How to Calculate Food for a Party

party foods

When you're having a party, you need to determine the amount of food you need. You want your guests to have enough to eat so they feel satisfied, but you don't want a ton of leftovers. Calculating food amounts is also a great way to help determine the budget for your party.

Calculating the Amount of Food Per Person

There is no magic formula or standard for exactly how much food you'll need for a party. Some people will eat more or less than expected, a few guests might not show up, or someone might even bring an extra person or two. It's best to overestimate the amount of food by just a bit than to run out.

Basic Guidelines

Following some general guidelines when planning your meal can help you determine the right amount of food.

  • Appetizers - For parties in which only appetizers and finger foods are being served, base your estimate on five to eight appetizers per person, per hour. If there is a meal included, you can cut back to three or four per person per hour before the meal. Offer more types of appetizers for a larger crowd.
  • Full meals - If you're offering a choice of dishes, try to anticipate which one will be the most popular and have extras on hand. Serving sizes will depend on the dishes, so if you go the buffet route, make sure you have enough for everyone to sample each dish. Side dishes can be tricky, but you can estimate about four ounces of each dish as a serving.
  • Prepared salads - For potato, pasta, or other prepared salads, one gallon will feed 20-25 people.
  • Green salad - For leafy vegetable salads, plan on about one cup per person, before dressing.
  • Fruit and veggie trays - For fresh fruit, about one half cup per person should do the job. With veggies, estimate about eight to ten pieces per person. Have plenty of dip available as well.
  • Desserts - It's best to offer desserts as single servings, so you can easily calculate how many you need. Have some extras on hand for big eaters or those with a particularly sweet tooth. One 9" layer cake will serve 10 to 12 people; one 9" pie will serve 6 to 8.

Appetizer Amounts for a Three Hour Party

A three hour party is a good place to start; if your party will be longer, change the calculations to accommodate the additional time.

Food Up to 10 guests 10-20 20-30 30-40 40-50
Dips 1 pint 1 quart 3 pints 2 quarts 5 pints
Fruit 5 cups 10 cups 15 cups 20 cups 25 cups
Veggies 60 pieces 120 pieces 180 pieces 240 pieces 300 pieces
Chips 1 pound 1-1/2 pounds 2 pounds 3 pounds 4 pounds
Canapes 8 per person 160 per person 240 per person 320 per person 400 per person
Punch 2 gallons 3 gallons 4 gallons 6 gallons 8 gallons
Wine 3 bottles 5 bottles 7 bottles 9 bottles 11 bottles
Coffee or Tea 20 cups 40 cups 60 cups 80 cups 100 cups

Food for Dinner Parties

Plan for a main dish (chicken, turkey, beef, pork, ham, or casserole) plus salads, sides, desserts, and drinks.

Food Up to 10 guests 10-20 20-30 30-40 40-50
Whole chicken 2 (4-pound) 4 (4-pound) 6 (4-pound) 8 (4-pound) 10 (4-pound)
Whole turkey 1 (12-pound) 2 (12-pound) 3 (12-pound) 4 (12-pound) 5 (12-pound)
Boneless beef roast 5 pounds 10 pounds 15 pounds 20 pounds 25 pounds
Pork roast or ham 5 pounds 10 pounds 15 pounds 20 pounds 25 pounds
Casseroles 2 (13x9") 3 (13x9") 4 (13x9") 5 (13x9") 7 (13x9")
Side dishes 5 cups 10 cups 15 cups 20 cups 25 cups
Green salad 10 cups 20 cups 30 cups 40 cups 50 cups
Fruit salad 5 cups 10 cups 15 cups 20 cups 25 cups
Rolls or bread slices 20 pieces 40 pieces 60 pieces 80 pieces 100 pieces
Cakes 1 layer cake 2 layer cakes 3 layer cakes 4 layer cakes 5 layer cakes
Cookies 20 40 60 80 100
Pies 2 3 4 5 7
Wine 3 bottles 5 bottles 7 bottles 9 bottles 11 bottles

Dessert Party Foods

Desserts can be the star of the party, so be sure you have enough so everyone ends on a sweet note!

Food Up to 10 guests 10-20 20-30 30-40 40-50
Cakes 1 layer cake 2 layer cakes 3 layer cakes 5 layer cakes 6 layer cakes
Pies 2 3 4 5 7
Trifle or crumbles 2 (9" x 13") 3 (9" x 13") 4 (9" x 13") 5 (9" x 13") 7 (9" x 13")
Cookies 3 dozen 5 dozen 7 dozen 10 dozen 13 dozen
Bar cookies 3 dozen 5 dozen 7 dozen 10 dozen 13 dozen
Ice cream 1 quart 1-1/2 quarts 1 gallon 1-1/2 gallons 2 gallons

Food Calculation Tips

Follow quick tips to help you decide how much food you'll need:

  • Always err on the side of too much food. It's much easier to take home some leftovers or send them home with your guests than to let people go home hungry.
  • Include both "heavy" and light options. Some people will be hungrier than others, so offering more substantial food items will allow them to fill up without consuming more of each dish.
  • If you think a certain dish will be very popular, plan to make or purchase extras.
  • Be wary of suggested serving sizes on packaged foods. Keep in mind whether the servings will be meal or snack-sized and then determine yourself how many servings are in each package.

Considerations to Factor In

Group of friends at party

The number of guests is the most important factor, but there are a few other considerations, too.

How Many Guests Will Be Attending

The number of guests at your party will determine the amount of food you'll need. Make sure you ask guests to RSVP, but if you don't hear from someone, it's safest to assume he or she will attend.

Time of Day for the Party

The time of day dictates the types of food you'll serve. If the party is scheduled at mealtime, for example, you'll be expected to serve something substantial. If your party is at night or mid-afternoon, you can serve just appetizers and snacks.

Age Range of the Guests

You wouldn't think that the age range of the guests would be important for party planning, but consider this: How much food would you prepare for a group of ten teenagers? Now, how much food would you prepare for ten senior citizens? Generally, there can be a vast difference in appetites between different age groups.

Type of Food Being Served

If you're planning on serving a meal, or have lots of food to choose from at a buffet table, you can cut back on the snack foods and appetizers for your party. Conversely, if you're relying on finger foods only to fill up your guests, you'll need to have more of them on hand.

Follow Guidelines for Success

It's almost impossible to know precisely how much food you'll need for a party, but with these guidelines, you'll be able to give yourself a good idea of how many servings of each item you should plan for. Err on the side of having a few leftovers if you're not sure the RSVPs are accurate; it's always best to have a little extra than to run out!

How to Calculate Food for a Party