Food is one of the biggest budget items for any event, whether it’s a wedding or a corporate event. As you look to keep the cost of catering in line with your budget needs, one thing you’ll want to consider is just how much food you’ll need to order per guest.
There are many different variables that affect the optimal amount of food per guest. Keep these six in mind as you work with your caterer to determine how much food will be enough to satisfy your hungry guests.
1. Time of Day
Some people don’t realize it, but the time of day affects how much people eat. It will also affect the types of food you want to order.
Breakfast events are usually considered brunches, so it’s best to have a balance of proteins, baked goods, and fruit. Consider about two appetizers and seven ounces of food per person, or five ounces of protein and a two-ounce side dish.
Catering around lunchtime usually requires the least amount of food as attendees prefer a lighter mid-day meal. A good rule of thumb is approximately two appetizers, one dessert, and eight ounces of food per person.
Dinner is usually the largest meal, both in variety and amount of food. For a dinner event, consider serving about four appetizers, one dessert, and 15 ounces of food per person.
2. Length of Event
The longer your event is, the more food you’ll want to serve. If the event is more than a couple of hours, you’ll want to serve something more filling. Having appetizers and small snacks helps to keep people sated until main courses are served.
This consideration is especially important for events that extend between the afternoon and the evening. Your caterer might allow you to serve leftover hors d'oeuvres as a late-night snack. Consider serving about six to eight pieces per person pre-dinner, or 12 to 15 pieces if served as a meal course.
3. The Type of Event and Menu Style
Think about the type of event you’re hosting. Is your event designed for executives around a boardroom discussing a new strategy or merger? You’ll need less food than if you’re hosting a team-building games day where people are running around, sweating, and working up an appetite.
The type of menu affects portion sizing as well. Plated dinners have predetermined portion sizes, which is affected by the number of courses. Buffets are different, but most caterers have a system for portioning in buffets.
4. Weather and the Time of Year
When people are physically comfortable, they may be more inclined to snack. Hot and humid weather, on the other hand, can depress the appetite. If you know beforehand what the weather will be like, you can factor in that your guests may eat more or less overall.
Keep in mind that seasonality also affects what people want to eat.
5. Location, Location, Location
Another consideration you should make when it comes to determining how much food to order is how easy it will be to get or make more. If you’re hosting a wedding in a hard-to-reach location, you may want to order just a little bit extra.
If you’re concerned you may need to make more food during the event, you’ll want to consider a venue with a built-in kitchen and easy load-in and load-off times.
6. The Selection
Generally speaking, the more options on your menu, the smaller the portion sizes will be. You may need to consider accommodating a number of different diets and palates. Consider vegetarian and vegan options, and perhaps order more of those, as non-vegans and vegetarians may opt to try these dishes as well.