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The logistics of serving 500 tasting portions to a crowd

Your client can save a lot of time and money if they get it right

Bottom line: It can be hard for a restaurateur to know—without practice—how to figure out servings for a massive crowd at an event. Some guidance can save time, labor, and food cost.

John Rivers, chef-owner or 4Rivers Smokehouse in Winter Park, Florida, is diligent about doing his homework before an event. He researches the number of guests expected, the other chefs participating, the dish each is preparing and other variables. The signature of his down-home BBQ concept is smoked brisket, but “I can’t just do a brisket slider if I’m competing with a group of high-caliber chefs,” he says. At this year’s celeb-studded Bubble Q during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, he upped the ante by serving two items: a brisket bruschetta topped with tomato jam and sided by a cheese grit square and a banana cream dessert. He even brought his own smoker to cook the brisket overnight. And at this meat-heavy event, his dessert sampling was a big hit.

Rivers has worked out a formula to figure out how many tasting portions he needs at large events. “If the promoter tells you there will be 1,000 attendees, I factor the number down by 20 percent to 800. Then I divide that number by those vendors serving a similar food. At the Bubble Q, that turned out to be eight, which gave me 100 portions. But then I added 30 percent to that figure to come up with 130,” he explains. Although it’s not exact, Rivers’ formula meets the dual challenges of too little food and too much waste.

–Patricia Cobe