Whether it’s a wedding reception, a fundraising event, or a small networking function, ordering food for your catered function is not always an easy and straightforward task. Let’s face it, most of us planning those events are not exactly specialists in Food and Beverage. It can get tricky navigating through the lists of hoers d’oeuvres and appetizer platters, trying to figure out what kind of food to order and how much.

That’s where a knowledgeable and trustworthy catering company can come in very handy. You caterer should be able to advise you on the menu choices and suggest the amount of food required. How often have you heard stories about receptions gone wrong? All food is finished in the first half an hour, guests are hungry, and hosts are embarrassed. It can happen to the best of us. To avoid it, answer a few simple questions about your reception before you start planning it.

  1. What is the purpose of the reception?
  2. What is the time of the reception?
  3. How long is the reception?
  4. What are the guests’ expectations for food?
  5. What is the budget?

If you organize a networking event at your local Chamber of Commerce, the food you might decide to provide is just a snack, something to munch on while people are mingling. Even if the event takes place after hours, no one will be expecting it to substitute their dinner. In this case 4-6 pieces of appetizers per person will be sufficient.

The time of the reception plays a significant role in calculating the amount of food for your function. If you’re planning your wedding reception for 7 pm, your guests will be expecting a dinner-like meal. Even if you don’t offer a plated or buffet dinner, the amount of food should be planned accordingly. Allow 15-20 pieces of hoers d’oeuvres per person.

There are also budget considerations. To plan a reception in lieu of dinner will probably cost you almost as much as a sit-down dinner. Sophisticated, creative hoers d’oeuvres come with a price. They’re time and labor intense to prepare, use high quality ingredients, and require a lot of wait staff to serve them. If you don’t have budget for a dinner-like reception, try to avoid hosting it during dinner hours. If that is not an option, make it very clear in your invitations what type of meal will be served (i.e. cocktail reception, wine and cheese reception, light fare reception). It’s your wedding reception after all. You can have it any way you want but manage your guests’ expectations to avoid misunderstanding and to guarantee that everybody is having a good time.

The length of the reception needs to be taken into account as well. If you’re organizing an afternoon reception for 1-2 hours, you would base your food order on 8-10 appetizers per person. If the reception is longer (2-4 hours), you would need to increase the numbers to 10-14 pieces per person.

And lastly, how much coffee to order? This is always confusing. Usually coffee is sold by gallons. One gallon is about 20 cups – not your Starbucks “grande” size, but smaller cups that are normally offered in restaurants. For a 100 people reception, you would order 5-7 gallons of coffee depending on how caffeine-addicted your guests are. It’s also recommended to offer some decaffeinated coffee and tea.

Whatever your reception is, food is an important part of your catered event and can make a huge difference. Take into consideration the time and the length of the reception, always stick to your budget. Know your guests and manage their expectations accordingly. And most importantly, find an experienced catering company that will give you solid advice and recommendations.