When Hosting, How Much Is Too Much?

Dining room at Charlecote ParkIn the comments on my guest post on hosting a crowd at Habitza, I recalled a party I hosted for a newly married couple I hardly knew. Afterward, one of the single men who had been invited complained that guys get hungry, and we should have served more than a quarter of a chicken per person. He would have liked a second piece.

I still remember that exchange because it put me on the defensive. Hosts are sensitive. Here I helped plan and pay for this huge party, and that guy (who also didn’t know the young couple in question) should have been grateful to be invited.

Hosts have a responsibility to provide enough food and a pleasant atmosphere. But guests have an obligation as well–to be gracious and be satisfied (or to appear satisfied) with what is on offer. There are a lot of legitimate reasons that a host might be short on food: one of the dishes turned out to be inedible, extra guests showed up, poor estimation, or budgetary concerns. Most hosts do try to prevent running out of food, and don’t need a reminder that there wasn’t enough. I don’t remember the menu at that particular meal, except that we did estimate one quarter chicken per person as had been done in other communal meals I’d help organize. I still think that’s reasonable.

This raises an interesting issue about what hosts owe to guests. When we invite guests we go out of our way to serve a special meal. But how high a level is appropriate? I don’t feel that a host needs to anticipate a guest’s every need. If there is soup, mashed potatoes, bread and vegetables, along with a serving of meat or some other protein, hosts have done their duty. That’s how caterers and restaurants stay in business, and it’s okay for home cooks to do the same.

I’m *not* talking about serving tiny portions or counting out exact amounts. You don’t know whether you will have surprise guests, or someone will come extra hungry for some reason. Hosts can choose to be extra-generous, and Rachelle Isserow mentioned that she serves her male teenage guests red meat when they visit.The problem is when hosts feel obligated to live up to external standards.

I think it mainly depends on what you serve your own family. I only serve red meat a few times a year, so I’m not going to go out and buy it for male teenage guests. But if I am having guests for a holiday meal, I will serve the beef at that meal. Most family members eat less than a quarter chicken including the teenage boys, so estimating half a chicken for each guest is over the top to me. I do prepare extra courses and quantities for guests, but only up to a point.

Another reason not to go all out when you host is that it can place a burden on people in your community who want to reciprocate. You don’t want to host at standards lower than those of your friends and neighbors because it feels ungrateful, but you also don’t want to perpetuate an unrealistic, over-the-top style that makes you reluctant to host or for others to invite you back.

What do  you think? How much is too much when it comes to guests?

Tips on Stretching Food for Company


  1. fern chasida says

    I recently commented to my husband how our hosting style has changed – when we used to have guests we’d be sure to have 2 types of meat (chicken and meatballs, chicken and schnitzel), one or two carbs side dishes, a kugel or two. These days we do one meat dish and one carb, a kugel (often broccoli), and a bunch of salads. We’re more into salads these days, it means you don’t need a first course, and if we have someone who is vegetarian and there are substantial salads and a veggie kugel, they usually have enough to eat. It’s not a great feeling when there’s not enough food and I try to be sure there’s enough, but the point of hosting isn’t to bankrupt yourself either.

    • Fern Chasida, I think it’s one of those things you ease up on as the years go by.
      Kate, leftovers aren’t the problem if it’s something you like or what you would eat anyway.
      Aviva_Hadas, I’m sorry you feel your hospitality isn’t reciprocated. There could be many reasons–maybe they can’t afford brisket? Seriously, brisket leftovers are fantastic, but a big brisket is not in everyone’s budget.
      Miri and Debbie, thanks for weighing in. Cooking enough for the whole week is one solution. Love that line about the six million.

  2. I hate estimating protein amounts. We prefer dark meat chicken–and I never know how much to get. I tend overestimate a touch and then we can always eat leftovers on Sunday. I rarely serve a second protein.

    Sometimes we run out of a side dish, but never ALL the side dishes. Nobody leaves hungry. I always have plenty of dessert.

    (And someone complained?!?! How rude!)

  3. Aviva_Hadas says

    This is curious for me. Our Chavurah gets together every about other month (not always meal based) – sometimes more often & we have invited a single to our home occasion as well – where I made brisket. My difficulty lies in the fact that we have not been reciprocated in those one family to one family dinners. As a consequence, these gatherings no longer take first priority when planning our Sundays. A further consequence, when my son turns 3 & will be of age for the Hebrew immersion day care at a different shul, we may be willing to move on…

  4. Aviva_Hadas says

    I forgot to add, that I have never been good at calculating how much food to make – so I get the biggest brisket available – why go through all of that effort for one meal? I serve leftovers & freeze some for later as well. No one has ever complained about getting brisket leftovers.

    & the 3 of us regularly get 6 or 7 meals out of one chicken, so a quarter sounded like more than enough. Last week, we even got 6 meals out of 3 breasts – which in my mind is less than a full chicken.

  5. My husband has always complained that I cook for the six million. Being the child of Holocaust survivors I grew up in a household where an overloaded table was a sign that everythin was “okay.” I’m not very good at managing leftovers, and in my first marriage this led to a lot of waste. Thankfully, I am now married to the Freezer King. He knows how to store leftovers and turn them into something new and totally edible. So to answer your question: too much is never enough, at least in this house.

  6. I think a quarter per person is reasonable. Not everyone eats chicken – when I make that esitmation, there’s usually leftovers. I usually make two kinds of main dish, though, so everyone is covered, and we enjoy what’s left during the week. In any case, even if there really wasn’t enough food, complaining about it is so ungrateful and a sure way to make sure you aren’t invited again! Eat more bread if you’re still hungry. Sheesh.

  7. Mrs Belogski says

    when i make chicken for a crowd i usually reckon 8 portions out of 1 chicken and 1 1/2 times as many pieces as there are people – ie about half the people will take a second piece. But, we recently made a seuda for about 80 people for our daughter’s bas mitzvah and i bought smaller chickens than usual as there was lots of other food, and it was only just enough! ( my husband said that the pieces were too small and all the men took 2 to start with…) Re hosting veggies – if it’s someone we know well, then i often just make a few side dishes, but if it’s a “new” person, or there are a few of them, then i will make something special. eitherway, your ungrateful guests sounded quite rude!

  8. I am a vegetarian and often face a dilemma when I am invited out. I don’t like to tell my host that I am vegetarian so as not to make them feel that they need to make something especially for me or change their whole menu to accommodate me. After salad and side dish and bread, I am rarely hungry and I certainly won’t be malnourished from one meal. However, hosts sometimes feel upset if you don’t tell them in advance and they have, for example, made a soup with a meat base or they went to great expense to buy an expensive cut of meat which they otherwise would not have purchased had they known. Any thoughts on my dilemma?

  9. I think that is a great point that you need to consider those who might want to reciprocate. I really like to host, but the truth is, I like to invite people without a lot of kids and people who have low standards. I have a friend who’s invited us several times for Shabbat. She does a delicious full traditional spread with a fish course with homemade salads and dips, chicken noodle soup, one or two kinds on chicken and rice, and eventually homemade cake. Our family Shabbat is maximum two courses, and no always meat. Especially on Saturday we like cold foods. I’m trying to gather the energy and courage to attempt to reciprocate and come close to her family’s standards.

    A quarter chicken sounds like more than enough. I hope the guy who made the comment has matured some since then. If you know you’re guest you can better estimate. Like when I make dessert for my family, I think, “half a slice for Jane, 3 slices for uncle Pete…” But I usually make too much. I think if you have the means to overcook, and you want to be on the safe side of generous, have disposable containers ready to send your guests home with their favorite leftovers.

  10. If you are a vegetarian for moral reasons, surely you would not want to risk your host purchasing meat on your behalf!

    When I invite guests over, I want to make something they will enjoy. I don’t have a set menu of things I always make. If they can point me in the right direction of what they will like, or steer me away from a dish that they’re family will not enjoy, more power to them! Personally, I have fun with restrictions. It brings out my creative side.

    As a host, I think it is important not to make special dishes for one picky eater. It puts a lot of pressure on that guest to like and eat that dish. And it might make other guests feel left out. Sometimes I think, “I wish I was a vegetarian, or I wish I got what the kids are getting.” My family was invited over one holiday when my mom was in town. The host asked about dietary restrictions, and I mentioned my mom is a vegetarian but she eats so little, she’ll find enough she can eat from salads and dips, and she also eats fish. My mom was stuffed by the time the main course came out and they had made blitzes just for her! She’s also a very healthy eater and doesn’t eat much wheat, but she felt obligated to eat two blitzes.

    If you are so picky that you would need special food, tell your host before accepting and put it in a way that they can get out of the invite, like:
    Host: We’d like to have you over on Tuesday.
    Picky: Oh, thank you, but we don’t go out much because of my dietary restrictions. Maybe we can just get together for drinks? [or] Maybe we can have you over?

  11. please disregard my last comment, it was meant for a different post.