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Planning food for a party

Welcome to this guide for catering your party! Food is the lynchpin of hospitality and one of the best part of any celebration. At least in our minds here at Parties Universe!

Whether you are serving a proper meal or serving nibbles and grazing food, with large numbers of guests, it can be hard to know what guests will enjoy and how much to order.

Our team has professional party planners who are here to help you with this! We will share catering types and supply options, ideas for the most popular party foods, quantities to cater for and tips and tricks to keep food fresh.

Once you’ve checked out our top catering tips, you might also like to check out our Party decoration guide, party entertainment guide, or what music to play at a party guide.

Type of party catering

If you’re planning your party, one of the main things to consider is the catering. This can add a lot to the feel of the event. It is also the easiest place to ramp up or tighten down on the effort to prepare and cost of the event!

  1. Canapes: Elegant small bitesize foods, often eaten while guests are standing and mingling
  2. Buffet: Bowls of food spread out on a table for guests to come and take what they fancy. This works for a sit-down meal or for a nibble-and-graze-style of event
  3. Sit-down meal: A meal, usually multi-course, eaten with full utensils and served with drinks, often wine
  4. Barbeque: a relaxed, all-evening-long style meal that can be jazzed up or down and is always best with side snacks and salads.
  5. Picnic: Snacky food, possible with some salads and smaller meat or protein bites to be grazed on while sitting on the floor, possible with a plate and fork
  6. Food cart: Ordering food trucks, such as pizza trucks, nacho vans, filled cheese and similar delicious vans
  7. Charcuterie boards: These are platters of meats and cheese, not always as a meal but as an accompaniment to a drinks reception, as a little snack

Supplier options

The next decision is how to want to supply the food, and this is really a question of the amount of effort, the price, the amount of clear up and how to want to spend your time during the party prep.

These are all great options; it just depends on the type of event you are envisioning and the budget you want to use. Here are a selection of great suggestions.

  1. DIY: Buying ingredients from the supermarket and cooking
  2. Buying catered dish trays: Nice supermarkets and delis often sell pre-made salads, baked bites, pastries, and other similar items. These are more affordable than a catering agency, but still delicious and very simple to order and serve.
  3. Catering Company: these companies can bring all the silverware and their own serving staff making it a totally seamless options for you, where everything i taken care of and there is no washing at the end. Catering companies will offer all different types of food as well.
  4. Food trucks: They will make and serve the food, and you just pay. This is often a little cheaper and a little more relaxed than a catering company, and it’s good fun! Service is much slower if there are lots of guests, but it’s great for a chilled event where people will come to graze at different times.

Food Quantities for Party Catering

Ok so when it comes to planning, the biggest decision is probably the food quantities! Not to worry, we have a guide to tell you exactly how much you’ll need.

How much food to serve at a buffet

For a buffet:

  1. Slightly Overestimate: Better to have extra food than run out.
  2. Dietary Needs: Include options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets (Checkout the idea we are sharing below!)
  3. Balanced Menu: Ensure there’s a mix of heavy and light items to satisfy all guests.
  4. Attractive Presentation: Keep food looking fresh and appealing by replenishing regularly.
Type of FoodFull Meal (per person)Light Snack (per person)
Proteins
Meat (e.g., chicken, beef, pork)6-8 oz (170-225 g)3-4 oz (85-115 g)
Fish/Seafood5-7 oz (140-200 g)2-3 oz (55-85 g)
Vegetarian Proteins (e.g., tofu, beans)5-7 oz (140-200 g)2-3 oz (55-85 g)
Sides
Vegetables4-6 oz (115-170 g)2-3 oz (55-85 g)
Starches (e.g., potatoes, rice, pasta)4-6 oz (115-170 g)2-3 oz (55-85 g)
Salads3-4 oz (85-115 g)2-3 oz (55-85 g)
Bread/Rolls1-2 pieces0.5-1 piece
Desserts
Cakes/Pastries1 slice or piece0.5 slice or piece
Cookies/Bites2-3 pieces1-2 pieces
Fruit3-4 oz (85-115 g)2-3 oz (55-85 g)

How Much Food to Offer at a BBQ

General Guidelines:

  1. Proteins: Plan for 6-8 oz (170-225 g) of meat per person. This includes burgers, sausages, chicken, and ribs.
  2. Sides: Offer 2-3 sides. Estimate 4-6 oz (115-170 g) of each side dish per person. Common sides include potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, and corn on the cob.
  3. Appetizers and Snacks: Plan for 3-4 pieces per person if serving before the main meal. Popular choices are chips and dip, vegetable trays, and deviled eggs.
  4. Desserts: Allocate 1-2 pieces per person. Consider options like cookies, brownies, or fruit salad.

Quick Reference Table:

Type of FoodQuantity (per person)
Meat6-8 oz (170-225 g)
Sides4-6 oz (115-170 g) each
Appetizers/Snacks3-4 pieces
Desserts1-2 pieces

Food quantities for a canape reception

General Guidelines

  1. Canapés: Plan for 8-10 pieces per person for a 2-hour event. Increase to 12-15 pieces per person for a longer reception.
  2. Variety: Offer 4-6 different types of canapés to cater to various tastes and dietary requirements.
Type of FoodQuantity (per person)
Canapés (2-hour)8-10 pieces
Canapés (longer)12-15 pieces
Variety4-6 types

How Much Food to Offer at a Picnic

Planning food quantities for a picnic ensures everyone enjoys the outdoor gathering without running out of food. Here’s a concise guide:

General Guidelines

  1. Main Dishes: Estimate 1 main dish per person.
  2. Sides and Salads: Offer 2-3 side dishes or salads per person.
  3. Desserts: Plan for 1 dessert per person.
  4. Drinks: Provide 2 beverages per person (e.g., water, soda, or juice).
Type of FoodQuantity (per person)
Main Dish1
Side Dishes/Salads2-3
Desserts1
Beverages2

Food ideas for a party

So, if you want inspiration, we are suggesting some of the most popular food options to help get you thinking and planning!

Popular Buffet Food

  1. Roast Beef Carving Station
  2. BBQ Chicken Wings
  3. Pulled Pork Sliders
  4. Shrimp Cocktail
  5. Baked Ham
  6. Grilled Salmon
  7. Chicken Alfredo Pasta
  8. Beef Stroganoff
  9. Fried Chicken
  10. Stuffed Bell Peppers
  11. Mini Meatballs in Marinara Sauce
  12. Cheese and Charcuterie Board
  13. Potato Salad
  14. Caesar Salad
  15. Baked Ziti
  16. Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  17. Steamed Vegetables
  18. Macaroni and Cheese
  19. Deviled Eggs
  20. Assorted Bread Rolls

Vegetarian Buffet Food Ideas

  1. Grilled Vegetable Platter
  2. Stuffed Mushrooms
  3. Vegetable Spring Rolls
  4. Quiche (Spinach and Feta)
  5. Marinated Tofu Skewers

Vegan Buffet Food Ideas

  1. Vegan Sushi Rolls
  2. Chickpea Salad
  3. Vegan Chili
  4. Stuffed Bell Peppers with Quinoa
  5. Falafel with Tahini Sauce
  6. Roasted Vegetable Platter
  7. Vegan Tacos
  8. Fruit Salad

Gluten-Free Buffet Food Ideas

  1. Grilled Chicken Breast
  2. Steak Kebabs
  3. Quinoa Salad
  4. Rice Pilaf
  5. Baked Sweet Potatoes
  6. Corn Tortilla Tacos
  7. Grilled Shrimp Skewers

Popular canape food ideas

Popular Canapé Food

  1. Smoked Salmon Blinis
  2. Mini Beef Wellington
  3. Prosciutto-wrapped Melon
  4. Crab Cakes with Remoulade
  5. Mini Quiches (Assorted)
  6. Shrimp Cocktail Shooters
  7. Bacon-wrapped Dates
  8. Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil
  9. Stuffed Mushrooms
  10. Deviled Eggs
  11. Mini Caprese Skewers
  12. Crostini with Goat Cheese and Fig Jam
  13. Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
  14. Mini Pulled Pork Sliders
  15. Beef Tartare on Toast Points
  16. Mini Lobster Rolls
  17. Duck Pâté on Brioche
  18. Cheese and Fruit Skewers
  19. Caviar and Crème Fraîche on Blinis
  20. Seared Tuna on Wonton Crisps

Vegetarian Canapé Food

  1. Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil
  2. Stuffed Mushrooms
  3. Mini Caprese Skewers
  4. Crostini with Goat Cheese and Fig Jam
  5. Deviled Eggs
  6. Cheese and Fruit Skewers
  7. Mini Quiches (Spinach and Feta)
  8. Hummus on Cucumber Rounds
  9. Greek Salad Bites
  10. Mini Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Vegan Canapé Food

  1. Vegan Sushi Rolls
  2. Stuffed Mini Peppers
  3. Bruschetta with Tomato and Basil
  4. Hummus on Cucumber Rounds
  5. Roasted Red Pepper and Avocado Crostini
  6. Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
  7. Vegan Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
  8. Mini Falafel Bites
  9. Cucumber and Avocado Bites
  10. Fruit Skewers

Gluten-Free Canapé Food

  1. Shrimp Cocktail Shooters
  2. Stuffed Mushrooms
  3. Mini Caprese Skewers
  4. Deviled Eggs
  5. Crostini on Gluten-Free Crackers
  6. Hummus on Cucumber Rounds
  7. Cheese and Fruit Skewers
  8. Prosciutto-wrapped Melon
  9. Caviar and Crème Fraîche on Gluten-Free Crackers
  10. Grilled Shrimp Skewers

Popular picnic foods and ideas

  1. Chicken Salad Sandwiches
  2. Deviled Eggs
  3. Pasta Salad
  4. Cheese and Charcuterie Board
  5. Fruit Salad
  6. Cold Fried Chicken
  7. Caprese Skewers
  8. Potato Salad
  9. Mini Quiches
  10. Hummus and Pita Chips
  11. Ham and Cheese Wraps
  12. Stuffed Peppers
  13. Classic Coleslaw
  14. Turkey and Avocado Wraps
  15. Antipasto Skewers
  16. Stuffed Grape Leaves
  17. Fresh Vegetable Crudités with Dip
  18. Mini Meat Pies
  19. Quinoa Salad
  20. Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches

Vegetarian Picnic Food

  1. Caprese Skewers
  2. Pasta Salad (Vegetarian)
  3. Hummus and Pita Chips
  4. Stuffed Peppers (Vegetarian)
  5. Classic Coleslaw
  6. Vegetarian Wraps
  7. Stuffed Grape Leaves
  8. Fresh Vegetable Crudités with Dip
  9. Mini Quiches (Spinach and Feta)
  10. Quinoa Salad (Vegetarian)

Vegan Picnic Food

  1. Hummus and Vegetable Sticks
  2. Stuffed Peppers (Vegan)
  3. Classic Coleslaw (Vegan)
  4. Vegan Wraps (with Hummus and Veggies)
  5. Fresh Vegetable Crudités with Dip
  6. Quinoa Salad (Vegan)
  7. Fruit Salad
  8. Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches (Vegan)
  9. Vegan Sushi Rolls
  10. Stuffed Grape Leaves (Vegan)

Gluten-Free Picnic Food

  1. Deviled Eggs
  2. Fruit Salad
  3. Cold Fried Chicken (Gluten-Free)
  4. Caprese Skewers
  5. Potato Salad (Gluten-Free)
  6. Classic Coleslaw (Gluten-Free)
  7. Antipasto Skewers
  8. Stuffed Grape Leaves (Gluten-Free)
  9. Fresh Vegetable Crudités with Dip
  10. Quinoa Salad (Gluten-Free)

Food van catering types

  • Taco Truck
  • Burger van
  • Thai currys
  • Souther BBQ van
  • Dim Sum
  • Grilled cheese van
  • Gourmet sandwich van

Good Luck

We hope you’ve found this post useful and that you have some good ideas going for what you want to do at your party.

Happy planning and have a great time. And during this whole phase remember the golden party rule: the party is fun when the host is having fun 🙂

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