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All the Secrets to Simplify Hosting

Updated October 28, 2019
There are certain party prep rules of thumb—like how to estimate the amount of food and number of drinks you’ll need— that are worth learning by heart. But if you need a little help before you have them committed to memory, we have all the tips and tricks you need for stress-free hosting right here.

How Much Food to Make for a Crowd?

At the end of a perfect party, there should be some leftovers — that means everyone had enough to eat — but not so much that you have to pass out dozens of containers of leftovers. Follow the handy chart below to estimate the quantity of food you’ll need.

Here’s How Much Food to Make (per person)


4 to 5 apps per person (per hour)

Fruit & Vegetables

½ to 2/3 cup

Boneless Meat/Poultry/Fish

4 to 6 ounces

Bone-In Meat/Poultry/Fish

6 to 8 ounces

Main Dish of Pasta/Rice/Grain

1 cup

Side Dish of Pasta/Rice/Grain

½ cup

Tossed Salad

1 to 1 ½ cups


2 to 3 tablespoons


¾ to 1 cup


Here’s How to Calculate Drinks Needed

The general rule of thumb is each guest will drink two drinks in the first hour and one drink each hour for the rest of the party.

Punch (one gallon)

24 servings

Wine (one 750 milliliter bottle)

Four servings (6-ounce each)

Liquor (one 750 milliliter bottle)

16 shots (1 ½-ounces)

How to Put Together Your Menu

Once you’ve got a rough idea about quantities, you can focus on thinking about the fun part — the menu!

Mains That’ll Make You the Host with the Most

Always start by picking the star of your show: the main dish. This gives you a starting point for rounding out the rest of the menu with complementary flavors and different types of dishes. Ideally, you’re looking for a main dish that can be made almost completely ahead, so you can focus on your guests when they arrive.

  • All of our recipes list number of servings, but keep in mind that serving sizes are just guidelines. A hearty eater might eat more than one serving of a main dish if it’s served alone. This is where adding appetizers or sides can take the edge off for those with big appetites.
  • Plan for an unexpected guest or two, just to be on the safe side. This way you’re covered, if someone is famished or if they bring an extra guest. No matter what, it’s better to err on the side of having too much.
  • Think about the time of day. People usually expect a lighter meal at lunch or brunch and a heartier dinner.

Sides That’ll Steal the Show

Now that you’ve got your centerpiece dish, you know if you’ll need heavier or lighter sides and what types of flavors will complement the meal. It’s a good idea to plan for hot and cold dishes, so there’s not too much to do at the last minute. For example, biscuits can be served at room temperature, salads can be made ahead and stored in the fridge, while hot sides can keep cozy in the slow cooker.

Appetizers to Set the Scene

Dips and bite-sized nibbles get the party off to a good start, giving guests a tasty talking point (and giving the host some breathing room, if things aren’t going as planned). Unsure about how to set up the ideal smorgasbord? Keep these questions in mind as you get your plan in place:

  • How many guests will attend? As the chart above indicates, you should plan for 4-5 appetizers per person, per hour.
  • Where will you serve appetizers? If guests will be milling around while they snack, consider bite-sized finger foods that don’t require utensils.
  • What’s the occasion? On game day, apps are the main event, but at a special occasion brunch, they’re not usually the focus.
  • How long between the time your guests arrive and the main meal? The longer the period, the more apps you’ll need to serve. Remember the serving size given above is per hour.
  • Do you have space in the oven for a hot appetizer? If not, make it easy on yourself with appetizers that can be served cold. Or, use your slow cooker to keep your dips or meatballs warm.

Desserts That Impress with No Stress

Hosts and hostesses, remember this: make-ahead desserts save the day! There’s plenty to think about when hosting a party, so do yourself a favor and get dessert done the day before — or even early on the morning of the event. Crowd-friendly desserts like slab pies, cookies and sheet cakes yield plenty of servings and they don’t need to be served warm.

Drinks That Keep Things Flowing

The best way to welcome a guest into your home is with a drink. Whether you’re planning to serve old-fashioned lemonade or a sparkling sangria, ask yourself the following questions when planning for beverages:

  • Are your guests the types to nurse one drink the whole night, or do they like to party hearty?
  • How long will your get-together last? The general rule of thumb is guests will drink two drinks in the first hour and one drink every hour for the rest of the party.
  • What’s your budget? Alcohol especially can be expensive. To make the most of alcoholic beverages, consult the servings chart near the top of the page.