Party Menu Planning: How Much Food to Serve at a Party

Party Appetizer Recipes

When planning your menu for a party, figuring out how much food to make can be stressful, and downright overwhelming. Should you serve cheese or dip on the party menu? Plan a buffet or pass around hors d'oeuvres on trays? How many different appetizers should you prepare? Overwhelmed and confused, hosts often end up overspending, yet still wind up short on the foods their guests really want.

Thankfully, party menu planning basically boils down to simple math. Here are some
simple rules of thumb to take the guesswork and stress out of entertaining.

Breaking Down the Math of Entertaining

How many different appetizers should you serve?

  • Less than 12 guests: 2 to 3 types of appetizers
  • 12 to 20 guests: 4 to 5 types of appetizers
  • 20 guests or more: 6 different appetizers or more

How many appetizers should you make?

  • Breakfast, Lunch, or Afternoon: 1 to 3 pieces per person per hour
  • Evening Event Followed by Dinner: 2 to 3 pieces per person per hour
  • Evening Event without Dinner: 5 to 6 pieces per person per hour

Here are three sample party menus to illustrate the concept:

Menu #1: Book Club

Number of Guests: 10
Time: 8-10 p.m.
Items to Prepare: 2 pieces x 10 people x 2 hours = 40 pieces


Menu #2: Girls' Night In Cocktail Party

Number of Guests: 20
Time: 8-11 p.m.
Items to Prepare: 5 pieces x 20 people x 3 hours = 300 pieces


Menu #3: Baby Shower

Number of Guests: 30
Time: 2-5 p.m.
Items to Prepare: 3 pieces x 30 people x 3 hours = 270 pieces


Party Menu Planning Tips

Here are a few things I’ve noticed in my years of entertaining that you may want to consider when planning your party menu:

  • People eat more during the first 90 minutes of any event. Don't worry if your food seems to be disappearing, as the consumption will taper off.
  • Young people eat more than old people.
  • People eat more at casual affairs than formal ones.
  • Buy more food for a buffet than for passed around hors d'oeuvres. When serving themselves, people tend to pile on their plates.
  • Special diets such as vegetarians or gluten-free should have two eating options, but shouldn't dictate the entire menu.

For more party menus and get together ideas visit Party Foods on Snackpicks.

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