No doubt, it’s one of the hardest things to master. Luckily there are some good general guidelines to get real close.

As a professional, I like to go a little heavy on each item to ensure that everyone has plenty to eat. Here are the amounts that I start out with-

  • Proteins- 8 oz.
  • Starches- 4 oz.
  • Vegetables- 5 oz.

This gives you about a pound of food per person which is quite a plate full! From here it takes some smart guessing to figure out how much of each item to prepare. In general it’s best to go heavier on the more popular and “weighty” items, such as potato salad at a picnic. So If I were to design a picnic menu that had both potato salad and pasta salad, I would do about 2.5 ounces of potato and 1.5 ounces of pasta per guest. You will also add in a little more food for a longer event, such as a cocktail reception before a wedding ceremony.

You also have to take into consideration that folks will usually take more than they will eat on a buffet. Even though they put a pound of food on the plate, they won’t necessarily eat all of it. If you’re serving the meal to guests already plated then it’s much easier to control how much each person gets so you can cut back a touch. Just not enough to run out!

In some catering operations it is considered acceptable to skimp a bit on the amount of food. Your caterer should guarantee that they will feed your guests, plus about 5% extra just in case. If they run out of food, ask for a refund of a portion of the invoice. Ideally, your guests should be able to go back for some seconds on their favorite dishes and still have a bit left for an easy dinner or lunch for you the next day.