Desserts for a Crowd: Planning Quantities

updated Jun 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Alexis Buryk)

Desserts for a Crowd is our February series looking at tips, hints, and recommended recipes for beautifully and economically throwing a big party or even a wedding reception!

You’re planning for a big party of 40 or more, and you want to know if you can feed them something sweet without breaking the bank or your sanity. Yes, definitely.

There are two principal considerations when planning the variety and quantity of food for a large-scale dessert party: guests, and presentation. Number of guests is the obvious factor – how many people will be there, and how hungry will they be? How many bites should I plan on for each guest?

But presentation is almost as important as taste when it comes to large-scale parties, especially where desserts are concerned. It’s good to have a range of colors, tastes, and textures in the desserts; if you serve chocolate, serve something light and fruity too. If you have a lot of little cookies, try individual servings of mousse or pudding.

This also is affected by how they are going to be served. Is there a tiny area to lay out dessert platters? If so, having eight desserts on one small table means that you are going to be refilling them constantly. Or, do you have to serve from across three large bar areas? There should probably be a greater variety so it isn’t just one sea of chocolate cookies.

These are rather obvious and common sense questions. So, on to the real question: how much should you plan on per guest?

This depends on whether other food will be served as well. If hot appetizers or a meal will be served beforehand, I plan on 1 slice of cake or 2 small servings of other types of desserts for each guest. Most catering companies, however, don’t stop there. Take the number of servings you’ve calculated for this amount of guests, and raise it by 20%. This allows for unexpected or hungry guests.

If other food will not be served – if this is a dessert party or reception only – I plan on 4-6 servings per guest. Serving in this case, however, means individual serving – not something enormous. So one bite-sized cookie, one mini-cup of mousse, one tartlet. Again, calculate servings and raise by 20%.

This is how I do it, and it has usually worked out well. Any caterers in the house? Anyone else have good tips for planning food quantities?