Posted by: A Part of the Solution | December 3, 2010

How much will my Guests eat?

No matter how fancy your party is, nor how simple, people often expect to be fed. If your party is the less formal sort, you can always put out a call for potluck. Depending on your party guests, this can turn into a chip-and-dip-fest or a gourmet hot-dish extravaganza pretty quickly. But if you’re not hiring a caterer or throwing open the floor to potluck donations, here’s how to figure out the food.

Time of day matters. If your party happens to span (in part or full) some of those hours of the day when people expect a meal, they’ll be eating more. So think about it. Will your open house run 1pm to 5 pm, so that you don’t have to cover a meal? Will your house party run 7pm to midnight, so that you can expect to feed early guests, but not later ones?

Variety matters. The more different kinds of food you set out, the more likely it is that they won’t all get eaten. Why this should be, I cannot say; but I’ve been in the business for decades and I know it to be true.

Matching the food to your guests matters. If everyone you’re inviting is on one restricted diet or another for which you don’t necessarily prepare, your guests will eat less. Don’t serve a dessert buffet to the Atkins diet people. Don’t serve Atkins food for the vegans in your life. Don’t serve chip-and-dip to salt restricted guests. See what I mean? If you don’t like the people you’re inviting (!?!), by all means serve them food they won’t enjoy. They’ll definitely leave much faster. This might be a good strategy for an obligatory-but-no-one-wants-to-be-there office party. Sadly, the not eating may lead to unintentional over-drinking, so think that through carefully.

Speaking of drinking, the more alcohol you anticipate being consumed the more it behooves you to serve food rich in fat to soak up those naughty carbs, and high in protein to provide B vitamin support. ‘Light’ food only makes sense if you know people won’t be drinking/having many drinks.

Down to numbers now. Have some of the food stationary, like that chip-and-dip platter. Have some of it easily mobile, in mess-free pieces–like stuffed grape leaves, tartlets (sweet or savory),  or teeny-weeny gazpachos. With three savory appetizers and a couple of different sweet choices, you’re all good if you’re not in a meal-time zone.

Figure on about 5 pieces of appetizers total per guest, so two and a half of each of two, or one and a half for each of three choices. Figure on one ounce of chips per guest. Figure on 15 guests for every two cups of stiff dip (like hummus). Figure on 18 guests for every two cups of wet dip (like salsa). Figure on three sweet choices per guest–divide the total into the number of dessert-type goodies you’re serving.

Make sure your food choices are all different from one another. If you’ve got Buffalo wings, don’t serve rumaki. If you’ve got stuffed mushrooms, don’t serve a mushroom paté too. If you’re serving those teeny-weeny gazpachos, serve hummus instead of salsa for your dip (since salsa and the gazpachos have a nearly identical ingredient profile). Try to include a range of textures and colors in your menu too. If your chili cups are dark red, and your buffalo wings are dark red, and your lamb meatballs are dark red, you don’t have much visual appeal going on. This is good if you don’t want your guests chowing down, not so good if you’re actually into creative acts of hospitality.

To those items, add a salad or veggie and a couple of entrées if you’re hitting someone’s lunch, brunch or dinner time. Good party entrées are make ahead, and reheated or at room temperature at the time of service. They aren’t too wet or goopy. So just say no to soup, unless you have a lot of paper hot cups you’re looking to get rid of. If your lasagna isn’t reliably dry and good at holding it’s shape (as mine is, follow the link there)–stay away from it. If your entrée needs a knife as well as a fork, then people will need somewhere to sit down to eat. At a table. Rice salads are hard on folks, since there’s so much chasing around of tiny pieces on a small plate. Be compassionate. Let people enjoy the food you’re serving.

Figure on half-sized portions of the entrées you serve. Reinforce this with pre-cutting where applicable, serving the first few of anything yourself so that people get the idea of a ‘good’ portion, and providing small buffet plates.  This way guests won’t get overly ambitious piling food onto their plates and  leave their half-uneaten food where it will get knocked over/stepped in.

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