Cooking for Large Groups

Cooking for Large Groups is Different than Planning a Small Gathering,

Lots of Tips and Charts to Help You Feed a Crowd and Stop the Hair-Pulling

One of these things is not like the others.

Yep, cooking for large groups is altogether different than throwing a small dinner or cocktail party. It takes more time, more money, more space and more or bigger pots and pans, not to mention more food.

First and foremost, though...

... cooking for crowds takes more planning; it's all about planning, organizing, and making detailed lists.

  • Start planning as far ahead as possible, listing everything from budget, menu, and schedule to how many pots and cake pans you're going to need, and where to find them.
  • The larger the crowd, the simpler the menu. Purchase, rather than prepare, dinner rolls, salad mix and salad dressing, butter chips, etc.
  • If the event will not be in your home, list every last item you will need to transport, right down to dish towels and containers for leftovers. (Think plastic tubs, laundry baskets, and keeping the lighter fluid far away from the food.)

At the heart of cooking for large groups is determining how much food you will need.

Start with the amounts on the food-planning charts, below, then factor in the age of the guests, the time, day, and length of the party, and a dash of common sense.

  • Teenagers eat 30-40% more food than average, while seniors typically eat less but want to take dessert home. (Bring plastic wrap.)
  • Make more of super-well-liked dishes, less of others. When serving 2 or more salads, for instance, remember that potato salad wins out over fruit salad every time (unless my daughter-in-law is in attendance.)
  • An ear of corn does not a meal make. The individual quantities listed will not feed a crowd dinner if you serve only the one item. Round out the menu with a variety of dishes, an entree, a side dish, a salad, dessert and beverages, for instance, and figure about a pound of food (without bones and cobs) per person plus dessert and beverages.

Check out the large quantity recipes page for some more great food-planning tips.

Food Planning Guides for Large Groups

And I emphasize guides, not absolutes. Each chart is figured for an average, 3-hour long party of 50 people and includes enough for typical seconds.

  • Multiply or halve the figures for your size crowd, as necessary. Use your best judgment factoring in the variables.
  • If you don't see the exact item(s) you're looking for, use the amounts listed for a similar food.
  • Check the charts for whether the amounts listed are for cooked or precooked foods.


Description Per Person For 50
Preceding a meal,
4 or more varieties
6 to 8 300 to 400 total
Appetizers only, no meal
6 or more varieties
12 to 15 600 to 750 total
That's a lot of appetizers! Supplement with easier-to-make dips and spreads, figuring 1 ounce = 1 appetizer.
Cheese: cubed, sliced, in logs or spreads 3 to 4 ounces 10 to 13 pounds
Crackers and/or Bread -- 4 pounds
Assorted Fruits or Crudités,
cut or trimmed
2 to 3 ounces 6 to 8 pounds
How about a Wine, Cheese and Fruit Party?


Description Per Person For 50
Pre-cooked food quantities
13" x 9" x 2" dishes
(12 servings)
-- 5 to 6
Pasta with Sauce 1-1/2 cups 5 to 6 pounds pasta (dry weight)
and 2 to 2 1/2 gallons sauce
Thick sauce? Opt for the greater amount.
Boneless Beef,
Pork, or Lamb
5 to 6 ounces 16 to 19 pounds
Ground Meats
for burgers, meatballs, meatloaf, etc.,
plus fillers
5 to 6 ounces 16 to 19 pounds
Hotdogs, Bratwurst, Sausages 1 to 2 75 to 100
(@ 16 pounds)
Ribs, bone-in
(baby back, spareribs, short ribs)
1 pound 50 pounds
Roasts, boneless
beef, pork, lamb, ham
8 ounces 25 pounds
Roasts, bone-in
beef, pork, lamb, ham
1 pound 50 pounds
Steak, Pork Chops, Leg of Lamb, bone-in 6 to 8 ounces 50 to 60
(6 to 8-ounce)
steaks or chops
Chicken, Turkey or Duck Meat, boneless 8 ounces 25 pounds
Chicken Pieces, bone-in

    Thighs and legs

    Wings, whole

2 pieces

3 pieces

100 pieces
(40 to 45 pounds)

150 pieces
(40 to 45 pounds)
Chicken Breasts, (halves)
boneless, skinless
(6 to 8-ounce) breasts
(6 to 8-ounce breasts)
Chicken, Turkey or Duck, whole 1 pound 50 pounds
Shelled Crab, Lobster or Shrimp Meat, Scallops 5 ounces 16 pounds
Crab or Lobster, in shell
1-1/2 to 2 pounds each
1 50
Shrimp, large, in-shell 5 to 7 18 to 21 pounds
Clams and Oysters 6 300 pieces
Mussels 12 600 pieces
Fish Fillets or Steaks 6 to 8 ounces 50 (6 to 8-ounce
fillets or steaks)
Whole Fish, cleaned 8 to 10 ounces 25 to 30 pounds
Main Dish Soups and Salads
Chili or Stew 5 to 6 ounces 16 to 19 pounds
Soup 1-1/2 to 2 cups 5 gallons
Gumbo 1-1/2 cups 4 gallons +
3-1/2 pounds rice
(dry weight)
Salads (Chef, Seafood, etc.) 1-1/2 to 2 cups 5 gallons

Sides and Salads

Description Per Person For 50
Quantities below are for cooked or prepared foods.
Vegetables, cut, such as green beans, cauliflower, corn kernels carrots, asparagus spears) 3 to 4 ounces 10 pounds
Corn on the cob, broken in half 1 ear 45 ears
Potatoes and Yams 1 medium
or 3 to 4 ounces
12 pounds
Scalloped Potatoes 3 to 4 ounces 5 9" x 13" x 2" dishes
Baked Beans 3 to 4 ounces 1-1/2 gallons
Pasta Dishes 2 to 3 ounces 7 to 9 pounds
Rice 1-1/2 to 2 ounces 5 to 6 pounds
Side Salads
Green Salad 3 ounces 7 to 8 heads of iceberg or romaine lettuce
or 12 heads of butter or red leaf lettuce
4 cups of croutons
8 cups of dressing
Caesar Salad 3 ounces 8 heads romaine lettuce
8 cups Caesar dressing
2 1/2 pounds shredded Parmesan cheese
5 cups croutons
Potato Salad or Macaroni Salad 4 to 5 ounces 14 to 16 pounds
or 2 gallons
Fruit Salad 3 ounces 1-1/2 gallons
Coleslaw 3 or 4 ounces 1-1/2 to 2 gallons
3 medium cabbages plus dressing and fixings
Self-served salads? Make a little extra dressing for all the "whoops, too much" to come.


Description Per Person For 50
Dinner Rolls 1-1/2 75 / 7 dozen
French Bread 1-1/2 1" slices 4 18" loaves
Cornbread 1 3" wedge or square 6 to 7 8" rounds
or 5 13" x 9" x 2" pans
Butter -- 2-1/2 pounds


Description Per Person For 50
Coffee, 3-Hour-Party 3 5-ounce cups 3 pounds coffee (15 cups)
7 gallons filtered water
3 pints (6 cups) cream, half-and-half or milk
6 cups sugar
200 packets sugar substitute

Tea: @ 30 servings
Breakfast / Brunch Coffee
(1-1/2 to 2-hour party)
1 to 2 5-ounce cups 1-1/2 pounds coffee (7 1/2 cups)
3-1/2 gallons filtered water
3 cups cream, half-and-half or milk
3 cups sugar
100 packets sugar substitute

Tea: 15 to 20 servings>
After-Dinner Coffee 1 5-ounce cup 1 pound coffee (5 cups)
2 gallons plus 1 quart filtered water
2 cups cream, half-and-half or milk
2 cups sugar
75 packets sugar substitute

Tea: 10 to 15 servings
(1-1/2 to 2-hour party)
1 to 2 5-ounce servings 2 to 4 gallons
Punch 3 to 5 4-ounce servings 5 to 8 gallons
Lemonade, Iced Tea, etc. 2 to 3 8-ounce servings 6 to 9 gallons
Soft Drinks 2 to 3 8-ounce servings
2 to 3 12-ounce cans
12 to 18 2-liter bottles

100 to 150 12-ounce cans (expect some waste)
Beer 3 to 5 12-ounce servings 150 to 250 bottles
6 to 10 cases
(24 bottles each)
Considering a keg? A keg (half barrel) holds 15 1/2 gallons, 165 servings. A pony keg holds 7 1/2 gallons, 80 servings. Tip: Sitting your keg in a large bucket or metal tub and filling it with ice keeps the beer cold, the spills and foam off the floor.
Champagne 3 to 5 4-ounce glasses 25 to 42 750 ml bottles
Wine 3 to 5 5-ounce glasses 30 to 50 750 ml bottles
Cocktails 4*, with 1-1/2 ounces spirits each 13 750 ml bottles or 9 liters hard liquor plus mixers
* Figure 2 drinks per person for the first hour and 1 drink per person per hour after that.
Ice 2 pounds 100 pounds
Less if everything is well chilled, more if making frozen drinks, filling coolers, or in hot weather.
* Liquor Tip: Ask your merchant if you can return any unopened bottles; if so, order extra.)
How to Stock a Bar


Description Per Person For 50
Cake, layered 1 slice 4 8" or 9" cakes
Sheet Cakes 1 2" x 2" piece 1/2 sheet cake or more*
*Judgment call: a half sheet cake (11" x 15") is about 40 servings, probably enough because many skip dessert; the next size up, a full sheet cake, (18" x 24") is over 100 servings. Your call.
Brownies 1-1/2 pieces 6 to 7 dozen 2" x 2" brownies
Cookies 1 to 2 6 to 8 dozen
Pie 1 3" wedge 5 to 6 9" pies
Cobbler 1 cup 4 to 5 9" x 9" x 2" pans
Cheesecake 1 2" wedge 4 to 5 9" cheesecakes
Pudding 1 cup 6 to 8 ounces
Ice Cream 1 cup 3 gallons


Description Per Host For Your Guests
Not enough food, drinks or ice One "yikes" moment 1 quick trip to the store and 1 gallon of gas
Err on the side of caution. A little too much is just enough.

Credits: Do It for Less Parties, Cooking for Crowds for Dummies, Cooking for a Crowd, Perfect Parties, and

More "Cooking for Large Groups": Large Quantity Recipes

Back to Food Planning for Smaller Parties

How to Stock a Bar

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