How to Cater a Party for 50


how to cater a party for 50

When you have a guest list of 50 people, it becomes a real catering event. If you have never provided food for such a large party before, it’s important to make sure you have all the necessary details in place. But with a little know-how about how to cater, coupled with the proper planning, you can keep everything running smoothly for total guest satisfaction.

In this article you will learn:
  • The quantities of beverages, food and drink you will need
  • How to reduce the burden of preparation by making certain dishes on site
  • Everything you need to transport your food and drink
  • How to alter your preparations if you will be catering outside

Determining Food and Beverage Quantities

Finding the right balance of how much food and beverage to provide for a large party can seem nerve wracking at first. But with some careful planning and a handy chart to use as a resource, you can find just the right amount of items to prepare for the party. Most food and drink menu items are measured in ounces, quarts or gallons, while others are typically measured and consumed in pieces or drinks.

Items Measured by the Each


Alcoholic drinks are measured by the drink rather than by the ounce. This is because 8 ounces of liquor is significantly more alcohol than 8 ounces of beer, and people usually alter their drinking quantities accordingly.

Appetizers and Bread

Appetizers and bread are also measured by the piece.  Caterers rarely measure these in ounces, as an ounce of cheese is substantially different than an ounce of bread.

Items Measured by the Ounce

Main Course

To ensure there is enough fruit, meat and main entree sides it’s best to measure them all out prior to preparation. For example, make sure you have at least 5 ounces of meat per person before cooking the meat, as the weight will begin to change once it is cooked.

Calculating Food Amounts for 50 Guests

The amount of food needed for any party depends on a variety of factors. These biggest factor to consider is the type of guest being catered to. For example, a group of football players will eat significantly more food than a party for the Red Hat Society.

However, for a baseline measurement the following chart lists out the typical quantities for a two-hour duration:

 Two-Hour Party Food Planner for 50 People

Calculating the Amount of Food Needed for 50 People

Calculating Beverage Amounts for 50 Guests

As with food, the amount and type of beverages you need will  depend on who is attending the event or party. If you are catering a New Year’s Eve party, you may need extra champagne and alcohol. If, however, you are catering a party for children, you would need to plan on providing other special beverage options like chocolate milk or juice boxes.

The following chart can assist in determining the amount of drinks needed for a two-hour party:

Two-Hour Party Beverage Planner for 50 People

catering beverage amounts

If your party is planned for longer than two hours, plan on serving proportionally more drinks and appetizers. The amount of entrées and desserts should remain about the same.

Preparing Food On-Site

In general, the more food you can prepare ahead of time, the easier the service at the event. However, there are many reasons to prepare certain menu items onsite. Some dishes, such as steak, fish or most fried foods, do not hold and transport well, since they will likely become overcooked in a warmer or grow soggy in a container. In other cases, you may want to prepare on-site to engage attendees and diners, or to save on labor costs.

Here are some ideas for preparing menu items on-site:

  • Exhibition cooking. Sushi rolling, pizza tossing, flambé, teppanyaki cooking and other exhibition cooking styles can provide extra entertainment at an event. It also ensures that the food is served fresh and hot, and can help save on food costs since dishes can be made to order, reducing waste. Invest in the following to help pull off some exhibition cooking:
  • On-site grilling and smoking. Use outdoor grillstailgate grills or outdoor charbroilers to grill on-site at your event. For hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, fish and steaks, you can start grilling about 30 minutes before the event. For slow smoking of ribs, chicken, wings and other barbecue, get started very early in the day or even the night before.
  • Do-it-yourself desserts. Save on labor by offering dessert stations where event attendees can create their own desserts. The classic make-your-own dessert station is a chocolate fountain displayed alongside dippers. Dippers can include fresh fruit, cake or brownie pieces, pretzels and more. Other successful do-it-yourself dessert stations include ice cream stations, where diners can add their favorite toppings, or cake and cupcake decorating stations where guests can add their own sprinkles, fresh fruit, chocolate chips and frostings to personalize their cakes.

Storage and Transportation

Plan on bringing 12 or more full-size food pans filled with food. To keep the food in these pans cool, you will need to bring between eight and 12 top-loaded food carriers, or about four front-loaded food carriers. Each carrier should be used for either hot food or cold food, but never for both. Additionally, you may want to bring warmer and chiller packs to help keep your food cold or hot for a longer period of time, especially if the venue is at a far distance from the kitchen where you will be preparing the food.

For transporting your beverages, a 5 gallon beverage carrier will come in handy for each type of beverage served. If the event is only providing one cold, non-alcoholic drink, then you should only need one 10 gallon beverage carrier for the whole party.

Buffet Service

One buffet will easily service 50 people. For ease and portability, the buffet can be set up on a skirted 6- to 8-ft banquet table. For full-service catering, bring beverage tubs or beverage dispenserschafing dishes and reusable catering dinnerware. For drop-off catering, bring aluminum food containers, disposable table linens and disposable party tableware, since you will not be able to return to pick up your buffet ware.

Catering Outdoors

When catering outside for a picnic or outdoor party, you’ll need some specialty items to ensure that all health and fire codes are met and that none of your equipment or supplies will become damaged.

Here are some extra items you can bring for outdoor catering:

  • Event tent. An event tent will allow you to shelter the buffet, dining area and kitchen at an outdoor event. This is especially important if you will be creating a temporary outdoor kitchen or if no shelter is available at the event location.
  • Ice caddy. An ice caddy lets you to keep ice cold for long periods of time, even in the hot sun.
  • Portable hand sink. If there is no outdoor hand sink available at the event location, a portable hand sink must be used to meet most health codes.
  • Tailgate grill. The portable grills can be driven straight to the venue site.
  • Electric chafing stoves. For outdoor areas with open-flame restrictions, round or rectangular chafing stoves should be use in place of gas chafing fuel.
  • Chocolate fountain wind guards. If you will be using a chocolate fountain on a windy day, a chocolate fountain wind guard must be used to ensure that the chocolate will not blow sideways and spill outside of the fountain bowl.

These guidelines will help you cater a party for 50 people without running out of food and drink or encountering unexpected obstacles. By following these tips, you may have some food and beverage left over, but in a pinch you will be able to accommodate extra guests or diners that are hungrier or eat more than expected.

Visit our Catering Specialty Store for everything on your checklist.

Planning a Party for 50


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  1. Christine Gangi on

    My husband and would like to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary with our friends (about 50 guests) .
    I have no clue where to start.

    • I Love To Plan on

      First decide if you want appetizers, cocktails and a custom cake. Or chicken, green beans, Mac n cheese, salad, dinner rolls, punch and a cake. Or steak, lobster, baked potato, salad, dinner rolls, punch and cake. Do you want buffet or family style. Decide what time of day you want your event such as during brunch, lunch, dinner or even a dessert, coffee and tea after 7pm event. Where guests come and sample an array of desserts. Very important to plan ahead so that your not too stressed to enjoy your event. Also consider if kids will be allowed, if so consider food for them like chicken tenders, fruit, chips etc.. Then the music, photographer or disposable cameras for each table, color scheme decorations from simple to lavish. You can never go wrong with fresh flowers on each table and candles….. Hope this helps a little.

      • Nicole Castellano
        Nicole Castellano on

        These sounds like some great ideas! We love when our customers/followers collaborate on ideas. Good luck with your party Christine.

  2. Planing and 80th birthday party for around 50 people… I have no idea on quantities of food. I am thinking of pulled pork BBQ sandwiches (30-40 lbs of meat?) and 3 salads… Fruit salad, marinated antipasto salad and pasta salad… how much of each salad and is that enough meat?

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