Q + A Friday: How Do I Know How Much Food to Get?

I'm hosting an event in a few weeks and the catering bill came back...well, extremely high. How do I know how much food I need for my event? And is my caterer trying to swindle me?


While I don't know your caterer personally, I don't think they'd try to swindle you (though if they'll overnight me Pigs in a Blanket, I would say anything they wanted me to say about them).

A caterer's main job is to make sure you're happy with their product and you know what kills a party faster than your mom turning the lights back on and shutting off your stereo?

Running out of food.

(Betcha didn't see that coming, did you?)

Your caterer ALWAYS oversells you on food because, if you run out, it's going to make her look like the amateur. They aren't bad people; they really truly want you to be happy.

BUT that doesn't mean you need to take the first quote she offers you. Here are a few guidelines that will help you decide how much food, what kind of food, and other things you may not have thought about yet.

How Much

The standard amount of food per person depends on the event and the demographic. For cocktail hour (from 4pm - 6pm), 2-3 hors d'oeuvres per person, per hour is likely going to suffice. Unless you're feeding the New York Rangers, in which case, don't host a networking event for the New York Rangers that only includes cocktail wieners.

For healthier appetites and events taking place during prime dinner hours (6pm - 8pm), you'll want to double that number at least.

Also, women tend to eat less than men, especially in new, unfamiliar situations. Not a surprise.

Note that, if people can't eat a full meal and the event is from 6pm - 8pm, they're going to want to leave as quickly as they can if there's not a dinner substitute. Keep this in mind when scheduling your event AND the type of food you're offering.

Pro tip: Feed people generously if your event is during meal time. If you can't, make sure those expectations are SUPER clear before you sell tickets, so you don't have hangry attendees on your hands.

What Kind

Your caterer will be able to recommend some good options, but be sure...

...that you have AT LEAST one vegetarian and one gluten-free option. Food allergies are the bane of an event's existence, so do what you can to offer some options. Beyond that, you're off the hook.

...that you choose food that makes sense. If you're hosting an informal style event, choose "room temperature" appetizers so that you don't have to bring in heating elements to keep the food warm, nor do you need your caterer to stay on-site so that the appetizers stay warm in a hot box/portable oven type contraption.

...passed appetizers are going to cost more because you'll need people/staff to actually pass them. Stationary hors d'oeuvres are a convenient option, but also require some "work" on the part of your guests (namely, they have to seek the snacks out instead of being brought their snacks). Depending on the goal of the event and the vibe you're trying to create, you'll want to choose passed, stationary, or a combination of the two.

Seating Scenario

If people are seated and lounging around a platter of food, another bite or two per person is probably a good idea. People are inherently lazy at events (and alcohol driven) so if your food table is hard to get to, they'll probably leave it alone, unless your event starts at 6:30pm on a Friday. In which case, stock up on the cocktail wieners because it's happy hour, #bossladies!

If people are standing and there are only stationary hors d'oeuvres AND there aren't any tables to rest their plates one, they'll eat less (so they don't have to hold a plate AND their drink. Again, given the choice, people will choose drinks over food).

If people are sitting and listening, they'll be acutely aware of their stomachs, but won't be keen to interrupt a presentation to go chow down at the snack table (except that one guy. There's always one guy). Be a good host and sprinkle hors d'oeuvres throughout the tables so that people can munch while they listen (that is, if your event takes place during mealtime like 11am - 2pm or 6pm - 9pm).

Money

So you got a proposal that's outside of your price range. *Gulp*

Negotiate!

Say, "This looks great, but my budget is between XX and XX dollars. What does a menu, similar to this, look like for that price range?"

Caterers REALLY appreciate honesty, so if you can give them a budget parameter, they'll be so happy to revise your proposal, switch passed hors d'oeuvres to stationary hors d'oeuvres and perhaps reduce the amount of items with meat (more expensive) in order to save you money.

See? Caterers aren't that bad! They're DEFINITELY not trying to swindle you, either.

Lauren CaselliComment