Every time we get a question about "how much X should I make for N people?" we go through the same dance with clarifications: what's the full menu? what kind of people are you serving to? Then we tend to supply a vague answer, with details depending on who took the time to answer on this occasion.

Is it feasible to write a generic question to cover some of the main things here? Some of the most common things are meat/fish or starches as main dishes, and various sides. Presumably we'd have ranges, to cover the gamut from not-too-hungry mixed crowds to ravenous teenagers after a hike.

It seems reasonably possible, since there are rough tables for this kind of thing all over the internet. And if we had it, we could redirect plenty of questions to it, sometimes as-is, sometimes with little notes about adjustments for the OP's specific situation.

I'd certainly be happy to hand out a bounty for a really solid answer!

  • I'd love to see it.
    – Jolenealaska Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 4:36
  • This would be great. We don't get many of these questions (not like the "is this still safe" questions) but we get them often enough and they tend to attract answers that focus only on "official" portion sizing rather than "realistic" portions... so they're not as helpful. Often, people looking for this info are in a hurry, so having a quick dupe for them would be really nice.
    – Catija
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:16

1 Answer 1


I like the idea very much, had even thought of starting such a canonical question a few weeks ago when we saw the last such question.

I find this type of question problematic for us. The way it functions in the mind of the first-time-caterer seems to be "I get the appropriate portion size X per person (which only depends on the food I am preparing), mutliply it by the number of people, maybe add a portion or two to account for unexpected seconds, and I'm good to go." So they come here and drop us 2 lines asking for the correct value of X.

This whole idea is flawed. There is no nice value of X, there is an incredibly wide range of X, and any educated guess to reduce the range will require information which they never thought to share with us.

Writing this whole thing up, and addressing the flaws in their thought process is tedious work. It is roughly the same text for each instance, no matter if they are asking for the correct X for noodles or the correct X for hamburger patties. So I can understand it when nobody cares to do it again and again and again. Sometimes people hazard a guess, but it is not too specific, and it can't be.

This makes the topic an excellent "canonical question" candidate where new questions are closed as duplicates and askers are redirected to find out not why they are framing the question wrong. If they understand that, they will be helped better than if they just ask their questions and they stay open - but get no satisfactory answers because what they asked for does not exist in that form.

  • I wonder if any of the existing questions/answers has a strong enough answer to be co-opted as a base question...
    – Catija
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:15
  • To be clear, I'm suggesting giving useful ranges, not just telling people it's impossible; caterers do this all the time.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:26
  • @Catija no, not one that can be used without changes, although there are useful bits. I have looked through them last time.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:30
  • @Jefromi maybe I expressed myself wrong. It is not impossible to give ranges, but it is impossible to give a point estimate that it useful, and the ranges are so broad that they only become useful after taking additional information into account ("am I feeding ballerinas or lumberjacks") which is rather independent of the food type - and this information seems to be highly surprising to the askers.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:32
  • I think while the full range is large, an awful lot of people are either serving average adults or average families. It's really just not that common to end up catering for less typical groups, and extremely common to cater for family gatherings, office events, and so on . So by focusing too much on the extremes, we risk avoid helping people with the typical cases.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:47
  • We could pretty easily give a middle number and then give numbers for a "ladies only" group and "college students" to give a range. My guess is that amount will depend less the larger the group is. And any answer should start with a disclaimer that even professional catering companies have leftovers because you always allow for overage. Too much food is always better than insufficient amounts.
    – Catija
    Jan 12, 2017 at 15:57
  • Yup, what Catija said, or alternatively, give average values and an amount to adjust by for various things. The key is that someone needs to be able to read it, think of the main ways their situation differs from average, account for them, and end up with actual numbers. If they can't, we shouldn't be dup-closing.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 16:07
  • I think this comment brought the answer into the wrong direction - I just didn't plan to write the full answer to the canonical question here. I was not suggesting that we focus on the extremes. And yet the "average" range is also very wide. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to pinpoint it as best we can. It just means that the answer to the canonical question will not be what the OP expects, and that's the whole reason why having a canonical question is a good idea.
    – rumtscho Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 17:13
  • I'm not suggesting writing the answer here, I'm just responding to things like "incredibly wide range of X" and "addressing the flaws in their thought process" - it sounded like you were suggesting writing an answer to explain to people that they can't get an answer, while I'm hoping for us to write an answer that explains why it's hard and what they need to think about, then still gets them an answer based on that. Sorry if I misunderstood.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 19:57
  • Luckily, it is up to the community to provide an answer, not to those discussing the meta question, so we don't have to create the answer here and now :) I think I imagined the same thing as you - "explains why it's hard and what they need to think about". For me, this is the opposite of the answer they have come here for, which would have been on the lines of "cook 115 g of meat per person, plus 5% extra portions for seconds".
    – rumtscho Mod
    Jan 12, 2017 at 20:03

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