How Much Food and Drink Do You Need at Your Wedding?

A table setting at a wedding with blue accents.

There’s a lot to look forward to at a wedding, but food and an open bar always seem to be the focus of the guests’ attention. So, both the menu and the supply is extra important when planning your special day. After all, no one wants their guests to leave thirsty or hungry, right?

In an ideal world, you would likely stock up on food and drinks to the max. Unfortunately, budget is often an issue for newlyweds-to-be, so this is usually not realistic. And unless you’ve hosted a large gathering before, you may be unsure of how much to buy. Some caterers will walk you through the estimation process, but if you’re organizing things yourself, the following info will give you a better idea.

Know Your Numbers

First things first; you need to estimate how many people will show up, which isn’t as easy as “I’m inviting X amount of guests to my wedding.” In most cases, you will be dealing with caterers long before you know the final attendee list, and that can make things confusing.

On average, you should expect some people to decline your invitation. For larger events, usually 75% respond “yes” to an RSVP. However, smaller weddings may have a more accurate count.

Though unlikely, you might also have “surprise guests”—either someone brought an unexpected plus-one or your declined invitees may suddenly have a change of heart.

Last but not least, you should expect to feed all your vendors and staff who will be working on-site. This is very important, so make sure you account for them in your order.

Drinks

Champagne glasses on a table at a wedding reception.

With bottled liquor, it’s safe to say overestimating won’t be a problem. After all, you can take home what you don’t use. You’ll drink it eventually, right? The same goes for shelf-stable juices and soft drinks.

But if you’re picky about getting the numbers exact, know that one bottle of wine or champagne will yield about five standard glasses. You should expect to serve at least one glass of bubbly for the toast per person, and one bottle of wine per person. Don’t worry if you know some guests will drink more, because others might not drink at all. As for the after-dinner drinks, you should base that on what you can afford and how long the event lasts. About two to three drinks per person is a good minimum.

Light Bites

Small tacos at a wedding reception.

If you’re hosting a more casual gathering with finger foods, the math can be mind-boggling. For a 90-minute cocktail reception prior to a sit-down meal, estimate about three to five bite-size servings per person at least.

However, if you’re having a tapas-style affair in lieu of a full dinner, plan to have at least five to eight plates per person, depending on how large and filing they are.

And in addition to a cocktail hour, it’s wise to have some snacks available after dinner in case your party runs late. Your tipsier guests will appreciate it!

Food

For a standard three-course menu, estimate about six to eight ounces of each serving per person for the main entree and side dishes, about one cup of salad, two rolls of bread, and one slice of cake. If you’re serving multiple courses, take the servings down to four to six ounces per person.

With buffets, it’s a bit tricky. It’s really easy to get into that “all-you-can-eat” mindset, so people will likely serve themselves 10% more than what they normally do. Hence, it’s better to overestimate. The same goes for family-style dishes.

How much of what to serve will depend on your day-of program. For example, if you’re having a cocktail hour with finger food prior to the reception dinner, you will naturally serve less food for the main meal.

Things Worth Noting

Unless you’re having a really large wedding, it’s best to stay close to the headcount. Worst case scenario, make plans so the extra meals won’t go to waste, such as giving the leftovers to any guest who wants to take something home. If budget and food waste won’t be an issue, plan by the original numbers and add 10% to account for any surprises.

If possible, inquire with your caterer or supplier if you can reduce your order closer to the date. If so, order exactly how much you will need and then revise it later.

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