Yesterday I explained how I catered a friend's wedding earlier this spring, and I offered up the five questions I think you should ask yourself before tackling a project like this. I should have added one more criteria: Are you good at math? Because catering takes a lot of it.
Here's the first piece of math required — estimating and calculating how many bites per person you are going to need.
Estimating Serving Quantities: Basic Rules of Thumb
When serving appetizers at a cocktail or hors d'oeuvre party, I think in terms of bites, rather than full dishes. How many bites will each person consume during each hour of the party?
This will vary depending on the situation, and you may get slightly different numbers depending on which caterer or expert you are talking to, but on average, here's how it breaks down:
Bites Per Hour, Per Guest
- If appetizers will be followed by a meal: 3 to 4
- If there is no meal to follow: 5 to 6
- If there is no meal and if the party is over a mealtime: 8 to 10
Math! Math! Math!
So how does this work in practice?
Scenario: Let's say you have a cocktail party for 50 people, and you're not planning on serving dinner. But it runs 6 to 8pm, right through the dinner hour. Your math would look like this:
- 50 guests x 2 hours x 8 to 10 bites = 800 to 1000 bites
- Example menu: 200 bacon-wrapped shrimp, 200 endive boats, 200 cheese and fig skewers, 200 mini chocolate tarts, crudités and fancy dip to fill in the corners
Scenario: Second example — let's say that you are serving cocktail hour bites to a crowd of 100 from 5pm to 6pm and then everyone is going to go off to dinner.
- 100 guests x 1 hour x 3 to 4 bites = 300 to 400 bites
- Example menu: 150 tomato bruschetta, 100 stuffed mini potatoes, 100 fruit skewers
Yes, it's math, but it's easy math. I think you get the drift.
The Total Quantity of Bites I Planned For
For this particular wedding reception, settling on the final quantities was tricky, because while the reception didn't start until 8pm, I had a hunch that plenty of people wouldn't have eaten dinner before the 6:30pm wedding ceremony. Also, the crowd at this wedding was very young, and young guys in particular tend to eat a lot!
On the other hand, there would be children at the wedding, with smaller appetites, and I knew that there would be a generously-sized cake (which I was not responsible for making).
In the end, I estimated on the higher side, splitting the difference.
- Bites for 200 people for 2 hours: 3000 (15 per person, 7.5 per hour)
I also tend to underestimate quantities when I plan my recipes, meaning that I end up with some extra bites, which gives extra safety margin to the quantity of food prepared.
The Next Step: Calculating Recipes & Quantities
After you have a number of total bites, the math marathon continues, as you sort out your recipes. I usually assume that each serving of an appetizer counts as one bite, so as I made up the menu I assigned a quantity of bites to each menu item.
Next up, I'll share the menu, with the total quantity of bites for each menu item.