Often, when planning for dinners with real chinaware, clients ask how many plates, flatware, and glasses they should get. Most of the time, we suggest planning for a small amount over their current guest count, just in case. The last thing they want is to be one plate short and make that one guest use something else, or worse, go without a plate!
Lots of things can happen if you just get an exact amount. The warehouse crew could have miscounted by just one. The caterer could have cracked a plate while setting up. A waiter could have used a plate for something else, such as a display platter or just to heat up his or her employee meal. A guest could drop their plate, or simply want a clean plate for seconds. There just is no wisdom in cutting it so close on such a cheap and relatively simple solution to what could be a major problem.
But how much to get? Normally, the rule of thumb is 10%. 10% of your existing headcount is a relatively safe and reasonable quantity to over-order, so that you don’t have to worry about any shortage. If your headcount is really small, you may want to hedge more, percentage-wise… maybe up to 25% (so on a headcount of 20, you would get 5 extra, not 2). If your headcount is really large, you may want to hedge less, percentage-wise… maybe down to 5% (so on a headcount of 500, you would get 25 extra).
You could also cheat it a bit if you have comparable dishware. For example, if you needed dinner forks, salad forks, and dessert forks for a buffet dinner for 250, you might not hedge 10% on ALL those forks, but maybe a TOTAL of 10% would suffice. Because if someone needs an extra fork on the fly, I’m sure they won’t be overly concerned that you’re giving them a salad fork, not a dessert fork. They just want to eat their darn cake.
So while the numbers aren’t an exact science, hedging your counts on dishware is certainly a wise move, and probably the best $28 you’ll ever spend.