How to Calculate Serving Portions for Banquets

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Calculating serving portions for banquets can be one of the most difficult tasks of planning an event. Creating the appearance of a full, bountiful buffet can often lead to wasted, uneaten food, while scaling back on portions to conserve costs can cause guests to feel like they're being skimped. The time of day and style of the event play important roles in determining how much food to offer guests. The duration of the event also determines the best portion sizes for guests and when food should be served or offered.

  • Choose more menu selections so that smaller quantities of each item are served. The more choices offered, the less guests will eat of each item. Figure two pieces of each item per guest. Most guests will not try every item, while some guests will continue making trips back for more. Keep a variety to help ensure that all guests are satisfied.

  • Calculate four ounces for each entrée for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Five to seven ounces per entrée are expected at dinner. Depending on the meal, one to three side items should be offered with the entrée. Breakfast and lunch are generally lighter meals and require fewer side items, while brunch and dinner guests expect more on their plates.

  • Estimate 6 to ten pieces per person for a cocktail reception prior to dinner. For a cocktail reception with no dinner following, calculate 10 to 24 pieces, depending on the length of time and if hors d'oeuvres are on a buffet or brought out separately. Guests will not eat as many hors d'oeuvres if they are served as opposed to buffet. For a reception only lasting one to two hours, fewer options can be chosen. Heavier, more filling hors d'oeuvres are suggested for receptions lasting two to three hours.

  • Plan for two to three drinks per person for the first hour of the reception and one drink per person for every additional hour for cocktail receptions. Guests generally drink less during lunch and brunch and more during dinner and cocktail receptions. Estimate five glasses of wine in a 750 mL bottle and approximately 16 cocktails from the same size bottle of liquor to determine the amount of alcohol needed. Approximately 20 cups are in one gallon of coffee and punch, which serves approximately 10 to 15 people. Like hors d'oeuvres, having a variety of beverages will reduce the quantity of serving portions needed.

  • Determine the demographic of the guest list, since men generally eat and drink more than women. If the guest list consists of mostly men, consider calculating heavier on the serving portions. If the guest list includes many children, consider scaling back on portion sizes.

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