How to Cater a Small Party of 25


Whether you are just starting your business or simply want to cater a friend’s get-together, a little help goes a long way when it comes to catering a small party. From how much food to prep to deciding whether or not you’re cooking onsite, if you follow these catering tips we’re sure your party will go off without a hitch.

How Much Food and Drink You Need

For those who have never thrown a party before, it can be very difficult to decide how much food and drink to provide. The truth is, it depends on a lot of factors. These can include gender and age of the guests, what type meal is being served, and  how long the event lasts. However, this chart provides a great starting point.

Determining Food Quantities

Here’s what you would need if you were catering a two-hour event.

Breakfast/BrunchLunchDinner Cocktail Party
Hors D’oeuvres50 pieces100 pieces150 pieces313 pieces
Main Courses125 oz150 oz175 ozn/a
Sides250 oz250 oz438 ozn/a
Fresh Fruit113 oz113 oz113 oz113 oz
Rolls, Bread or Pastries50 pieces38 pieces38 piecesn/a
Dessertn/a38 pieces38 piecesn/a

Determining Drink Quantities

As long as the party lasts at least two hours, you can determine your drink quantities with this chart. Alcoholic beverages are measured by the the drink number instead of ounces. A drink can be considered a bottle of beer, a cocktail, or a shot and people generally measure their alcoholic intake by the number of drinks they’ve had.

Breakfast/Brunch Lunch Dinner Cocktail Party
Water, Lemonade, Soda and/or Tea800 oz800 oz800 oz800 oz
Coffee400 oz308 oz308 ozn/a
Alcoholic Drinks75 drinks75 drinks100 drinks150 drinks
Ice38 lbs38 lbs38 lbs75 lbs

If you are feeding lunch to children or a people with small appetites, you probably won’t need that much food. On the other hand, if you are catering a fraternity party, you will most likely need significantly more food and alcohol.

On-Site Preparation

Because you are only catering for 25 people, you have the ability to do a large amount of the preparation and on-site cooking. Look at you, making things easier on yourself!

Grill On-Site

If the party is being held outdoors consider grilling entrees and side dishes like chicken, pork or even pineapple right on-the-spot. You can accomplish this with either an outdoor charbroiler or outdoor grill.

Make Desserts On-Site

Give the party attendees the chance to choose their own dessert ingredients and build it themselves. Here are some ideas for on-site desserts:

  • Cake decorating. Bring an assortment of cakes, such as chocolate, angel food and red velvet, and encourage diners to choose their own frosting and toppings. Bring a variety of frostings and disposable knives they can use to ice their cakes. Offer sprinkles, whipped cream, fondant decorations, fruit and other sweet items.
  • Ice cream station. Ice cream tubs can be kept in insulated food carriers or coolers full of ice or cold packs for up to two hours, or even longer if the cooler is well-insulated. Of course, the ice cream can last even longer if you have access to a freezer at the event site. Diners can build their own ice cream dish by adding fruit such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries and apples, and their own toppings, like whipped cream, M&Ms, chopped nuts, chocolate sauce and caramel.
  • Dippers and a fountain. You can purchase a small chocolate fountain that can accommodate 25 people for about $65. Use either a 4-lb chocolate fountain or a 6-lb chocolate fountain. A chocolate fountain party pack is also available.

Transporting the Food

How many coolers or food carriers you need depends on how much of your food needs to remain cool or hot for an extended period of time. You will probably need to bring at least six full-size food pans worth of food, so use four to six top-loaded food carriers or coolers, or two front- or end-loaded half-size food carriers. Make sure that each food carrier or cooler is used for hot food or cold food, but not for both at once.

Other products that will make sure your food stays at the right temperature include:

  • Thermo-insulators. A thermo-insulator, or thermo-barrier, is a thick, flat sheet of plastic that you slide between food pans to help provide added insulation.
  • Cold packs. The cold packs should be kept in the carrier or cooler used for cold food to help keep the food at a safe, cold temperature.
  • Thermo packs. Add one or more pre-heated thermo packs to the food carrier you are using to transport your hot food to keep it warm for longer.

For transporting your beverages, you will probably need a beverage carrier with at least a 2 ½ gallon capacity for each type of drink you are bringing. If you are planning to serve only one cold, non-alcoholic beverage (like water or lemonade,) you will need a 5 gallon beverage carrier to transport it all.

Setting up the Buffet

Bring along one rectangular banquet table at least six feet long, and table linens for the buffet table. Because you are serving a small amount of people, one buffet should work great. You will probably need one chafing dish for each hot food item you’ll serve. In most cases, no more than three chafing dishes are needed, but use your discretion. The rest of your items can be served in aluminum food containers or serving bowls.

Outdoor Parties and Picnics

If you are catering an outdoor party or picnic at a park, there is a good chance that you will not have access to refrigeration and handwashing equipment. There are a few extra things you can use to pull off the event:

  • Portable hand-washing station. You can invest in a portable hand sink with a water tank to provide hand-washing on-site. If you cannot afford such a sink, bring along a high-capacity beverage dispenser or beverage carrier that holds at least 5 gallons of water. You can use it to dispense fresh, clean water for hand-washing. Use biodegradable soap, or use a bucket to catch the water.
  • Ice caddy. If you will be serving ice along with beverages at the event, you will probably need to bring the ice along. However, you do not necessarily need a large-capacity commercial ice caddy. You will only need about 1.5 lbs of ice per person, or 3 lbs of ice per adult for a cocktail party, so you will need a cooler or ice caddy that can carry 38-75 lbs of ice.
  • Catering disposables. For outdoor events, hassling with reusable dinnerware, cloth table linens and metal food pans can be time-consuming. Instead, consider using catering disposables, including disposable party tableware, paper or plastic tablecloths and aluminum food containers for the event. You can even use Styrofoam coolers and disposable coffee dispensers, which can be used for other beverages as well, if you need to drop off the food and leave, and will not be able to return to pick up your transport supplies.
  • Tailgate grills. If you want to do some on-site grilling for a picnic, a tailgate grill is the ideal piece of equipment. These grills attach to the back of your car, allowing you to pull up right to the curb of the park or parking lot and grill from the back of your vehicle.
  • Electric chafing stoves. If you are in a dry area of the United States where there is a law against open flames in the parks and forests, and you are planning on providing a full buffet with chafers, you will not be able to use standard chafing fuel. Instead, purchase a couple of electric chafing stoves to convert your chafers into electric-powered warming devices.
  • Wind and sneeze guards. Planning on using a chocolate fountain at an outdoor party? Try to purchase a chocolate fountain wind and sneeze guard to keep the light, liquid chocolate from being blown outside of the fountain and all over your buffet area.

With these simple tips and tricks, you can cater a small party of 25 or so successfully. Don’t forget to let us know how it all went in the comments section.

photo credit: derekbruff via photopin cc


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  1. Thanks so much for your post, I am catering one of my friend’s wedding receptions. It is in an effort to see if I have what it takes go get into the food industry, and if I have the drive to do it for a career. I think it will be good fun, but I realize I need more info on how many people will be coming and if they expect a full dinner or not.

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