4 oz of cheese per guest, with about 1 1/2 lbs. of cracker for each 20 guests.
Main Dish Quantities for a Party
How Much Pizza to Make for a Party Pizza adapts to a variety of toppings, and is perfect finger food. If pizza is your main dish, you can calculate that one large pizza feeds 2-3 people If you have plenty of other food, allow for at one-two slices per person.
How Much Meat to Make for a Party Most guests eat about 6 ounces of meat provided there are other dishes being offered alongside.
Side Dish Quantities for a Party
Potato and Starch Quantities for a Party For baked potatoes or mashed potatoes, make one per person with a few extra. For rice and other starches, calcuate about 3/4 C. cooked rice per guest.
Vegetable and Side Dish Quantities In terms of vegetables and side dishes about one cup of food per person should cover things nicely. Make extra of the more popular items.
Bread Amounts for a Party For bread, you'll need about 2 rolls per person.
Dessert Quantities for a Party
Pie and Cake Amounts One slice of cake or pie per guest if it's the only thing you're serving, half a slice each if serving 3 or more desserts.
Cookie Quantities for a Party About two cookies per person
Ice Cream Quantities for a Party One half-gallon container will serve about 5-8 guests.


Notes on Party Food Variety

In learning how to how to calculate food for party menus, another thing to think about is the overall variety you're serving. You want a menu that's balanced and offers a little something for everyone. Say you're having about 25 guests for a dinner party. A good assortment for this size party is to have two ounces of pasta per person, two casseroles (your choice), two types of salad (one green – one whatever), and a meat or fish selection. Then of course there's dessert!


Calculating Beverage Amounts for Parties

While you're learning how to calculate food for parties, you might as well get a handle on the accompanying beverages. In general, most adults have 3-4 4-ounce servings of something during a 3 hour dinner party (conservatively). Check the party beverage calculator chart below for details

Type of Drink Amount to Buy
Punch or soft drinks (non-alcoholic) About 1 gallon for every 12 guests
Champagne and Wine 1 bottle per 5 guests if served with other drinks, 1 bottle per 3-4 if served alone. More if your guests are big drinkers!
Liqueur One 750 mL holds about eight 3 oz servings. Most guests will have 1-2 drinks an hour.
Ice 1 lb. per person if drinks require ice


Preparing Your Party Food

As you may have guessed, the biggest helpmate for your party is proper preparation. Try to choose food menus that fit your time constraints, any dietary restrictions, your kitchen's limitations, and your overall budget.

Plan Ahead. Do as much prep work as you can before the event (you want to enjoy the party, not work all night). Plan far enough ahead that you can watch for sales on key components for your recipes, and don't forget those critical calculations that insure you'll have enough for everyone.

Visit my page on party food planning for some great party food ideas.

Hint: There is nothing wrong with making extra! Food can be frozen or preserved in a variety of ways and not go to waste. Or, send home doggie bags with your guests so they can enjoy the party for another day or two through the food! Food is for sharing, and when you feed them... they will come!


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