The Numbers Game

When attending a well-planned party, it seems to run flawlessly. Creating a smooth-running affair is not just about colour and imagination–there is a fair bit of science behind a fabulous party! When a caterer asks you a lot of questions before giving you a full estimate, it is because they are trying to determine all the variables in the “Party Equation.” This way, they can determine the correct ratios and amounts of items needed to send to your event to make your event a success! So consider the following when planning your event:

Space and timing

  • When planning a stand-up cocktail reception, have 2.5 square feet per person for comfort, plus ample room for Bars, stationary tables and furniture.
  • For sit-down meals, a 60″ round table seating 10 guests each will require a 10-foot square area.
  • Allow at least an hour for cocktails before your meal to allow guests to arrive, check their coats, have a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres and generally relax and mingle.
  • For sit-down meals, with proper staffing, you can estimate at least 30 minutes per course to serve, eat and clear, so a 3-course meal should ostensibly take 1.5 hours from appetizer to coffee service.
  • When planning buffet service, each buffet set-up can serve 75 guests in a 20 to 30-minute time frame


  • The staff at an event can make or break your event. Any party should have an Event Coordinator who is responsible for the “whole picture”
  • Bartenders: Minimum one bartender per 60 to 80 guests. With specialty drinks such as blender drinks or
  • Martinis, there should be one bartender per 40 guests.
  • Cocktail Reception Waiters: Minimum one waiter per 25/40 guests depending on the duration of the event. If you need to serve a lot of food in a short space of time, you should have more staff.
  • Buffet Dinner Waiters: Minimum one waiter per 25 guests, to effectively set up, serve and clear plates, glassware, etc.
  • Sit-Down Meal Waiters: Minimum one waiter per 12 guests for good service. If you decrease the ratio, your service level will increase.
  • Chefs: Your caterer will recommend minimum Chef requirements for your event depending on the complexity of your menu and the kitchen facilities available.

Also, make sure you budget enough time for staff to set-up and tear-down (at least 1.5 hours before the event to set up a cocktail reception and 2 hours for a plated or buffet meal. Allow for a half hour to an hour following the event to tear-down and clean up.


  • Having sufficient equipment at your event is mandatory.
  • Renting the proper amounts of glassware, china and cutlery will ensure a smooth-running event. Do not scrimp on this part of the event.
  • When ordering glassware, you should have enough for one glass per person per hour of the reception, plus any tableware to be used for dinner.
  • When planning a buffet dinner always order an extra 25% more china to allow for “second helpings”.
  • For a plated meal, order a dozen extra of each course’s settings for unexpected guests or breakage.
  • Be sure to always have proper prep tables and garbage receptacles on hand as well as bar wipes for the messes that will always occur!
  • When planning a specialty drink, ensure there is at least one glass per person as everyone will want to try it!

The Food

It goes without saying that you NEVER want to run out of food.

  • When planning a cocktail party that takes place over the dinner hour, budget for at least 8 pieces of hors d’oeuvres per person.
  • When planning a pre-dinner cocktail event, 3 to 4 pieces of hors d’oeuvres per person will suffice.
  • A sit-down meal can never really run out of food unless a greater number of guests turn up for the event.
  • Buffets are a little trickier to plan, as guests will pick a little bit of each item and not a whole portion, so caterers send partial portions of each item per person.
  • If there are shrimp items on the buffet, plan for at least 3 pieces per person!
  • Your caterer will ask for the duration of your event to ensure sufficient food quantities.
  • Remember, your caterer does not want to run out of food at your event either, as it reflects on their reputation.

The Beverages

For some people, the food is the highlight of an event, for others a well-stocked bar will suffice! Planning a fully-stocked bar for a full evening event (for example, a cocktail reception with a dinner meal) is tricky, but the following guidelines can make it a little simpler:

  • On average, guests will consume 3 to 6 alcoholic beverages per full evening. But that said, as you never really know what your guests will drink, you should have more on hand “just in case.”
  • For an all-evening event, you should plan on ordering ½ bottle of wine per person, along with one bottle of beer per person, and one ounce of liquor per person per hour of the event.
  • Should you be serving martinis or specialty cocktails, assume 1.5 ounces per person per hour.
  • Ensure lots of mineral water (sparkling and flat), as well as the requisite mixes for the hard liquor you are providing.
  • Bar garnish should always be in abundance
  • Don’t forget the ice (4 x 26lb bags per 100 guests, and double it in the summertime!)
  • It is always better to go higher with your liquor purchase, as you can return unopened, undamaged bottles to the Government Liquor Store for full credit.

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Blustone - Food - 08.25.08 - 24