When hosting a big dinner, it’s necessary to determine the required food quantity carefully–falling short of food can lead to embarrassment, and having more than needed can cause a waste of food and money. This is why you need perfect calculations on how many catering trays you should order for the main course, side dishes, and desserts.
Perfect calculations are a huge task…!
But the good news is that today’s blog post will give you precise numbers about how many food trays you should get.
So, keep reading, I’ll help you feel happy by the end of your event by saving your money and honor.
Understanding Catering Trays’ Capacity According to Size
The catering food trays are found in two sizes, most commonly. These are described as half trays and Full Trays. A Full Tray measures approximately 20 X 12 X 3 inches, and a half tray measures 12 X 10 X 3 inches.
Depending on the depth of the catering tray:
- A full tray has a total capacity of 8 (2 gallons) of food when filled to the top.
- A half tray can hold 4 quarts (or 1 gallon) of food when filled to the top.
However, remember that these trays are not filled to the top, especially for liquid food items, while food’s density also affects how much food a full or half tray will hold.
So, as a rough estimate, a full-size catering tray will feed about 15-20 people, and a half tray will feed 8-10 people. Likewise, the sufficiency of half or full tray for eaters also depends on the sides you add. For instance, a full tray of rice can suffice 15-20 people, Yet, if you have no other side to serve, it can barely feed over 12 people.
Understanding the Adequacy of Full and Half Trays
To know how many people a full and half tray can feed, it’s essential to estimate how much particular food (main course or side course) each tray can hold.
Here are some general guidelines to help you estimate how much food one person might consume for different types of dishes:
Soups, Stews, Curry
A typical serving of soup or stew is around 1 to 1.5 cups (approximately 0.25 to 0.375 quarts) per person. So, an 8 quart-sized container holding 6 quarts of food (not filled to the top) should serve 20-30 people. And a half tray will be enough for 10-15 people.
Sauces (e.g., pasta sauce)
A typical serving of pasta sauce is about ¼ to 1/2 cup pasta sauce per person. A full tray can have 6 quarts of sauce, and a half tray can have 3 quarts of sauce without filling the dish to the top. So, a full-size catering tray will serve about 50 people, and a half tray will suffice for about 25 people.
Pasta is commonly served as a main dish. A typical portion of cooked pasta is around 1 cup per person. A full-size tray can hold approximately 12 pounds of cooked pasta, making it suitable for serving roughly 25 people. Conversely, a half tray can accommodate half that amount of cooked pasta, making it suitable for serving approximately 12 people.
Proteins (e.g., shredded chicken, ground beef)
The amount of protein per person can vary widely based on the dish and preparation. In dishes like tacos, a typical serving might be around ½ cup, and a full tray can hold about 14 pounds of shredded meat. It means a full tray will feed about 50-60 people. Likewise, a half tray holding 7 pounds of shredded meat will serve about 30 people with protein.
Fried, Roasted, or BBQ Food Items (e.g., Fish Filet, Beef, Chicken Breast)
A full-size catering tray can hold 50-75 pieces of fried items like fried chicken or shrimp, while per person serving varies as 2-3 bone-in pieces or 4-6 boneless pieces. It means a full tray will suffice for about 20 people on average. Similarly, a half try is suitable for feeding 10 people.
A typical side dish portion of cooked rice is around 1 cup (served as the main dish) per person or ½ cup as a side. A full-size tray can hold approximately 12 pounds of cooked grains, making it suitable for serving 24-48 people.
Conversely, a half tray can accommodate half that amount of cooked rice to serve approximately 12-24 people, depending on whether served as a main dish or side.
Serving for rice can vary depending on the recipe. The previously done calculations are for plain rice or fried rice. Yet, you might need almost double the quantity per person for more delicious recipes, like hibachi rice or biryani. So, for such recipes, a full tray will serve about 12-24 persons, while a half tray will suffice 6-12 people, depending on whether served as a side or main.
Beans are often served as a side, so a typical portion of cooked beans is around 1/4 cup when served as the main dish and ) per person. A full-size tray can hold approximately 12 pounds of cooked grains, making it suitable for serving roughly 50 people.
In contrast, a half tray can accommodate about 6 pounds of cooked grains, making it suitable for serving approximately 25 people.
Cooked Vegetables (e.g., Steamed Broccoli, Carrots)
A typical side dish portion of cooked vegetables is about 1/2 to 1 cup per person. A full tray can accommodate approximately 12 pounds of cooked vegetables. It means a full tray should feed about 50 people. A half tray will hold half the vegetable quantity, serving up to 25 people.
Salads (e.g., Rice, Beans)
A full-size tray can hold about 12 pounds of salad, and a half tray can hold 6 pounds. While the standard serving size of salad is 1 cup per person. So, a full tray can serve upto 50 people, and a half tray is enough for 25 people.
The amount of dessert that a catering tray can hold will depend on the size of the tray, the size of the desserts, and how tightly they are packed. A standard catering tray measures about 20x12x2 inches for desserts and can hold about 10-12 individual desserts. However, the tray can hold fewer desserts if the desserts are larger or more tightly packed.
|Dessert Size||Desserts Per Full Tray||Per Person Serving|
|Square slices of cake||20||20|
|Round slices of cake||16||16|
So, How Many Catering Trays you Need
Here is a summary of how many trays of food you should get considering the standard serving size.
|Half or Full Trays of Food You Need for a Party|
|Number of Guests||Soup, stew or curry||Sauce||Pasta||Protein||Fried Chicken||Bean, Veggies or Salad|
|10||Half Tray||1 Quarter Pan||1 Half Tray||1 Quarter Pan||1 Half Tray||1 Quarter Pan|
|20||Full Tray||1 Half Tray||1 Full Tray||1 Half Tray||1 Full Tray||1 Half Tray|
|30||3 Half Trays or 1 full & 1 Half Tray||1 Half Tray||1 Full Tray||1 Half Tray||1 Full Tray & 1 Half Tray||1 Hlaf Tray|
|40||2 Full Trays||1 Full Tray||2 Full Trays||1 Full Tray||2 Full Trays||1 Full Trays|
|50||2 Full Trays||1 Full Tray||2 Full Trays||1 Full Tray||2 Full Trays & 1 Half Tray||1 Full Trays|
|60||3 Full Trays||1 Full Tray||2 Full Tray and 1 Half Tray||1 Full Tray||3 Full Trays||1 Full Trays|
|70||3 Full Trays||1 Full Tray & 1 Half Tray||3 Full Trays||1 full and 1 Half Tray||3 Full Trays||1 Full Tray & 1 Half Tray|
|80||4 Full Trays||1 Full Tray & 1 Half Tray||3 Full Trays||1 full & 1 Half Tray||4 Full Tray||2 Full Trays|
|90||4 Full Trays||2 Full Trays||4 Full Trays||2 Full Trays||4 Full Trays||2 Full Trays|
|100||5 Full Trays||2 Full Trays||4 Full Trays||2 Full Trays||5 Full Trays||2 Full Trays|
Your need for rice purely depends on the rice dish and guests’ appetite (for rice as main or side dish). So, considering the calculations for rice done previously, you can order the half or full trays accordingly.
Likewise, for deserts, you can consider the desert portion size and number of guests. To determine how much desert you need, please consult the calculations done for deserts previously.
What to Know When Calculating the Number of Food Trays
Determining the right food quantity for half or full trays is crucial when catering a dinner. Here are some essential factors to consider in simple terms:
Number of Guests
The most critical factor is how many people you’ll be serving. Think about everyone who will attend your dinner. This number will be your starting point for calculating food quantities.
Type of Dish
Different dishes have different portion sizes. For example, a hearty lasagna will have larger portions compared to a side salad. Consider the type of dish you’re serving to estimate how much each guest might eat.
Appetites and Preferences
Think about your guests’ appetites and preferences. Are they big eaters, or do they tend to eat lighter? If you know your guests well, this can help you gauge portion sizes more accurately.
Variety of Dishes
If you’re serving a variety of dishes, you can plan for smaller portions of each. This way, guests can try a bit of everything without overeating.
Time of Day and Event Length
Consider the time of day and how long your event will last. People tend to eat more at dinner than at lunch or brunch events. Also, if your event spans several hours, you may need to account for extra servings.
Guest Dietary Preferences and Restrictions
Take into account any dietary restrictions or preferences your guests may have. If you have vegetarian or vegan options, some guests might choose those over meat dishes.
Cultural and Regional Considerations
Different cultures and regions have varying eating habits. For instance, some cultures prefer smaller portions of multiple dishes, while others focus on larger servings of a few dishes. Be mindful of your guests’ backgrounds.
Leftovers and Second Servings
Consider whether you’re okay with having leftovers or if you want to provide enough for guests to have second servings. Having a bit extra can be a good idea in case some guests are particularly hungry or if you’d like to enjoy leftovers later.
Kids vs. Adults
If you have children at your event, remember that they typically eat smaller portions than adults. Adjust your quantities accordingly.
If you’ve received RSVPs from your guests, use this information to estimate better how much food you’ll need. However, it’s always a good idea to have a bit extra, just in case.
Remember, it’s better to have a little too much food than too little. Leftovers can be enjoyed later or sent home with guests. By considering these factors and using your best judgment, you can determine food quantities that will satisfy everyone without overdoing it.
Tips for Hosting a Memorable Meal at Your Home
Now it’s time to simplify catering a dinner at home with a few valuable tips in everyday language.
Plan Your Menu with Care
Think about what you and your guests enjoy the most for eating. A well-thought-out menu is the foundation of a successful dinner. Consider a mix of appetizers, main dishes, sides, and desserts. Keep it simple; you don’t need to make everything from scratch.
Calculate Your Portions Wisely
Estimate how much food you need. A good rule of thumb is about 1 pound (0.45 kg) of food per person for the main dish, and adjust accordingly for sides and appetizers. This way, you’ll avoid wastage and ensure everyone gets enough to eat.
Get Organized Before Cooking
Make a shopping list of ingredients and check your kitchen supplies. Do you have enough trays, serving utensils, and dishes? Plan your cooking schedule, and if possible, prepare dishes ahead of time to reduce last-minute stress.
Mind Food Safety and Presentation
Keep hot foods hot (above 140°F or 60°C) using chafing dishes or a low oven and cold foods cold (below 40°F or 4°C) with ice packs. Label each tray clearly with the dish’s name and any instructions.
Pay attention to How the Food Looks
A little garnish or colorful veggies can make even simple dishes look appetizing.
Serve with a Smile
Decide how you’ll serve the food. It could be buffet-style, family-style, or even plated if you prefer. Be attentive to guests, helping them with serving and refilling dishes if needed. Keep drinks accessible and provide clear labels for dietary preferences or allergens.
These five straightforward tips should help you host a successful dinner at home using half or full trays. Remember, the key is planning and preparation. By thinking ahead, you can enjoy your event as much as your guests do.