Appropriate ratios for food stations / catering?
I am planning a family dinner celebration /function at a hotel and am going to be ordering food. I am trying to cut down on costs. We're very interested in doing food stations and would like to know if you get away without doing a 1:1 order per person if you're offering different things (e.g., pasta, sushi, cocktail sized meats, salads, hor dour'ves)?
For example, if you have 100 people, should you provide 100 orders of everything? Or can you cut down and do 80 orders?
Any other chowhounds out there have experience in this area? I'd like to see what others think vs. what caterers are telling us.
This topic will probably be moved to General Chowhound Topics, but I'll reply here anyway.
I work for a catering company that does very large events, all business oriented (meaning, no weddings or bar mitzvahs). As a general rule, yes, you should order 1 serving (or piece) of everything on your menu...BUT! There are several factors that could change that ratio for you.
The first factor is, of course, the menu itself. If you keep the menu simple (i.e. a traditional dinner with 1 salad, 1 protein, 1 starch, 1 veg, 1 dessert) then most definitely one per person. If you expand the menu (2 salads, 2 different entrees such as chicken and fish, 2 different starches, 2 different veggies) then you should do about 1.5 servings total of each type (salad, entree, starch, veg).
If you do stations, and again, you have lots of choices, then you could do less of each item. 80% of each item would be fine. You will have to work with the hotel catering person and make sure it is understood what the quantities of each item will be.
Another important consideration is the time of day, and how long the function will be. If the function is held during a "traditional" dinner hour, say from 5:30 to 7:30, expect people to be hungrier than if the function starts later, at 6:30 or 7 pm.
It is also important to find out what the portion sizes will be, and if the stations are "action" stations, i.e. with a chef preparing the pasta to order or not, with precooked pasta in chafing dishes. A pasta chef will take more time to serve and the consumption will be lower. If you are going to do sushi, it will be helpful to know if the guests are sushi eaters or not--I have seen people consume platefuls of sushi and ignore everything else. If you have a sushi chef, again, that will slow down the consumption.
If you are doing hors d'oeuvres separate from the dinner service, consider the timing of that reception. 4-6 pieces per person is a fair number if dinner is served right afterwards. 6-8 pieces is more generous but you could keep the items lighter (less meat, more veggie based, nothing too doughy like quiche or anything with puff pastry).
The final menu should have a good balance of tastes and textures. Make sure you don't repeat ingredients too much (i.e. cheese or cream in every course as I once made that mistake early in my career!) and it will be a lovely gathering.
For hors d'oeuvres I do 1.5 pieces of each choice per person, and the same for sushi, but you can request that the maki be sliced thinner than usual. For stationary items, you have to guess what's going to be most popular and go heavier there. The hotel should be able to help with that, but for salads, pastas, entree stations, etc, I wouldn't go with more that 80 portions of the most popular and 60 of the least. Some people will have both and some one or the other, but I've done this a lot - probably catered to nearly 100,000 people in functions over the years, and I've never run out of food while making less than seemed necessary.