how much food to serve big crows for special events

How Much Food to Serve Big Groups

Figuring out how much food to serve big groups for events is a something that always feels like an unknown until you learn the rules!

Over my years of holding the Staff Appreciation chair position for my PTA, I’ve learned how to ballpark how much food to serve for appreciation luncheons and other events.

One note before we get into the specifics: always, always, err on the side of more.

It’s better to have left overs than people leaving hungry and annoyed!

This post will give you specific guidance about exactly how much food you should offer at events for a crowd!

Golden Portion Rule

An overarching rule for portion sizes is to plan for one pound of food per adult and 1/2 pound for kids 12 and under.

If you’re making the food yourself or getting donation from parents, this is a super helpful measurement to share!

Also, when planning a satisfying meal to feed your entire staff, consider what you’ll be serving to gauge how much food to have and make sure to offer both light and heavy options to suit all appetites.


Plan on about 3 slices for women and 4 slices for heavy eaters and men.

Halve that amount for kids.

Having the pizza cut into party squares makes it easier to eat the pizza, but that may mean more pizza is consumed, so if you choose to go the party cut route, up your total order by a pie or two.

Remember, round up when in doubt!


Side salad: Each person will eat about 1 cup (2.5 oz) of the lettuce base and 1/2 cup (4 oz) of the toppings, not counting salad dressing.

For 20 adults, that’s 20 cups (50 oz) of lettuce base 50 ounces and 10 cups (80 oz.) of non-dressing toppings, such as chopped veggies and other salad fixings.

Salad Dressing: Don’t forget the salad dressing and plan on 2 Tablespoons per person, which is 2.5 cups of dressing for 20 people.

For Salads as a main course: Double the amounts of everything.

Consider adding a grain and/or protein option to make the salad more filling.

Quinoa is an easy to make add on that counts both as a grain and protein!

Consider offering nuts, cheese, avocado on the side to round out the salad.

Most kids won’t eat salad, so you’re probably safe leaving them out of the calculation unless it is more of a formal event.


Offering an assortment of dishes for the meal can be a smart approach, especially if you’ll be relying on parent donations for the bulk of the meal.

Here’s how much to have per adult for buffets:

  • Bread / Rolls: 1-2 per person
  • Burritos: 1 per person
  • Fried chicken: 3 pieces per person
  • Fruit: 1/2 cup per person
  • Proteins like pulled chicken, pork or brisket: 4-5 ounces per person
  • Side dishes: 4 ounces per person
  • Skewers + kebabs: 2 per person
  • Subs: 4-6 inches per person
  • Sushi: 8-10 pieces per person
  • Tacos: 2 per person
  • Veggie platter: 6-10 pieces per person

For kids, halve the amounts except for the subs, fruit and bread, depending on the age of the kids.

Older kids will eat more, of course.


The worst is running out of desserts at an event, so plan appropriately!

If you crowd has a sweet tooth, consider offering more than what’s suggested below.

Here are general portion sizes for 20 people:

  • Brownies or crumbles (in a 9″ x 13″ pan): 3-4
  • Cakes: 2-3 layered cakes, slices pre-cut.
  • Cookies: 5-6 dozen
  • Ice Cream: 100 ounces
  • Pies: 2-3

If serving multiple desserts, you can reduce the amount of each individual dessert by 40% and/or cut the portions into smaller pieces.

If you’re serving children, you’ll probably want to increase the amount of desserts by a bit.


8-16 oz per person is a safe amount to plan for, whether you’re serving soda, lemonade or water.

Prefer a graphic to sum it up?

Check out this infographic that has all the information available at a glance.

estimating food for big crowd

Over to you!

What events does your PTO prepare food for?

Do you find figuring out the right amount of food to serve has been an issue in the past?

Let’s chat in the comments!

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