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Calculating Food Portions

This is one of the most difficult calculations a caterer has to make. While there
are some general principles to follow, your knowledge of human nature will
guide you through this process as well.

In general, the rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 pounds of food per person, but this
rule can vary significantly depending on the type of event you are catering.

If you are catering a wedding reception, people will expect a good amount
of food. If, however, you are catering a corporate lunch, you might expect
to prepare less for the same number of people. People tend to eat lighter for
lunch, and in a corporate setting, less emphasis is be placed on the actual
food being served.

Hors d’oeuvres are probably the most difficult aspect of an event to determine
a food amount for. The amount depends on a number of factors including the
type of hors d’oeuvres you serve, the time of day, how long of a time lapse
there is between cocktail hour and dinner, and if there even is a dinner to
follow at all.

If you are serving a meal as well as hors d’oeuvres, try to keep appetizer/
cocktail hour to just that–an hour. You should have at least four different
types of appetizers with six to eight pieces per person, so for a party of 50,
have about 350 to 400 hors d’oeuvres total. If you are not serving a meal, you
will obviously want more. Increase the ratio to 12 to 15 pieces per person for
these parties.
If you are serving hors d’oeuvres that do not come per piece, such as dips
and cheese platters, calculate about one ounce as one piece. Usually for 100
people with a variety of hors d’oeuvres, you’ll want 2 ounces of cheese person
(12.5 pounds). You can either do this as a variety of cheeses on a cheese bard
with grapes and strawberries and crackers, or you might want to do a baked
Brie in phyllo crust and goat cheese or blue cheese in phyllo cups with sun-
dried tomatoes and toasted nuts.

The following chart will help you determine amounts for other courses you
may be serving at parties. It is based on a buffet menu, so remember that at
most events that include a buffet, people will tend to take a little of each item
served. If you are planning a sit-down event, use the following as loose guide
to portions.

Food Individual For 50 Buffet


portion size guests
Soup As first course 8-10 oz 2½ gallons
As entrée 1½ – 2 cups 4 gallons
Green salads Romaine ¼ head 8 heads
Red leaf ¹⁄³ head 12 heads
Tomatoes, cucumber, 3–4 slices 6 cups
radish, etc
Salad dressing 1–2 tablespoons 1½ quarts
Poultry entrée Boneless ½ pound 14–16 pounds
Beef, lamb or pork Boneless beef roast ½ pound 14–16 pounds
entrée
Bone-in roast 14–16 ounces 30 pounds
Steaks 16–24 ounces 30 pounds
Ribs 1 pound 28–32 pounds
Lamb 4 chops 84–98 chops
Ground meat ½ pound 14–16 pounds
Seafood/Shellfish Soft shell crab 2 50
Fillet 6–8 ounces 16 pounds
Shrimp 5–7 (large) 14 pounds (large)
Food Individual For 50 Buffet
portion size guests
Lobster 5–6 ounces 12½ pounds
medallion meat medallion meat
or 1 lobster
Scallop 4–6 ounces 10 pounds
Oysters/Mussels/ 6–10 as entrée 200–325 as entrée
Clams 4–6 as appetizer 160–240 as appetizer
Vegetables Asparagus, broccoli, 3–4 ounces 8 pounds
cauliflower, green
beans, carrots
Potatoes 1 (5–6 ounces) 12 pounds
Eggplant ¹⁄³ 12 (medium)
Corn, peas, lima 3–4 ounces 7 pounds
beans
Zucchini, yellow 4–5 ounces 8 pounds
squash
Grains White rice (dry) 3–4 tablespoons 2½ quarts

Brown or wild rice 2–3 tablespoons 2 quarts


(dry)
Beans (dried) ¼ cup 2 quarts
Couscous ¹⁄³ cup 2½ quarts
Polenta ¹⁄³ cup 2½ quarts
Pasta Dry 2–3 ounces 6 pounds
Fresh 4 ounces 8 pounds
Stuffed pasta 4–5 ounces 10 pounds
(tortellini, ravioli,
etc.)
Pasta Sauce Cream ½ cup 5 quarts
Tomato based ½ to ²⁄³ cup 1½ gallons
Casseroles Quiche One, 4-inch slice Four 10-inch tarts
Food Individual For 50 Buffet
portion size guests
Lasagna 1–1½ cups Three 13” x 9” pans
(32–48 cups)
Breads Dinner rolls, muffins, 1½ 7 dozen
croissants, etc.
Dessert Ice cream 6 ounces 2 gallons
Sheet cake One 2”x2” piece 1/2 sheet cake
Cheesecake One 2” slice Four 9-inch cakes
Pie One 3-inch slice Four 9-inch pies
Bar cookies 1–2 5½ to 6 dozen
Cookies 2–3 6–8 dozen
Mousse ¾ cup Four 8”x5” bowls
Bread pudding, 1 cup Four 9”x5” bowls
tiramisu

You never want to be caught with not enough food—whenever you are
uncertain, always side with more food rather than less. If you run out of food,
the negative reaction will always outweigh the extra cost you would have
incurred had you bought more food.