How To Calculate Food Quantities for Catering

How To Calculate Food Quantities for Catering
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A huge factor that catering companies need to consider when planning for events is calculating the quantity of food they will need to serve. This practice is essential because it will help eliminate the amount of waste you produce and ensure you make enough food for your client. Follow the guidelines below to have an easier time figuring out precisely everything you need to have a successful party.

Acquire the Number of Guests Attending

First and foremost, to accurately estimate the quantity of food you need, you must determine how many guests will be in attendance. The best way to maneuver through this task is to ask your client to send out an RSVP to guests. Give guests a deadline to respond to the RSVP to allow you enough time to plan the menu and make any changes before the event happens.

If your client is not sending out RSVPs, ask them to give you a ballpark estimate on how many guests they invited and how many will physically attend. You always want to work off a number to ensure you have the right amount of food and beverage.

Decide What Type of Meal To Serve

There are multiple options in which you would serve the food at the event. Does your guest want appetizers instead of a meal, or both? Will you have a cocktail hour along with desserts at the end?

When you meet with your client, ask them what they would like their catering service to entail. The type of meal you serve for them will impact the amount of food you prepare. If the event is only doing snacks and appetizers, you can be more lenient on portions, but if there will be a big meal, that requires more calculations to ensure you have the correct amount of food.

Diversify the Menu To Accommodate Multiple Guests

Not every guest will be the same, and neither will their food preferences. On top of preference, many attendees might have food allergens or dietary restrictions. Ask the client for a list of these types of things so you can accommodate and please every guest.

Additionally, will your customer like extra portions of a specific item? Try to have a menu where guests get the option to choose what they want to eat, instead of one item that not everyone will be able to enjoy.

Factor in Time

Will you be catering for an event during mealtime, or will it be between breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Depending on when the meal is taking place will also determine the number of servings per person. Generally, if there is no main meal, guests will eat more appetizers.

When there is no mealtime to plan, there is less pressure to get the serving size right. If it is only an appetizer or dessert party, bite-size or snack-sized portions work wonderfully for estimating amounts. The best way to plan for an event with minimal food portions is to serve guests something simple and easy. Consider utilizing CMJJ’s wholesale plastic mason jars.

Plan Around a Budget

One of the essential components that will restrict what you serve is the budget. During the first meeting with your client, ask about their budget for the occasion. The amount and type of food you serve will rely heavily on the budget.

Never begin planning precisely what you will be preparing until you can estimate how much money you can spend. Look for ways to minimize the budget or purchase less expensive foods to meet the budget requirements. The funds will also determine if guests will be allowed to return for seconds after having their first serving.

Understand Servings Per Person

Finally, the serving size per person for each type of food you are serving will depend on the time of day you serve the dish and how you plan on serving it.


Usually, if you plan on serving appetizers before a larger meal, each person will receive 2-3 servings per hour before the dinner. Because you will be serving a larger dish later on, the appetizer is to hold the attendees over until they can eat the main course.

If your client only wishes to serve appetizers, the serving size increases. If there is no main course, each guest will most likely eat 8-10 small or bite-sized appetizers. This reason is that guests are most likely to eat more, knowing they will not be fed again later.

Sit-Down Meal

It might be easier for the client to choose a sit-down meal with pre-selected options where guests can pick and choose which main course they would like to eat at events, like weddings. Each guest will allow one portion per food item in a meal like this. The main component of the meal—the protein—will be slightly larger than the rest of the portions.

This type of meal will be easier to estimate because each attendee will only have one plate that night. This allows you to make precisely the right amount you need. Standard guidelines are as follows; 8 oz. of meat, 2 oz. of veggies, 4 oz. of potatoes, 1 oz. of rice, 20 tbsp. of soup, and 1 oz. of cheese.


A buffet tells a different story because guests are free to walk back up and get more servings. This will require you to overestimate how much food you need for the event. Guest will serve themselves, and their portions may not equal exactly what you would have served them had it been a sit-down meal.

The rule of thumb for buffets is to estimate that every guest will eat 1-2 servings of each item on the table. Your catering company will need to calculate for larger food quantities. Take the number of guests times the number of servings you plan on having available; this gives you a general idea of how many servings you’ll need to prepare.


Each guest will typically have one dessert per person if a meal is given at the party. However, some events are solely desserts. Therefore, 4-6 servings would be the difference because guests will most likely eat more. For easier consumption, make the desserts snack sized.


An essential element to any meal has drinks available every hour. As a rule of thumb, each person will have 1-2 drinks in the first hour of the event and then one drink every hour thereafter. Have a variety of drinks, including kid-friendly, non-alcoholic, and alcoholic beverages.

You now have all the knowledge to plan the perfect meal for your guests. Always remember to round up your estimates instead of down; it is always better to play it on the safe side and have more food than not enough. Keep in contact with your client so you can work through mishaps and changes before the event takes place.

How To Calculate Food Quantities for Catering

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