Last update: April 28, 2023
Ordering food for your event can be challenging. Whether it’s a wedding, birthday party, or small networking function, knowing how much food to order is not always straightforward. This guide to catering portion sizes will help you keep your guests happy and catering costs controlled.
In this guide:
- Factors to consider
- Portions guide by type of food
- Portion control strategies
- Catering for special diets
- Frequently asked questions
Factors to consider
Determining appropriate portion sizes for catering events can be a challenging task. Many factors need to be considered, such as the type of event, time of day, and the type of food being served. Here are some of the most important factors to consider when determining portion sizes.
Type of event
The type of event being catered can have a significant impact on portion sizes. For example, a cocktail party with appetizers will typically require smaller portion sizes than a formal sit-down dinner. A buffet-style event, where guests serve themselves, will require larger portion sizes to accommodate the fact that guests may take more than they need.
Time of day
The time of day can also impact portion sizes. A breakfast event may require smaller portions, as guests are less likely to be hungry in the morning. A lunch event may require larger portions, as guests are likely to have worked up an appetite by mid-day.
Type of food being served
The type of food being served is one of the most important factors to consider when determining portion sizes. For example, protein-rich foods like meat or fish typically require larger portion sizes than carbohydrate-rich foods like pasta or rice. Additionally, dishes that are high in fat or calories, such as rich desserts, should be served in smaller portion sizes.
The demographics of the guests can also impact portion sizes. For example, younger guests may require larger portion sizes than older guests, as they may have higher caloric needs. Additionally, guests with a more active lifestyle may require larger portions than those who are less active.
Budget is also an important consideration when determining portion sizes. Larger portion sizes can be more expensive, and catering managers need to balance guest satisfaction with cost-effectiveness.
Portions guide by type of food
The average portion sizes can vary depending on the type of food being served, but here are some general guidelines for portion sizes for different types of food:
Soft drinks or juices: 8-12 ounces
Coffee or tea: 6-8 ounces
Alcoholic drinks: 5-6 ounces for wine, 1.5 ounces for spirits, 12 ounces for beer
Eggs: 2 large eggs
Bacon or sausage: 2-3 slices or links
Toast or bread: 1-2 slices
Fruit: 1/2 to 1 cup
Yogurt: 1 cup
Oatmeal or cereal: 1/2 to 1 cup
Dips: 2-3 tablespoons per person
Cheese platters: 1-2 ounces per person
Mini sandwiches or sliders: 1-2 pieces per person
Skewers or kabobs: 2-3 pieces per person
Bruschetta or crostini: 2-3 pieces per person
Sandwiches: 1 whole sandwich or 1/2 sandwich per person
Soup: 1 cup per person
Salad: 2 cups per person
Pasta: 1-2 cups per person
Pizza: 2-3 slices per person
Meat or fish: 4-6 ounces per person
Vegetables: 1/2 to 1 cup per person
Starches (potatoes, rice, pasta): 1/2 to 1 cup per person
Salad: 2 cups per person
Bread: 1-2 slices per person
Cake or pie: 1 slice per person
Cookies: 2-3 per person
Ice cream: 1 scoop per person
Fruit: 1/2 to 1 cup per person
1/2 to 1 pound of food per person. This includes all dishes served at the buffet, such as appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts.
Keep in mind that these are just general guidelines, and portion sizes may vary depending on the type of event, the time of day, and the preferences of your guests. As a catering manager, it’s important to use your professional judgment to determine appropriate portion sizes for each event.
Portion control strategies
Catering portion control is important for both the satisfaction of guests and the cost-effectiveness of catering events. Here are some strategies that can help with portion control:
Use smaller plates
Smaller plates can help guests visually perceive that they are taking a full plate of food, even if the portion size is smaller.
Offer smaller serving utensils
By using smaller serving utensils, guests are less likely to take large portions of food.
Pre-portion food items
Pre-portioning items like salads or appetizers can help ensure that guests do not take more than they need.
Provide clear signage
Clear signage indicating the recommended serving size of a particular dish can help guests make informed decisions about how much to take.
Offer individual portions
Offering individual portions can help control portion sizes, as guests are less likely to take more than they need when they have their own serving.
Use visual aids
Providing visual aids such as portion size diagrams or sample plates can help guests understand appropriate portion sizes.
Monitor the buffet line
Assign staff to monitor the buffet line and ensure that guests are taking appropriate portion sizes.
Control the flow of food
Serve dishes from the kitchen or have staff serve guests, rather than allowing guests to serve themselves, to help control portion sizes.
By implementing these strategies, catering managers can help ensure that guests are satisfied with the portion sizes provided while keeping costs in check.
Catering for special diets
For guests who are gluten-free, consider offering dishes that are naturally gluten-free, such as roasted vegetables, grilled chicken or fish, and quinoa or brown rice. When serving gluten-free bread or pasta, keep in mind that these items may have a higher calorie count than their gluten-containing counterparts, so adjust portion sizes accordingly. For example, you may want to serve a smaller portion of gluten-free pasta with a larger portion of vegetables.
For vegetarian guests, consider offering protein-rich options such as tofu, beans, and lentils. When serving vegetarian dishes that are high in carbohydrates, such as pasta or rice dishes, you may want to adjust portion sizes to ensure that the meal is still balanced and provides adequate protein.
For vegan guests, consider offering a variety of plant-based protein sources, such as tempeh, chickpeas, and nuts. When serving vegan dishes that are high in fat, such as avocado or coconut-based dishes, you may want to adjust portion sizes to account for the higher calorie count.
Frequently asked questions
How do I determine how much food to order for my catering event?
The amount of food needed for a catering event will depend on the number of guests, the duration of the event, and the type of food being served. A good rule of thumb is to order 1.5 servings per guest for appetizers, 1 serving per guest for side dishes, and 6-8 ounces of protein per guest for the main course.
How do I ensure that guests don’t waste food?
To prevent food waste, consider offering smaller portion sizes, pre-portioning food items, or using visual aids to help guests understand appropriate portion sizes. You can also offer guests the option to take leftovers home in a to-go container.
How do I accommodate guests with special dietary needs?
When catering for guests with special dietary needs, it’s important to offer appropriate portion sizes of food that meet their dietary restrictions. For example, for gluten-free guests, consider serving gluten-free bread or crackers with appetizers or offering gluten-free pasta as a side dish.
How do I keep portion sizes consistent throughout the event?
To keep portion sizes consistent, consider using pre-portioned serving dishes or assigning staff to serve guests. You can also provide clear signage indicating the recommended serving size of each dish.
How do I balance guest satisfaction with cost-effectiveness?
To balance guest satisfaction with cost-effectiveness, consider offering smaller portion sizes of expensive items like meat or seafood, while offering larger portion sizes of less expensive items like pasta or rice. You can also offer a variety of side dishes to provide guests with a satisfying meal without over-serving expensive items.
What is the standard portion size of the main course?
The standard portion size for the main course can vary depending on the type of cuisine being served, the style of the event, and the preferences of the guests. However, a typical portion size for the main course in Canada is around 6-8 ounces of protein (such as meat, poultry, or fish) and 1/2 to 1 cup each of vegetables and starches (such as potatoes or rice).
How much salad per person at a catered event?
Salad portions in catering vary based on event type, service style, and whether it’s a main or side dish. Plan for 1/2 to 1 cup for a side salad and 2 to 3 cups for a main course. Consider menu, number of courses, and guest preferences when deciding. Provide extra to avoid running out. Offer various dressings and toppings for different dietary needs.
How many dinner rolls per person at a catered event?
When it comes to dinner rolls in catering, plan for 1-2 per person depending on the event type and menu. For a formal event, stick to 1 roll; for a casual one, offer 2. Don’t forget to consider plate size and side dishes. It’s better to have extra rolls than run out mid-event. Offer a variety of bread options to accommodate dietary needs.