Calculating the ideal lunch meat serving per person is both an art and a science. Running out for more food is embarrassing, and it can leave your guests hungry. On the other hand, if you buy too much, you may be wasting your hard-earned money, plus, you could get stuck with more leftovers than you can eat. Fortunately, following a few guidelines will help you find the sweet spot between too much and too little.
As a general rule of thumb, provide 2 to 3 ounces of lunch meat per person.
Serving per Person Variables
All lunch meat trays aren’t created equal. Although knowing general guidelines as to how much meat per person is typical helps you decide when you’re picking out a deli tray for a gathering, a number of variables will affect your numbers.
- Time of day. People generally eat more at dinner than at lunch, but the specific timing of the meal also comes into play. If your guests are eating a little before noon, you won’t need to provide as much luncheon meat as you would for a later lunchtime, at 1:30 or 2:00 p.m., when they’ve had time to get really hungry.
- Party context. People eat more after playing football than after a poetry reading. They’ve burned calories, and they need to replenish them. They also eat more when they’re comfortable and feel as if they’re among friends than when they’re trying to impress people, such as at a networking event. However, you may be more willing to cut it close on quantities when you’re serving friends who will forgive you if you run out of salami than if you’re feeding business associates whom you don’t know as well.
- Food context. When you’re figuring how much per person for a cold-cut platter, also take into account the amount of other food that will be available. You’ll need less lunch meat per person if it’s served side by side with cheese, dips, crackers and breads than if it’s the only food on the buffet. Another factor to consider: Is the event a potluck, and are your guests also bringing dishes to add to the spread?
How Much Is Enough?
Although 2 to 3 ounces of lunch meat per person is a sound general guideline, it’s useful to also consider what you and your guests will think of as “enough.” Do you want to have sufficient quantities on hand for everyone to get as much as they want for as long as they want to graze? Will you be satisfied if everyone has their pick of all the varieties on their first pass and even enough to fill a plate on the second time around? Your answers to these questions also influence your decisions regarding how much to buy.
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If there’s something special on your cold-cut platter such as an artisan prosciutto that you’re sure everyone will want, make sure to have enough on hand to not run out of that specific meat. If it’s terrific enough, your guests will be talking about it, and its absence will be noted.
The Purpose of Your Platter
When deciding how much lunch meat to buy, also consider the role your deli platter will play in your event and your meal. If you’re serving it as an appetizer before a full meal, it’s reasonably safe to err on the light side. If your lunch meat platter will make up the bulk of the menu options, think on the heavy side. Also, determine how long your guests will be eating from the platter and whether you are planning simultaneous entertainment. A lunch meat platter that’s out for 2 hours at cocktail hour is more likely to be decimated than one that’s available for a shorter period as an accompaniment to live entertainment.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.