How Much Party Food Should You Buy

Having a party can be a daunting task if you don't know how much party food to buy for the number of guests that will be attending. You don't want to run out and disappoint everyone, and you don't want to be eating leftovers for the next month, either. Here are some great ways to avoid both scenarios by using some calculation tricks to make good choices.

Buy By Weight
It may sound strange to figure out food by weight (weight of food, not weight of guests!), but this is an accurate way to determine how much meat to buy if you are serving dinner, or even pasta, veggies, or anything else sold by weight.

Here's the rule of thumb:

  • ½ pound of meat per person
  • ¼ pound of pasta, rice, or potatoes per person.

This rule is good for creating a good average between those who eat like birds and those who eat like….well, you know.

Buy By Volume
This means by amount, of course, and applies to salads, veggies, and side dishes:

  • ½ - ?" cup per person for veggies and side dishes
  • 1 cup per person for salad.

If it helps, choose your serving dishes by the amount they hold, and fill them according to the number of guests coming. For example, if you have ten guests, and your big bowl holds ten cups, fill it with salad and you'll have enough for the crowd.

Buy By Number
For appetizers, small finger foods, and desserts, you can estimate by piece. A conservative estimate is five appetizers per person per hour before dinner. If you aren't serving dinner, estimate five per hour for the first two hours, and three per hour after that. If you are having a variety of appetizers, just total the number you need per guest/hour, and then divide by the number of types you are going to serve.

For example, if you are having 10 guests, no dinner, and the party will be three hours long, that totals 13 pieces per person. 13 multiplied by 10 guests totals 130 appetizer pieces. If you will serve four different appetizers, you would make 32 or 33 of each one. Adjust that number if you think that one appetizer will be more popular than the others.

About 10 people per gallon for non-alcoholic drinks such as punch or soda is a good rule. For alcoholic drinks, it depends on the crowd and what you intend to serve. Beer and wine, allow three drinks per person. One bottle of wine is about six servings of four ounces each. For beer, a can or bottle is one serving. For mixed drinks, a standard bottle is 16 shots (1.5 oz each). If serving liquor, you will need some mixers. Small bottles are best, so you can store unopened bottles for another time.

The best thing to do about drinks is to consider how many people will be into drinking each type of drink and plan accordingly.

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