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Food to Serve at a BBQ party

Memorial Day means picnics, barbecues, and pool parties, and while the thought of relaxing with summery eats and some good friends should bring nothing but anticipation, too often it brings serious anxiety instead. Even once you've decided what to make or buy, there's the question of how much food, drink, and paper goods to have on hand. Too much and food goes to waste. Too little, and, well, no one wants hangry party guests.

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So here are some basic calculations to have on hand as you head to the grocery store to stock up for Memorial Day festivities and warm-weather food fun all summer long:


On average, guests will drink between three to four drinks in two to three hours, and you'll want to have a mix of hard and soft drinks available, in addition to about two pounds of ice per person (more in hot weather.) Some quantities to remember:

  • A 750 ml bottle of wine serves between four and six glasses.
  • A 750 ml bottle of spirits yields 17 servings of 1 1/2 ounces each. (Plan for three bottles of mixers for each bottle of booze)
  • Serving beer? For every ten people, have five six packs on hand.
  • A two-liter bottle of soda contains about ten eight-ounce glasses.

Savory Dishes:

  • Chips and dip: for ten people, about one pint of dip and 16-ounces of chips
  • Crudités: about one pound of veggies for ten people (or about eight vegetable pieces per person)
  • Meat: According to the Everything Barbecue Book, it depends on what kind of meat you're cooking up. For a boneless cut, you'll want about four or five ounces per person (though many caterers recommend at least six ounces per guest.) For cuts with some bones—like steaks, chops, or a rib roast—you'll need to up the amount to between five to eight ounces per person. And for meats with loads of bones like spare ribs, lamb shanks, or brisket, figure between 12 and 16 ounces.
  • Salad: If it's a side salad, go for one big handful per person.
  • Vegetable and potato side dishes: About four or five ounces of each should do.
  • Pasta, beans, rice, and grains: For a side dish, aim for two ounces per person (but allow for six ounces of pasta and 3 ounces of beans for vegetarians)


  • Pie, cake, or tart: One slice per guest
  • Cookies: For standard sized cookies, 2 to 3 per person
  • Ice cream: Five ounces per person

Note: If you're serving more than one of these, you can reduce the amount for each by about half.

Paper Products:

  • Glasses: At least two glasses or cups per person — one for alcoholic beverages, one for water or soda.
  • Napkins: At least four paper napkins per person or if you're using cloth, go for two per person.
  • Plates: Two per person—one for savory and one for sweet.

More resources:

  • Evite's Beverage Calculator
  • BBQ Planner asks how many men, women, and children you'll be hosting, specifying how many of each are meat eaters or vegetarians. Includes quantities for sides, desserts, meat, and cutlery.

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