Dinner Party Menu Planning Tips and Tricks

A table covered in various delicious dishes, from a roasted chicken to grilled salmon

Planning the menu for any party can seem like a daunting task.

Our handy guide makes it easy to keep guests happy all night – with tips and estimates based on the number of guests and the length of your party.


For a two-hour party, estimate:

  • Wine: One bottle per two guests
  • Mixed Drinks: Three per guest
  • Beer: Two bottles per guest
  • Coffee: Two pots per eight guests
  • Water: Set out a few pitchers of chilled water and provide glasses nearby

Appetizer Course

Per guest, three to six pieces per hour

  • Prepare two to three appetizers for less than 10 guests
  • Prepare four to five appetizers for 10-20 guests
  • Prepare six or more appetizers for 20 or more guests
  • Instead of setting out a deli platter as-is, make mini kebabs with grapes, pineapple, strawberries and toothpicks or bamboo skewers. Do the same for cheeses and meats!

Main Course

Per guest: six ounces meat, poultry, or fish

  • Build-Your-Own: Consider a spread for guests to build their own tacos, hot dogs, baked potatoes, or pasta dishes. It will allow guests to tailor food to their tastes, plus it will make it easy to prepare food in bulk ahead of time.
  • Buffet Style: Similar to a build-your-own bar, a buffet will allow guests to choose which foods they want to eat, but this offers a more substantial selection. Items that work well in buffets are salads, potatoes, vegetables, bread, chicken, fish filets, kebabs and casseroles.
  • Potluck: Save hours in the kitchen and depend on guests to bring their favorite dishes. If you’re worried about a mismatched variety of food, too much of one item or not enough of a certain course, feel free to assign food items to guests or set a theme (Italian, Mexican, vegetarian) and provide a sign up list online for guests to choose what they want to bring from your list of items.
  • TIP: From left to right, set up plates, main dish, side dishes, salad, bread, then utensils and napkins.

Side Dishes & Salad Course

Per guest: two to five ounces sides; one ounce salad.

  • If the main course is heavy and rich, opt for sides that will balance it out, like a salad or vegetable.
  • For lighter main courses, provide heavier sides containing potatoes, bread, mushrooms or cream sauces.
  • Consider seasonal produce when preparing sides. For example, summer is the best time to make a tomato cucumber and basil salad, whereas fall provides squash and root vegetables perfect for roasting.
  • TIP: Don’t let extra green, yellow or red peppers go to waste. Slice the top third off, de-seed, then use as dip or salad dressing bowls. Plus you’ll cut down on dishes to wash!

Dessert Course

Per guest: one slice of cake or pastry or four to five ounces creamy dessert.

  • If hosting a themed party, keep the them going through dessert! If dinner contains Italian foods, for example, provide biscotti, tiramisu or cannoli afterward.
  • Keep milk on hand for children (and adults!) who love to drink it with baked goods.
  • The dessert course is the time to offer guests coffee, tea and Champagne.