8 years ago

How to plan food & drinks for any party size

Whether you plan to entertain a handful of friends and family or host a large holiday soiree, you don’t want to leave your guests hungry or thirsty. There’s nothing worse than running out of food and it may also not be so great to have too much left over that ends up going to waste.

Knowing a few basic guidelines for how much of each food and beverage to have on hand will help ensure that your get-together goes off without a hitch.

Food for Thought

Generally, plan for 2-3 appetizers per person, per hour if served before or after meal times, and 5-6 pieces per person, per hour if served as a meal.

Food is a big part of any party, and you should especially provide food at any party where alcohol is served.

You also want to make sure of any guest’s dietary restrictions ahead of time so you can plan your menu. Plus, if any guests follow a vegan diet, for example, and you have vegan options available, your non-vegan guests will also sample these items—so be sure you have enough.

A few guidelines for some customary party fare:

Meat and Cheese Tray
Meat: 3 ounces per person 

Cheese: 2 ounces per person 

Crackers: 2 ounces per person 

Shrimp Cocktail
Shrimp (large): 3–4 per person 

Sauce: 2 tablespoons per person 

Veggies and Dip
Dip: 3 tablespoons per person 

Vegetables: 1–2 ounces per person 

Fruit and Dip
Dip: 3 tablespoons per person 

Mixed fruit pieces: 1 cup per person 

Finger Sandwiches: 3 per person 

Mixed Nuts: ½ ounce per person

Olives: 2 ounces per person (or 2–3 pieces per person) 

“Mini” desserts: 2-3 pieces per person
“Full-sized”: 1.25 per person
Cake: A 7” cake will serve about 8-10 people
Pie: A 9” pie will serve about 6 people 

Think outside of the ‘chocolate box’ as not everyone is a chocoholic. Cheesecakes, trifles, berries and cream, peppermint, fruit tarts, bars, and cookies are great offerings that help add dessert variety. 


A general rule: Plan for 2 drinks per guest in the first hour of your party, and 1 drink per guest each hour after that. 

Of course, whether those drinks are wine, cocktails, or beer is dependent upon your preferences and what you anticipate your guests will choose. Always make sure to have nonalcoholic beverages available for guests as well. 

A standard formula caterers often use when planning a gathering is to have one bottle of wine per person for a party that will last several hours, based on the assumption that it’s best to have unopened bottles of wine left over than to run out. 

If you want to be more conservative, you could plan on half a bottle per person. If festivities may last longer than four hours, adjust your plan accordingly, figuring that one 750ml bottle of wine will yield about five glasses that are filled halfway; one 750ml bottle of spirits contains 16 1.5-ounce shots; and one 2-liter bottle of soda will yield about ten 8-ounce glasses. Plan on having two bottles of water per person available. 


If offering mixed drinks, keep it simple and have only three options of spirits available. This helps control the mixers and garnishes needed. Signature drinks pre-poured are a great way to tie food and beverage into the theme of the party. 

Food & drink pairings
Wondering which craft beer to serve with your appetizers, or which wine to serve with dinner? Check out these easy drink and appetizer combos, or check out our holiday wine pairing guide.

Dinner party for 12 guests: You may want to plan on one case of beer and three (750ml) bottles each of red and white wine. If you’d like to provide a before-dinner beverage, get three bottles of sparkling wine. And for dessert? One to two bottles of dessert wine. 

Cocktail party for 25: A possible plan may be one to two cases of beer, six (750ml) bottles of red wine, and 12 bottles of white wine. You may also want to get one (750ml) bottle of each of bourbon, gin, rum, tequila, Scotch, and vodka, as well as the appropriate mixers your guests may favor. 

Party Responsibly: Remember, alcohol is alcohol. A standard serving of beer (12 ounces), wine (5 ounces), and spirits (a cocktail with 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits) each contains the same amount of alcohol. And place a beverage tub full of bottled water near the exit so guests can grab one on their way out the door.

If you have any additional questions about recipes, techniques or Turkey Day prep, our FoodE Experts are happy to help! They’re available Monday – Saturday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Just give them a call at 952-548-1400.

Please note: Our FoodE Experts will be taking Thanksgiving Day off to enjoy some turkey time with their families.