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How to Cater a Party for 25

How to Cater a Party for 25

Whether you are beginning your own professional catering business or simply want to cater your own party or a friend’s get-together, you will need a little help finding out exactly what you need to do to cater a party for 25 people. Follow these guidelines to make the event successful.

In this article you will learn:
  • How much food and drink you need
  • What you can prepare on site
  • How to transport the food and beverages
  • What extra equipment and supplies you will need to cater an outdoor picnic

Catering trays full of bruschetta and relishesHow 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, including the gender and age of the guests, what meal you are serving and how long the event lasts. However, here are some generalized quantities to help you plan for the event:

Determining Food Quantities
Assuming you are throwing an event where the service of food will last about two hours, you can use this chart to determine how much food you will need. Most food items are measured in ounces – however, some items like rolls, appetizers and desserts, are usually eaten and measured in pieces:

  Breakfast/Brunch  Lunch Dinner  Cocktail Party
Hors D'oeuvres 50 pieces  100 pieces  150 pieces  313 pieces 
Main Courses  125 oz  150 oz  175 oz  n/a 
Sides  250 oz  250 oz  438 oz  n/a 
Fresh Fruit  113 oz  113 oz  113 oz  113 oz 
Rolls, Bread or Pastries  50 pieces  38 pieces  38 pieces  n/a 
Dessert  n/a  38 pieces  38 pieces  n/a 

Determining Drink Quantities
As long as your event lasts approximately two hours, you can use this chart to decide how many drinks you will need for your guests. Alcoholic beverages are measured by the number of drinks, because adults will usually gauge their alcohol intake by drinks – such as the number of shots, cocktails or glasses of beer – rather than ounces:

  Breakfast/Brunch  Lunch  Dinner  Cocktail Party 
Water, Lemonade, Soda and/or Tea  800 oz  800 oz  800 oz  800 oz 
Coffee  400 oz  308 oz  308 oz  n/a 
Alcoholic Drinks  75 drinks  75 drinks  100 drinks  150 drinks 
Ice 38 lbs  38 lbs  38 lbs  75 lbs 

Of course, use logic to help you determine whether you have the right quantities of food. Everyone eats differently. If you are feeding lunch to children or a group or runway models, you probably will not need so much food. On the other hand, if you are catering a fraternity party, you will most likely need significantly more food and alcohol. On the other hand, if you are catering a party for kids or for Alcoholic Anonymous members, you will not need any alcohol at all.

On-Site Preparation
Because you are only catering for 25 people, you have the ability to do a large amount of the preparation and cooking on-site. Consider the following:

Hamburgers cooking on a charbroiler
Grill On-Site
If the party is being held outdoors, consider grilling entrees and side dishes, like chicken, pork or even pineapple, to create hot, freshly grilled foods 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:
  • Sprinkling chocolate chips on ice creamCake decorating. Bring an assortment of cakes, such as chocolate, angelfood 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 that can be used as toppings.
  • 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 site of the event. 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. 

Here are some other products that will help you transport your food at safe temperatures:

  • 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.

Portable food barFor 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 is sufficient for the service. You will probably need one chafing dish for each hot food item you will be serving. Usually, only three chafing dishes will be needed. 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 tips, you will pull off your next small affair – whether it is a birthday party, a holiday dinner or a graduation celebration – without any hitches. You will even be able to accommodate extra party crashers or any additional guests that might stop by. Chances are, you will have some food leftover, but this is a small price to pay for your event.
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