How to Estimate Food for a Picnic

by Jeffrey Brian Airman ; Updated September 26, 2017
Make an accurate estimate so everyone at the picnic leaves full.

Avoid overspending and running out of food early at your next picnic by making an accurate estimate. When preparing large quantities of food to feed a crowd, the costs can add up fast. Shopping for the right amount of food for a picnic keeps the bill lower so you can afford higher quality products. There are a couple important factors to consider when adjusting the standard per-person portion to meet the needs of your picnic group.

Review the guest list and write down the number of big and small eaters in the picnic group. Kids under 10 and adults over 60 are usually considered light eaters. A work-related picnic may be all average age adults that would fall into the big eaters category. Make exceptions to these generalizations based on your knowledge of the individual guests.

Determine the percentage of big eaters that are attending the picnic by dividing the number of big eaters by the total number of expected attendees. A work-related picnic may be 100 percent big eaters. A child's birthday picnic may be as low as 20 percent big eaters.

Multiply the total number of attendees by one to get an initial food weight estimate in total pounds. A picnic with 100 guests will have an unadjusted estimate of 100 pounds of food.

Increase the total food weight estimate by 20 percent on picnics with a guest list showing 70 percent or more are big eaters. Decrease the total food weight estimate by 20 percent on picnics with a guest list showing 30 percent or less are big eaters. Leave the estimate unadjusted if the number of big eaters falls between 30 percent and 70 percent.

Write down the total adjusted estimate, and circle it. Approximately 40 percent of this total weight will be divided between two or more protein choices like beef, pork or fish. The remaining 60 percent of the total weight will be in vegetables, salads and other side dishes.

Take these numbers with you when you shop, and keep a running total of the food weight purchased. Buying a little more than you will need is better than buying any amount less than you need.


  • The base food estimate does not include desserts or beverages. Two dessert servings per person is plenty for any picnic as some may choose to skip the course. Beverages can be estimated at two drinks per person per hour for the first couple hours of the picnic. One drink per person per hour is a good estimate for all successive hours after the first two. Buy a couple extra packs of hot dogs and hot dog buns so you will have food for unexpected guests. They are inexpensive and cook up fast.

About the Author

Jeffrey Brian Airman is a writer, musician and food blogger. A 15-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Airman has used his experience to cover food, restaurants, cooking and do-it-yourself projects. Airman also studied nursing at San Diego State University.

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