Deciding how much food to get for a party is an age-old question. In my book, it’s always better to have too much than not enough. Understandably, people don’t want overkill and for things to go to waste, which is why balance is important. I always like to be sure to incorporate variety to accommodate different health needs. This is especially important for larger events where someone is bound to have something they can’t eat but you won’t be able to know that ahead of time. Having a vegetable option, a dairy-free option and a gluten-free option is usually a good way to go that can cover a lot of ground. Depending on the food, this could possibly be wrapped up in 1 selection. However, the biggest component of what you will be serving is your budget. So here are some thinking points to help you decide how to feed your guests (because EVERY good party has food).
What Kind of Party Is It?
Are you having a casual event where appetizers or hors d’oeurves with some cocktails will be enough? Is it a sit down meal? Is there a buffet? To decide on this factor, the timing of the event is key. The time of the event often indicates what kind of food your guests are expecting. If you are not serving a meal, it is not appropriate to have light hors d’oeurves during meal hours, particularly dinner. Happy hour is a little different — appetizers would be expected with drinks, probably between the hours of 3PM-6PM but if your event is from 5PM-8PM and it’s an invite-only rather than an open house type of event, you probably should be offering a meal.
Who Is Paying For It?
Are your guests paying to come to this event (i.e. selling tickets or taking up a collection)? If so, they will expect more. Whether it’s a charity event, networking event or festival, if the guests are paying, they’re going to expect you to get some bang for their buck because they will want to eat and drink and feel more entitled to do so.
Even if your guests aren’t paying, knowing your demographic is important. For example, if a law firm is hosting a get-together for their partners, these people are important to the business so they will expect to be treated as such. If you take them somewhere but offer only some cheese and crackers and a plate of vegetables, that will be the last time you organize that event.
How Many People Are There Compared To Your Budget?
Many people get a budget and think “that’s a lot of money!” but you need to break it down to a cost-per-person budget to really know what you can get. Yes, $5000 is a lot of money if someone walking down the street were to just hand it to you, but if you are hosting a party for 100 people, suddenly that’s not as much, especially in Chicago where drinks can be anywhere from a few bucks for a beer to $15 or even $20 for a cocktail. So if you have $50 a person, you need to decide how to use it and know whether your budget includes the tax (10.5% in Chicago currently) and tip (usually around 20% at most places). Once you establish that, then you can what you know what you truly have to spend per guest.
Less is More
If you’re budget is small but you still want to offer food and drink, cut the variety and up the quantity. I have this conversation many a time with the clients I work with but it really boils down to what we heard growing up “If you don’t have enough for everyone, then don’t have any at all.” Basically, if you don’t have a lot of money for a group of people, you want to go the “chips and dip” route. Items that you get a lot for but don’t cost too much. Often times people count up the overall quantity of the items they choose and say “well that’s a total of 3-4 pieces each and 2 drinks.” Yes, the total number of food is fine, there are 2 reasons why you don’t want to do this. 1. If someone comes in and eats 5, when you were anticipating 2 of a particular item, it throws off your perfectly-planned breakdown which leads to point number 2. Guests will notice quicker. You can have 10 types of appetizers but if people aren’t getting certain foods, it’s going to draw attention that there isn’t enough for everyone. But if you have plenty of certain items to go around, people won’t feel shorted because they will see that someone is enjoying food and there is still plenty for them if they want it.
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