Party Panache, Party Formulas

I have given many parties and will be the first to admit, it can be very TRICKY figuring out HOW MUCH FOOD people will eat. I have devised several FORMULAS to help you plan a great party!  Relax, I will share my best secrets with you…

The standard caterer’s formula is based on appetizers per guest per hour.  Simple enough BUT,  in my experience there are some important factors that you must consider that influence the amount of food guests eat:  TIME of day, TYPE of event, and GUEST CHARACTERISTICS.

I assign a point value for these factors and use these equations.  I will explain how to calculate these later on, it might sound confusing but it will make sense if you stay with me here and think about it!

The premise for these formulas is, you don’t have to have 20 servings of everything if you have 20 guests because NOT EVERY GUEST WILL EAT EVERYTHING!  That’s where these formulas come in, to help determine how much you actually do need.

NUMBER of guests_______ X   the sum of the TIME of event + TYPE of event = TOTAL # of servings.  Divide this total number of servings BY the number of different things you are having, and you will have the number of servings each dish should yield.

OR you can use the formula below to approach it simply by GUEST characteristics.  I will explain their point values later.

NUMBER of MEN  +  NUMBER of WOMEN  +   NUMBER of CHILDREN over 6  –  NUMBER of “BUSYS” =  servings* needed for each dish.

First things first. What type of party are you planning?

A seated dinner?

Watching a sporting event or a tailgate party?

Perhaps a cocktail buffet, Open House, or a shower?

The TIME & TYPE of event will influence how much people will eat.  People eat more at night than during the day, and will eat the most if the party is held early in the evening.  If you don’t want to have to feed a horde of hungry guests opt for a brunch or dessert party.

Next,  categorize your guests:

Girls: Generally they will eat one or two of the heavier appetizers, eat a lot of vegetables and lighter fare, and will have dessert if it’s a small bite, not a huge piece of cake or pie.  Assign each woman a point value of 1.  If you have any AVID dieters, just count them as a ZERO, they won’t eat enough to matter!

Guys:  They will eat a lot of MEAT, so be prepared for that., but it is usually balanced out by the smaller amount that women eat.  Only about 50% will eat dessert unless it’s a seated dinner.  Score the guys with 1, unless  you know they are BIG eaters, then score that guy as a 2.

“The Busys:”  These are the guests who are all about talking, socializing, or are sports crazed fans, in other words, too BUSY to eat much! Score them MINUS 2 points each. My son, Hungry Husband Jr. and my son-in -law, Nice Guy will eat a lot at a seated dinner [so I would score them 2 each] but for game day HHjr falls into “THE BUSYS” [-2] category and NG will eat a little less [1] so I would score them differently on game day!  Make sense?

CHILDREN: they will go for the sweets and the plainer food.  Plan something especially for them, or create a whole different child friendly menu for them if you are having a lot of children at your party.  Score them 1 point for every 2 children over 6 if you’re not providing separate food for them.

Invite your guests with a clear INVITATION, by mail, email, or phone, and provide RSVP instructions. You have to know how many are really coming!!

Also, let your guests know WHAT TO EXPECT, a meal, heavy hors d’oeurves, snacks or just desserts.  If you are going to the effort of having a gathering, you want your guests to arrive with an APPETITE!  I am always amazed when I go to afternoon showers at the amount of food that people DON’T eat.  A shower from 2-4pm should not have a lavish buffet spread, if you want to serve a meal, plan your party for meal time!


1 snack + 1 cold cheese + 1 cold vegetable + 1 hot vegetable + 2 different main dish type bites + 1 fruit something + 1 or 2 desserts

1 snack: nuts,  party mix, goldfish crackers, anything instantly recognizable for a quick grab, like this Harvest Snack Attack

1 cold cheese:  cheese ball, cheese board, cheese spread or dip, like this 5 Minute Mystery Dip.

1 cold vegetable:  veggies  and dip, caprese salad kabobs,  spinach dip, or Artichokes with Dreamy Lemon Sauce.

1 hot vegetable: queso with spinach, spinach & artichoke dip, refried bean dip with lots of chopped tomatoes and onions, or this Kale & Spinach dip

2 meats or fish: Coconut Shrimp, smoked salmon, chicken nuggets,

Sliders,  meatballs, individual ribs or baby lamb chops, kabobs, chicken satay

1 fruit: fruit skewers, fruit with a dip or whipped cream, cubed melon, bacon wrapped pineapple,  bite sized squares of  Pear & Bacon Flatbread

1-2 desserts: mini cupcakes, Party Ice Cream Sandwiches, cookies, cake balls, or something seasonal like these Mini Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cakes [see tomorrow’s post!]

Don’t forget something chocolate, like these Salted Caramel Chocolate Mini  Cupcakes!


Lots of DIFFERENT foods, and a nice MIX of TRADITIONAL dishes for your less adventurous eaters and some TRENDY or different dishes for the foodies.  You want to have lots of choices and options, but keep in mind your guest list size.   BALANCE HEALTHIER options with a few SPLURGE type dishes, and make sure there is something for the vegetarians or picky eaters.

My favorite way to entertain larger groups is to serve appetizers.  Guests aren’t seated and they can mingle around and choose what they like.  I place dishes in several places throughout the space to keep people circulating. Have food choices that can be eaten without utensils and make life easy for everyone.  Guest will gravitate to the food that is EASY to eat because they are probably holding a plate, a glass and a conversation!

Let me show you how to get the numbers you need to plug into the #1 formula.

BUFFET FORMULA #1: [20 guests]

Time of event:

2 points for brunch & lunch

1 point for mid afternoon

3 points dinner

3 points buffet

2 points dessert or late evening.

An afternoon shower from 2-4pm would score 1 point for mid afternoon and 3 points for buffet, equaling 4 points.  For 20 guests  X 4 points = 80 servings. Divide 80 by the #of dishes, say 5, since it’s afternoon, and the result is 16.  Each dish should serve 16 max.  NOT EVERYONE WILL EAT EVERYTHING! Especially at this time of day, you could probably go with dishes of 10 servings.

A cocktail buffet from 6-9pm would score both 3 points for dinner and 3 points for buffet. For 20 attending guests, serving 8 dishes you will need below:        20 GUESTS X {dinner[3] + buffet [3] =6} = 120 portions    Divide that by 8 dishes=15 servings per dish

NOT EVERY GUEST WILL EAT EVERYTHING, so adjust this number down if you don’t want massive leftovers. Remember the 8 meatballs that Big Al eats will be offset by the veggies consumed by Aunt Mary the vegetarian. Based on the above numbers I would make the dishes for 12 servings, it’s likely there will be at least one guest that can’t come at the last minute.  I am uncomfortable when a hostess is pushing food just because she made too much, she shouldn’t obligate you to eat it! Also, if something is gone, remove the dish and the guests will eat something else.  If you have lots of variety & balance,  you will be successful.


8 MEN + 11 WOMEN + 1 CHILD [only score 1 for every 2 over 6] – 2  BUSYS [they score -2 each] = 15 SERVINGS per dish  same as above.  This is a way to cross check yourself.  If you get a different result it might be because of the specific guest characteristics so adjust accordingly.

*SERVING SIZE: check this number carefully, 1 SERVING could mean 3 shrimp, 1 sandwich, or 2 cookies . Better Homes & Gardens says one serving equals the following amounts of these foods:

chicken wings 2
queso  1/4 cup
dips & spreads 2T
meatballs 2
nuts 1 oz
stuffed mushrooms 2

I hope this information and advice will help you plan  your next PARTY & PARTY MENU!  Check back in a few days for photos of a recent party and more important tips! Happy Entertaining and remember to HAVE FUN!

The painted glassware is from JMdesigns Gallery

I’m joining

the Tablescaper for SEASONAL SUNDAY



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4 Responses to “Party Panache, Party Formulas”
  1. eclecticlamb says:

    Wow! Thanks for providing so many details!

  2. Great tips and wonderful buffet tables! Thanks for all the inspiration. This post will bear further study. Cherry Kay

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