The number one question most office administrators ask when ordering food for a meeting or event is, “How much catering should I order per person?”
It’s an important question. After all, running out of food is one of the worst catering nightmares there is. It doesn’t matter what kind of event you’re hosting; if people don’t get enough to eat, it’s a really quick trip from mildly annoyed to decidedly hangry.
Accurately calculating how much catering to order per person takes a little practice, but even if you’re just starting out, you can boost your confidence by referring to some basic rules of thumb and asking yourself the right questions.
Basic Guide to Per Person Catering Amounts
No benchmark is perfect and applicable to all scenarios, but it is possible to figure out average per person catering amounts by looking at the data. And ezCater has a lot of data. Based on what we’ve seen over the years, here are the average recommended per person catering serving sizes for some of the most-ordered items:
- Proteins like pulled pork or brisket: 4-5 ounces per person
- Fried chicken or similar dishes: 3 pieces per person
- Skewers and kebabs: 2 per person
- Burritos: 1 per person
- Tacos: 2 per person
- Sushi: 8-10 pieces per person
- Side dishes: 4 ounces per person
Questions and Considerations
While benchmarks and guidelines provide a great starting point, you should always customize how much catering you order per person based on the specifics of your meeting or event. There are a number of factors that can influence the “just right” amount of catering one way or the other. Alyssa Nagler, Manager of Caterer Content at ezCater shared her top three considerations in our Admin’s Guide to Food at the Office.
1. What type of event are you catering?
People tend to eat more at a seated lunch-and-learn presentation than at a board meeting. An event with a social element that encourages an open guest flow and relaxed conversation will generally require more food to keep guests happy as they mix and mingle. Think about the role food will play in the context and environment of your event, and make adjustments accordingly. Nagler notes that a safe per-person catering estimate for the average à la carte breakfast or lunch event is one main dish, two sides, and assorted beverages for each guest.
2. How long will the event last?
If your meeting is a quick one, guests won’t have time to go back for seconds (or thirds), so you probably won’t need as much catering as you would for — say — a half-day workshop or three-hour lunch. Be especially careful to order a little extra (whether that means larger per person portions or some additional dishes to add variety and increase the overall catering volume) for lengthy events during which guests might need a little pick me up.
3. What’s on the menu?
Finally, the type of food you’re ordering makes a difference to how much catering you should order per person. For example, vegetarian dishes that aren’t quite as filling will require more volume per person and/or additional sides. On the other hand, heartier choices, like traditional Italian or Mexican fare, will be much more filling, so you can order the average recommended amount per person without worrying about running out.
In general, Nagler recommends ordering approximately one pound of an entree dish for every three to four people first, and then supplementing that with 4-ounce side dishes or appetizers to round out the spread. Again, the type of cuisine makes a difference in your choices of sides. A hearty main like barbecue ribs may only require a couple light sides, while veggie tacos might need a few more sides to make sure everyone is satisfied. (Chips and salsa, anyone?)
Looking for more tips?
Check out our Admin’s Guide to Food at the Office for more great catering guidance on everything from what to order and how to serve it to different ways to use catering to improve office life. We even included all our best pro tips and tricks—all those little details that are often overlooked, but can make or break an event.