Ask an Event Planner…How Much Food and Beverage Should I Cater for my Event?

If you’re not already an expert in food and beverage catering, deciding how much of the stuff you should order for a corporate breakfast function, networking cocktail party or 40th birthday bash, can be a bit of a mind boggle. How much do people eat? How fast do they drink? How many bar staff do you need to make sure the line’s not three-people deep? Get it wrong and you could end up with hungry, thirsty guests, or go the other direction, with enough food left over at the end to feed a small army. Here are our tips for making sure your event runs smoothly in terms of feeding and watering your guests…

Understand guarantees and oversets

The number of meals you want to order and will be charged for will need to be relayed to the venue 48 to 72 business hours prior to the event, this is the guarantee. The overset amount is the percentage of extra meals the venue will have on hand. This varies from venue to venue but is usually between 0% and 5%, averaging at 3%, meaning that in general, for every 100 meals confirmed, there will be 3 meals back up for any extra guests who turn up.


Breakfast events

Once you’ve got your guest list down, you can start to think about how much each person is going to consume. In general for breakfast functions, consumption of hot beverages goes like this: 70% of attendees will drink coffee, 20% decaf, and 10% tea. If you allocate two cups per person, and there are roughly 16 cups in a gallon, then you can get an estimate of how much tea/coffee you will need to guarantee. In terms of food, breakfast tends to be buffet style whether continental or hot, and after taking into account the no-shows and people not eating, we’d guarantee food for 80% of the attendees. If attendance goes above, the overset will generally cover this.


Formal sit-down events

For these we’d estimate 90% attendance, with oversets covering any extras. Remember that on-site kitchens may be more easily able to cover any additional meals, whereas off-site events  will have difficulty whipping up three extra dinners out of thin air…





If you’re not planning a sit down meal and instead satiating your guests with appetisers, you should cater for 10-15 per person for a 2-3 hour event, 8-12 for an event lasting two hours, and 3-7 for a quick one hour reception. If the canapés are just an entrée, as a pre-cursor to dinner, you can plan for 3-5 per person.



Whereas 50% of attendees will make use of a cash bar at an event, 75% will take advantage of a bar tab/beverage package (wahoo freebies). If you’re organising a bar tab or beverage package, you can estimate 2.5 drinks per person, per hour (there are 5 standard glasses of wine in a bottle). If hosting a seated dinner, you can allocate half a bottle per person.


Know your audience and your budget

While all the above is a general guideline, it is important to take into account the type of event you are organising and the type of audience you are catering to. Whether this is a social function or a corporate one, whether the budget is big or small, you can liaise with the catering company to give you advice on what best suits your event and sticks within your budget. We’ve catered to events big and small and can help you with what will work best for you, so ask away!


Check out the Royal Exchange of Sydney, one of the CBD's leading event spaces available for hire. They have heaps of experience in catering for functions  whether corporate or social. Contact them at for more information.

Kiran Bains