Q: I always have such a hard time knowing how much food to serve when hosting a get-together or a dinner party. I end up with a ton of unwanted food. How do you know how much food to serve? ~ Maggie
Providing food for your guests is a necessary yet challenging aspect of hosting. And yet, in regards to gatherings, as well as the food we serve, one size does not fit all.
Sometimes you are sharing a casual weeknight dinner with another family.
Sometimes you are hosting a tailgate full of dips and desserts.
Sometimes you are hosting a baby shower with a spread of artful appetizers and pretty pastries.
Sometimes you are hosting a dinner party with three courses and cocktails.
Even though the food needs for each of these examples are as varied as the gatherings themselves, there are guiding principles that will help us navigate how to best answer your question regarding how much food to serve.
Define the dynamics.
Is it a dinner party or a casual gathering?
If you are serving Beef Bourguignon at a dinner party, you do not want to run out of crusty French bread. However, if you are serving lasagna to your neighbors on a Wednesday, it is not the end of the world if you run out of garlic bread. To some extent, the nature of the gathering will determine how concerned and careful you need to be when determining quantities.
Is it casual? Do you best, but don’t fret. Is it more intentional or formal? Be thoughtful and ample.
Consider the demographics.
What is the age and gender of your guests?
Hungry teenage boys eat way more pizza than a group of moms. Ladies dressed up for an afternoon baby shower nibble far less than co-ed couples at a lunchtime tailgate.
Knowing your crowd can help think through the quantities of food you may (or may not need) to accommodate all the appetites.
Dive in and delete fear!
Logistics aside, experience has taught me there is a certain amount of fear that exists behind the question of how much food to serve. We either fear running out of food and respond by going way overboard, or we fear leftovers and don’t go to enough trouble.
My advice is to recognize any fear that might be lurking behind your motives, name it, and let it go. Hospitality is best practiced free from fear, and your role as a host will be compromised by decisions based in fear.
Are you afraid of running out of food? Balance that with the knowledge that all will be well, even if every piece of pizza or slice of bread is eaten.
Are you afraid of leftovers? Are you afraid of providing a lot of food at a party only to have no one eat it? Balance that fear with the knowledge that honoring an occasion with a bounty of food is an act of love and celebration. What people do with that food, whether they eat or don’t eat, is not up to you.
As you continue to host people in your home and focus on creating space for your guests, remember that you can serve them best when your decisions are based in love rather than fear.