How to Calculate Food Quantities for a Buffet

A buffet is an informal alternative to a sit-down meal. Guests serve themselves from a variety of foods arranged on tables or, for smaller parties, a sideboard, counter or kitchen island. The more choices offered at a buffet, the less food you will need of each item---people typically tend to want to try a little bit of everything rather than concentrating on one thing. Buffets can be served hot, cold or be a mixture of each.

Things You'll Need

  • Guest list
  • Menu
  • Calculator
summer buffet table
summer buffet table (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

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Step 1

Make a guest list. The amount of food you need to buy for a buffet is directly related to the number of guests who will attend. It’s a good idea to let people know you expect an RSVP. If some folks don’t get back to you, assume they will be attending so that you don’t end up short on food.

woman writing down list
woman writing down list (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Step 2

Decide on the appetizers. Appetizers are optional, but if you plan a cocktail hour prior to serving the main course, they should be included. The more options you offer, the fewer you will need of each. For a party with 20 to 25 guests, offer four or five different choices with enough for each guest to have four servings. For a larger party, keep the serving size the same but plan on six to eight kinds of appetizers.

man holding wine glass
man holding wine glass (Image: Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Step 3

Serve a salad. If you are offering prepared salads like potato and macaroni, plan on one gallon feeding 20 to 25 people. For a green salad, you will need four heads of lettuce for every five guests and two to three cups of salad dressing. You decide what to include in the salad, but a good rule of thumb is two medium tomatoes for every four heads of lettuce, one medium-size onion and two cucumbers.

woman at buffet table
woman at buffet table (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Step 4

Plan a pasta course. If you are serving pasta as your main course, plan on buying enough to give each person a 4-oz. serving. If pasta is a side dish, 2 oz. per serving will do. Estimate between 1/3- and 1/2-cup of sauce per serving.

woman serving pasta to child
woman serving pasta to child (Image: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images)

Step 5

Estimate the meat course. The amount of meat you will buy depends on the type of meat you intend to offer your guests. A good rule of thumb for a party of 20 to 25 is a 12-lb. beef roast or a 7-lb. boneless ham. If you are serving fish as a main course, plan on between 4 and 6 oz. per person.

ham and pineapple
ham and pineapple (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Step 6

Calculate the dessert. The easiest way to decide on what and how much to serve for dessert is to offer single servings of one thing, such as a sheet cake, and plan on one full portion per guest. If you plan on serving an assortment of small items---like miniature pieces of cheesecake or small brownie squares---plan on two to three per person.

brownie with chocolate syrup
brownie with chocolate syrup (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Tips & Warnings

  • For a party of 20 to 25, plan on two dozen rolls because not all your guests will have a roll.
  • For a four-hour party plan on three to four drinks per person.
  • If you serve alcoholic beverages, be sure to make soft drinks, water, coffee, tea and perhaps non-alcoholic punch available.


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