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Catering & Bartending

How to Calculate the Right Amount of Catering Based on Guest Count

You’ve curated the perfect *chef’s kiss* menu for your wedding night, whether you’re doing a BYO nacho bar or working with one of our favorite local caterers, but now comes the challenging part: deciding just how much of those yummy eats and sweets you need to actually have catered. First knowing your guests, the type of reception you’re having and the type of dinner to be served is pivotal in getting an accurate catering count. As a general rule of thumb, it is always better to err on the side of ordering more food than ordering less, as you do not want to leave guests unsatisfied with the reception! However, no need to worry, as our easy to follow guide below outlines the perfect amount of food to order per guest count. Cheers and happy planning!


catering by guest count guide


In general, calculate your appetizer number to be 6 pieces for every 1 guest in attendance. When planning out your wedding timeline, take into consideration how long it will be before guests eat dinner. If you have a long intermission between the ceremony and the reception, you may want to offer more appetizers. If you are asking people to leave and come back later, offering less appetizers is the way to go. Keep in mind that offering appetizers will typically help keep your buffet cost down, since guests will eat roughly 10% less at dinner when appetizers are served. Also, the smaller the appetizer bite, the higher the number can go.


PRO TIP: Try a different appetizer for every 40 that are needed. If you are needing 120 appetizers, have 3 different options for guests to eat!


catering by guest count guide


If you are not offering a plated meal where guests RSVP with their entrée choice, calculating for 1.5 servings for every 1 guest will get you a general entrée count. When serving a buffet, keep in mind that one dish may be more popular than the other among your guests (people tend to gravitate to what is most comfortable to them). Remember to take your vegetarian and vegan guests into consideration when planning out your entrée menu, and make sure that number is accounted for, also. Decrease your meat count and increase your veggie count as needed.


PRO TIP: Make sure to include your vendors in your catering count. This ensures they get fed and are able to enjoy your reception, too!


catering by guest count guide

Non-alcoholic Drinks

Non-alcoholic drinks will average out to around 2 gallons per 1 guest at your reception. In general, you should plan for 1-2 cups of water per guest and 3-4 non-water drinks (tea, lemonade, soda), estimating to be about 5 drinks per person, or 1 drink per hour. Depending on your location, water or non-water drinks may be more favorable to guests. If you are having an outdoor wedding in the heat, having more water at the reception is ideal.


alcohol by guest count guide

Alcoholic Drinks

Planning to have 1.5 drinks per hour per guest is a general idea for how much alcohol to allocate to your guests. Keep in mind that the reception time also affects how much alcohol to serve. If you’re tying the knot in the morning or early afternoon, guests will be less inclined to drink than at a nighttime celebration. Guests will also be more likely to indulge at a weekend wedding than during the week.


If you are opting to do an open bar instead of set signature drinks, the exact ratio to supply of each type of alcohol will depend upon your guests’ preferences, your budget and the season. A standard guideline when determining the right amount of alcohol to serve is 50% wine, 20% beer, and 30% liquor. Additionally, you’ll want to provide plenty of options for each, meaning at least one type of red and one type of white wine, a few different varieties of beer and a handful of liquors and mixers.


dessert catering by guest count guide


Offering your guests more desserts than just the cake? If this is what you’re opting for at your reception, a good calculation for additional desserts would be 1.5 cupcakes or 3 cookies for every 1 guest, on top of allocating 1 slice of cake per guest already (see this blog for all the details on ordering the right amount of cake per guest count!). The guests who eat more will likely balance out the people who will not eat any, and how and when all desserts are served determines how much will be eaten. If cake is passed out to tables and individuals, it is more likely to be eaten than when giving guests the option to come up and grab a slice themselves. Also, if desserts are served immediately following dinner, guests may be too full to eat dessert at that point!


PRO TIP: Additional desserts can double as favors for your wedding guests. Cupcakes and cookies can easily be taken home with guests in monogrammed boxes or bags with the couples names on them!


Now that we have your mouth watering, it’s time to plan out that menu and calculate ALL the bites! Let one of our top local caterers help you curate that dream menu!