Call it the buffet more than you can possibly eat

There is a simple formula I follow for calculating how much food to serve at a party. First, I take the number of guests and double that. Then I guess everyone will have the appetite of an NFL defensive lineman fresh off a seven-day juice cleanse and my buffet will be the first real food they encounter in a week. Then I make sure there will be enough for all those hungry people to have not just seconds but thirds, with a generous allowance for leftovers. Finally, I add extra food so people have options. In case.

“Just in case” is my guiding principle when planning a meeting. And that’s why I always try to have a wide variety of foods in large quantities. Just in case all of my guests become lactose intolerant vegetarians with celiac disease between the day they RSVP and the day of the party. Or just in case a tour bus full of hungry travelers pulls up in my driveway and I don’t want to look inhospitable. I need to have all the bases covered, just in case.

I don’t think I’m the only one throwing parties this way. But I’m going to come out here on a sexist branch and say that the fear of not having enough food to feed a crowd is something that mostly concerns women, while men tend to assume that everything will be fine. This is why Napoleon’s troops probably wanted Madame Bonaparte to be in charge of preparing their lunches before they left for Russia (“take extra in case you get stuck in Moscow”).

And I’m willing to bet things would have turned out differently if the Donner Party men had listened to their wives (“let’s take an extra cart full of food in case it snows in the Sierra Nevada”) before setting off on their trip to the ‘west.

Of course, Jesus could have fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. But there is no mention of remains, further proof that the Bible was written by men.

Speaking of Napoleon (as I often do), this summer I may have met my Waterloo when we hosted a graduation party for our son in our backyard. As with any party, there were a lot of things that could potentially go wrong. A pop-up thunderstorm could suddenly send our outdoor party indoors. The toilet could overflow. Someone might drag me into a heated and potentially nasty discussion about politics (which, spoiler warning, isn’t that hard to do). But, as bad as any of those scenarios might be, they pale in comparison to the thought that a guest might leave my party and, maybe, maybe, three or four hours later, start having a bit hungry.

I decided to order food from a local Mexican restaurant. Once we knew the number of people to come, I turned to my trusted formula. I also factored in that many of the guests would be teenagers, who also happened to be athletes, which meant they considered a large plate of food to be a single serving. Then I added some more, just in case, and ordered accordingly.

Somehow, somewhere, things went horribly wrong. Maybe I misread the menu and interpreted “(20-30)” to mean one item served to 20-30 people, when it actually meant to expect 20-30 days leftovers. Or maybe the woman who took my order was a mom like me and added a little extra on her own, just in case. Anyway, when the tractor-trailer backed into our driveway to deliver the food on the day of the party, I realized I might have gone too far.

The caterers were very pleasant as they made trip after trip to our backyard delivering all the food. Of course they were happy – my one order had put their restaurant in the dark for the rest of the year. By the time they left, all the cans, pans, trays, and catering bags were stacked up in a big, beautiful wall of Mexican food. And I paid for it.

Even after all the guests had crossed the line, many more than once, we still had a full buffet of food, with countless spare pans left untouched. Needless to say no one went hungry. And no one was allowed to leave until I could deliver the required parting gift of a plate of chimichangas.

Here’s a pro party planning tip: If the appropriately sized containers for leftovers are Home Depot five-gallon buckets, you might want to cut back on the food for your next get-together. That’s good advice, but I know I won’t follow it. Maybe I won’t have enough Mexican food to feed the whole country of Mexico at my next party, but I should have enough to feed at least some of it. In case.

Betsy Bitner is a writer from the Capital Region. [email protected]

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