How much is too much? Avoid the party food freak outs with a few of our tried and tested party catering tips for you DIYers.
For my son’s baptism, we decided to keep the whole thing small and simple. Party food consisted of BBQ chickens, ham, salad and rolls. Followed by cake – because in our family, there is always cake. This wasn’t a menu I had served at a party before, so I asked a friend how many chickens she would order. Her calculation went like this:
- 1.5 pieces per adult (the men sometimes have 2 pieces but the women usually only have 1 so it evens out).
- Chicken shop will cut the chook into 8 pieces for you
- So 30 people x 1.5 pieces = 45 pieces
- 45 pieces ÷ 8 = 5.6 chooks
So rounded up, I needed 6 chickens. Throw a few kids into the mix and I thought I had this nailed. And it may well have been fine if I hadn’t have added to my menu.
By the time the party rolled around, I was serving chicken, ham, bacon & egg pie, pasta salad, Greek salad & rolls. Not to mention the nibbles beforehand. Needless to say, I had once again over-catered.
This got me thinking about how often this must happen to other Party Queens and so here I am jotting down my top tips to consider when writing the party food shopping list. I do think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that there is NO single magical formula for calculating the quantity of party food that you will need. Seriously, I’ve asked Google many times and received so many mixed opinions. But you have to start somewhere right!? So it may as well be here…
Know who you are catering for
It truly starts with intimately knowing the movers and shakers on your guest list. Are they big drinkers? Big eaters? More men? More women? Only kids? This is without doubt where you need to start when planning your party food.
It’s true, men will usually eat more than women. And elderly people will usually eat less than young people. It’s the makeup of your guest list that you need to consider first. This will allow you to decide if you need to dial up or down some of the “standard” suggestions that I have noted below
Also, before we move on, I don’t want to assume that you have already unravelled any dietary requirements you need to cater for…..have you?? If not, it isn’t too late to send out a quick message to check.
Time of day
Once you feel like you have a good grasp on who is attending the party and how this might impact your catering requirements, consider the type of event. Or more generally, the time of day.
It’s not often that we host a party at home during breakfast time. That said, never say never. If you have decided to throw a breakfast party, give consideration to the start time. If it’s a little later – say 9am on – it’s likely that your guests may have already eaten something before they arrive. So you can probably dial down the quantities. But if your friends and family are early risers and you are expecting them over at the break of dawn, be ready! As a guide, offer 1 x warm dish (bacon & eggs, toasted ham & cheese croissant, breakfast bagel pancake stack etc) accompanied by 3 side options. Side options could be things like fruit skewers, mini muffins, mini quiches or granola cups.
Don’t forget the champagne if it’s a special occasion (or not) 😉
Morning & Afternoon Tea
The easiest, most affordable option is to host your party at the “in-between” timeslot. Nothing wrong with a delicious morning or afternoon tea spread! Given you are not providing a main meal in this case, I would recommend 3-4 pieces of food per guest, per hour. If you can, include something warm as this always feels more substantial.
Perfect for morning or afternoon tea, I just love the latest ‘Grazing Board’ craze. I’d graze all day if I could so they are right up my alley! Check out my love affair with Grazing Boards here.
Dinner is always the winner in terms of catering quantities, requiring a substantial menu to leave guests feeling satisfied. If you are providing a sit-down meal, the traditional ‘meat and three veg’ is not far from the truth. I’d allow for 1 x hero item per guest. For example, 1 x piece of meat, fish or poultry (approx. 400g) OR 1 x piece of pie OR 1 x bowl of pasta etc. This should be accompanied by 3 x side items such as various vegetables, salad options, potato wedges etc that total approx. 300-400g. Additional to this, also include 1 x bread item.
If you are serving cocktail food / canapés prior to the main meal, allow for 3-5 pieces per guest. However, if you are only serving cocktail food (no main meal), I’d prepare 4-6 items per guest, per hour. Pump these out early when your guests are hungriest. Back off a little in the middle of the party as their tummies fill with drinks, and then crank it up again and add a few more substantial items to the mix.
If you are expecting your party to go well into the night, here is my favourite party tip. Pre-heat the oven around 11pm and delight your guests with some tasty late-night snacks. Trust me, your guests will love you – particularly those party goers who have been drinking alcohol. No need to go fancy here – party pies, sausage rolls, pastries will do the job. And my personal late-night favourite – mini hot dogs (cocktail frankfurts in the good old ‘bake at home’ dinner rolls from your local supermarket).
Not too different to dinner in terms of quantities. But you might just think about reducing the number of side dishes from three to two.
Also consider seasonal influences. On a hot Summer’s day, people tend to eat less (and possibly drink more). If you don’t want to risk catering less, just put some thought into the types of food you have on your menu. Keep it light and fresh.
In my experience with kid’s parties, they tend never to eat as much as you think they will eat. No doubt you have planned a party packed full of exciting activities, so eating is usually an afterthought – a nibble here and there between the real fun. There are not many kids that I know who will want to sit down to a formal meal, so I tend to always go for the ‘help yourself’ strategy.
Instead of quantity of party food at a kid’s party, I would focus on variety. 2 – 3 pieces of food per child, per hour is usually more than enough. Kid’s are easy to please, so keep it simple. Minimise food items that need heating or lots of prep, as you will no doubt have your hands full as it is. Go for items you can easily prepare earlier in small batches and give the kids lots to choose from. Don’t forget, if there is cake, you have already won their little hearts.
Consider food as an activity – why not kill two birds with one stone. Cupcake decorating, an ice cream sundae station, DIY fruit skewers and arrowroot biscuit faces – all activities that will keep the kids occupied and provide a yummy treat at the end the day.
One thing to note, whilst kids are happy to graze on food during a party, if you are hosting the party across lunch (or dinner) time and expecting parents to stay, you might need to consider something a little more substantial for the parents. Even if it’s just a selection of sandwiches, sushi trays or sausages on the BBQ – parents will appreciate being thought of (and fed).