How to Calculate the Right Amount of Food and Drinks for a Party

How to Calculate the Right Amount of Food and Drinks for a Party

If you’re planning to throw a party — whether it’s a barbecue, rooftop soiree, poolside gathering, or cocktail party — it’s essential you have enough food and drinks for everyone to enjoy.

Our party checklist breaks down every element of a party into its parts, including the drinks (including non-alcoholic options like soda and non-alcoholic beer) and the dishes to serve. If you follow our guidelines, then your guests will be well-fed and well-kept, complete with full drink glasses.


Decide What Type of Party to Throw

There’s no doubt that no matter what the occasion, you can make your party a big hit with careful planning. Whatever the event, whether it is a backyard barbecue or a holiday gala, having plenty of food and drinks available to your guests is the main priority.

It may be enough to provide light snacks and drinks for casual parties, but a more substantial spread may be required for formal events. Depending on the type of party you’re hosting, you can determine your food and drink menus accordingly to make it a success.


Determine Your Guest Count

Counting your guests is the first step in planning a party. If you know how many people you’re inviting, you’ll be able to provide enough food and drinks for everyone and not spend too much. You also don’t want a fridge full of a lot of leftovers with no one to eat them. Once you know your guest count, you can decide on a menu, rent party equipment, such as chairs, tables, barware, dishes, or silverware, and even hire entertainment.

Here are two tips for estimating your guest count: 

  • First, overestimate rather than underestimate. Having too much food and drink is better than not having enough. 
  • Second, ask friends and family members who will be attending to help you with the guest list. This will keep you from inadvertently leaving out a pal you want at your party. Also, some close friends might ask to add additional guests to the list. 
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Just remember: If you still have trouble estimating, then ask yourself how many people you feel comfortable hosting to help you create your guest list accordingly.

Source: Jack Frog/

Decide What to Serve

There’s nothing more frustrating than running out of food at a party, but you also don’t want to spend the day slaving away on multiple dishes. You need to strike the right balance when serving appetizers, main dishes, salads, and desserts.

It’s a good rule of thumb to assume that each guest will consume five to eight appetizers an hour. For full meals, the smart thing to do is anticipate which of your dishes will be the most popular. Make sure you have extras on hand in case they run out.

When it comes to potato, pasta, or other starchy salads, a reasonable rule of thumb is one gallon of dressing for every 20 to 25 portions. For leafy vegetable salads, plan on one cup per person. As for fresh fruit, the usual portion is half a cup. It’s best to buy or separate desserts into single portions if you want to calculate how many of them you need.

By following this planning process, you can feel confident in the right amount of food to serve your hungry guests.

Provide Plenty of Options for Drinks

When you’re hosting a party, you’ll need a variety of drinks for your guests. Pair alcoholic drinks with alcohol-free options such as non-alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic beer.

Also, make sure everyone has something to drink by keeping sodas, juices, and water on hand. You could even make your own mocktail drinks for fun throughout the year. Options to consider include:

  • An apple cider mocktail for fall
  • A holiday-themed cranberry drink for winter
  • An elderflower-infused mocktail for spring
  • A non-alcoholic watermelon margarita for a summer soiree
  • And much much more!
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Supply Enough Condiments

When you are planning a party, don’t forget to include plenty of delicious condiments on your menu. Keep ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise handy for burgers and hot dogs. Salt, pepper, and other seasonings may also be needed, depending on which dishes you’re serving.

A well-stocked condiment bar will allow your guests to customize their meals to their liking. The exact amount is probably impossible to determine. The sensible thing you can do is to have too much rather than not enough.

Do The Math

The type of party you’re throwing will also help you calculate how much food and drink to serve. A general estimate is that each adult will consume one pound of food at a casual gathering. This can be a barbecue, a pool party, a holiday open house, or even a picnic.

If you are planning to have a more formal gathering, such as an evening cocktail party, you should plan on each adult consuming approximately two pounds of food.

The most prudent advice when it comes to drinks is to always estimate the amount you will need, then have more on hand than what you anticipate you’ll need.

One widely accepted rule of thumb is that a person will have one drink per hour for the first two hours of the party. This, of course, is only a general guideline. In the following two hours, they are more likely to have two drinks per hour for the remainder of the time.

Source: Jacob Lund/

Plan Your Food and Drink Menu to Make Your Party a Big Success

Planning a party can be complicated when it comes to buying and making food. You don’t want to run out of food too soon and have hungry guests lingering, but you also don’t want to fill your fridge with leftovers. Following these guidelines will help you solve these problems. You can count on them to ensure you’ll have enough food and drinks for your party without any leftovers. Don’t forget to stock up on drinks and condiments by overestimating rather than underestimating how much people will consume.

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