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Catering Tips

Planning a party? Here's how to entertain a crowd.

The guests have been invited. Now, how much food will you need? Many factors play a part: the length of the event, number of people and the types of food you're serving. Think timing too. For example, a cocktail party requires much less food than an all-day event.

Other tips: When estimating food and drinks, always round UP. Try to guess what items will be most popular. Remember that more options mean smaller individual portions.

Don't forget to serve safe!
  • No cooked dishes, soft cheeses, cut up fruits, lunch meats or dips should sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours
  • chafing dishes and beds of ice or coolers to maintain food temperatures

Tips and Guidelines at a Glance

Plan Your Portions

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At A Glance


Appetizers before a meal 2-3 pieces per person per hour
Appetizers as a meal 5-6 pieces per person per hour
Chilled Salads 4 ounces per person
Hot Side Dishes 3-4 ounces per person
(depending on number of side dishes)
Pasta as an entrée 6-8 ounces per person
Pasta as a side dish 3-4 ounces per person
Lunch Entrée Portion 4-6 ounces per person
Dinner Entrée Portion 6-8 ounces per person
Dessert 3-4 ounces per person
Rolls/Bread 2 per person


Use the amount below when serving a single beverage
Coffee/1 pound Serves 50 one-cup servings
Punch/1 gallon Serves 32 4-ounce servings
Soda/2 liter Serves 11 6-ounce glasses
Serves 10 8-ounce glasses


Evening function with no dinner:

  • 10-15 pieces per person. Make sure it's substantial. When appetizers are served buffet-style vs. passed on trays, people tend to eat more.

Evening function with dinner following:

  • 3-5 pieces per person. Can be lighter foods such as cheese or veggies.

Late morning or early afternoon with a meal following:

  • 1-3 pieces per person. Again, can be lighter, such as veggies or cheese.


  • About 3 beverages per person at a party.
  • A 2-liter of soda fills ten 8-ounce glasses.
  • Plan on guests consuming a cup of coffee every 1.3 hours (3 drinks over 4 hours).
  • Coffee consumption peaks in the morning, late afternoons and after meals; coffee drinkers will usually consume 1½ cups each.
  • Don't forget cream and sugar and sugar substitutes!


  • Offer juice, champagne, mimosas (oj and champagne mixed), coffee or tea.
  • People will drink about 2 beverages each.
  • Offer a main entrée (about 5 oz). Offer 2-3 side dishes (4 oz. each) with bread or a starch and dessert.
  • Fruit makes a great breakfast "dessert." Estimate a half to one cup of fruit salad or 3-5 pieces of sliced fruit per person.
  • Serving pastry only? Estimate 2 pieces per person.


  • Offer soda, beer, wine, mixed drinks, tea or lemon water.
  • If serving hors d´oeuvres, plan 2-4 per person.
  • Accompany your entrée (about 5 oz.) with 2-3 sides (4 oz each), bread or a starch and dessert.
  • For buffet-style, plan on 4 oz meat and 2 oz. cheese per person, allowing for one to two sandwiches each.


  • Serve water with a lemon slice in addition to any other beverages.
  • Plan 3-5 hors d'oeuvres per person, depending on your number of courses.
  • Offer your entrée dish (5-7 oz.) and 2-3 sides (4 oz. each for veggies, 2 oz. for beans or pasta). Of course, offer bread, salad (1 oz w/out dressing), possibly soup or an appetizer.


  • Plan 1 slice of cake, tart or pasty, 4 oz. of a creamy dessert, such as mousse or pudding, 5 oz if serving ice cream.
  • Remember, more people mean more courses and more choices.
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