Monday, October 1, 2012


I admit to having difficulty figuring out how much to make to feed a party.  When I cook for myself, I make smaller portions, but I know not everyone eats like I do.  I don't want people to go hungry, and end up making way too much.  For some occasions, like Thanksgiving, that's part of the tradition.  It's disappointing if you don't have leftovers.  It took me about four tea parties to get it right, but I now end up with about one serving left at the end of the afternoon, just enough that no one went without and I have something to snack on while doing the dishes.

So how much should you make?  Cruise lines have it down to an exact science.  They have years of data that tell them how much people will eat.  Not so helpful when you throw a handful of parties a year and make something new nearly every time.

Still, there are some guidelines that can reduce the amount of leftovers.  Keep in mind, these numbers are for self-service, either as family style or buffet, and are dinner-sized numbers, which generally work for anything after 11am when people are treating themselves to the fancy meal of the day.  With plated meals, you can control the portions exactly.

Hors d'oeuvres and other pre-meal snacks:  Make at least three different items to munch on as guests are arriving, and plan on two canapes of each kind per person or five crackers/dipping veggies (1/2 oz of cheese or dip on each).

Appetizers: One per person, plus one or two extra for the people who don't get that this is a big meal.

Soup: 8 oz per person

Salad: 1 cup per person

Dinner rolls: 1.5 per person

Vegetable: 1/2 C per person

Rice or starch: 1/2 C per person

Meat: Here's where it gets tricky

  • Boneless meats like roasts, 1/2 lb per person
  • Poultry, 1 lb per person (bones)
  • Fish, 6 to 8 oz per person
  • Shellfish is going to depend on the type and size.  Figure 6 oz out-of-shell, which can be significantly more if you buy something shell-on.  Then there's the amount of work the diner needs to expend to eat what's inside the shell, like with mussels or crab.  You may just have to take a stab at it, and be ready with additional side dishes in case you come up a bit short.

Dessert:  No one ever complained that there was too much dessert, but they don't finish it either.

  • A pie serves 8
  • 8" round layer cake 10-14
  • Cookies 3 per person, depending on size
  • Brownies or other similarly cut desserts 2 per person
  • Pudding is about 1/2 C per person, but best to make a little more
  • Fruit salad.  Everyone says they're on a diet or trying to reduce the amount of sugar they eat and want a fruit salad option.  Then they don't eat it when they see the "real" desserts.  Unless you're doing a breakfast or lunch buffet, don't even bother.  Put out a pound of grapes or strawberries.  If you do decide on a mixed-fruit salad, figure that half of the guests will take about a half-cup.

I would love feedback on these numbers and any helpful hints to make quantities come out right.

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