Last month I catered a reception for about 30 friends, and made enough to feed an army. More accurately, I made enough to feed a half-starved army of giants with Olympic-sized appetites. It was far, far too much, leaving me with vats of hummus, enough carrot sticks to circle the globe, and enough cheese biscuits to make Paula Dean blush. I could have saved time and money and avoided a painful amount of eventual food waste, if I just planned better.

So, what’s the magic number?

My research shows 6 bites per person (two chips, two mini quiches, etc.), if the event isn’t at mealtime. The bites should be small and portable (you can assume 3 per person for larger bites like mini sandwiches or cake wedges). Some will eat more, some less—receptions call for talking and drinking, mostly—and 6 bites per person tends to even out.

And what do I do with leftovers?

Leave a batch on your neighbor’s doorstep, then run! Or, you can use dips as sandwich spreads, like these fantastic hummus-based sandwiches. For a quick soup, sauté chopped vegetables from your tray, then simmer with chicken stock, canned tomatoes, fresh herbs and a splash of vinegar.

Check out some of our favorite appetizers. How do you plan for a big party? Let us know in the comments.