Thanksgiving for a Crowd: How to Serve 100 People

Hosting Thanksgiving dinner can overwhelm any cook, but it gets even more complicated when you're catering for a large group. For an event with 100 guests, you must figure out how many pounds of turkey to feed 100 hungry customers. We've created a guide to help you plan out the portion sizes of your holiday menu so you can make sure every guest is satisfied.

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Cooking for a Crowd of 100

Cooked turkey on a plate with grapes and lemons.

Catering Thanksgiving for a crowd of 100 people requires careful preparation, but we're here to help. We've made a cheat sheet to guide you if you're wondering, "How much cranberry sauce per person do I need? How much stuffing per person?"

Although alternative Thanksgiving foods are always an option to serve, we've compiled a list of classic Thanksgiving dishes as well as their suggested portion sizes per person and the total amount of each dish you'll need for 100 guests. Download our Thanksgiving portion guide for a printable grocery list you can use while shopping.

How Much Gravy per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1/3 cup of gravy
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 33 cups (8 1/4 quarts) of gravy

How Much Stuffing per Person?

  • Amount per person: 3/4 cup of stuffing
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 75 cups (18 3/4 quarts) of stuffing

How Much Turkey per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1 pound of turkey
  • How Many Pounds of Turkey to Feed 100: 100 pounds of turkey

How Many Rolls per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1 roll
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 100 rolls

How Much Mashed Potatoes per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 50 cups (12 1/2 quarts) of mashed potatoes

How Many Vegetables per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1/2 cup of vegetables
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 50 cups (12 1/2 quarts) of vegetables

How Much Cranberry Sauce per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1/2 cup of cranberry sauce
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 50 cups (12 1/2 quarts) of cranberry sauce

How Much Pie per Person?

  • Amount per person: 1/8 pie or 1 slice
  • Total Amount per 100 servings: 13 pies

Consider making adjustments to these portions based on your guests' preferences. For instance, if you know you have a dessert-loving crowd, prepare 25 pies to allow 2 slices per person.

Thanksgiving Timeline

Turkey dinner on plate with sliced turkey, mashed potatoes, broccoli and gravy.

There are steps you can take in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving that will help you to stay organized. With a preparation timeline in place, serving 100 guests on the day of the holiday will be a smooth operation.

1 Month Before Thanksgiving

  • Guest count. Request a final guest count from your clients.
  • Finalize your menu. Choose your recipes and get your menu approved by your client. It is here where you can decide to branch out and propose unique ideas such as smoking turkey rather than roasting it. If you have more or fewer people attending than expected, you can use our recipe resizer to convert your favorite recipes to a larger or smaller yield.
  • Ensure that you have adequate kitchen space. Once you know how many guests to expect and how much food you need to prepare, make sure you have the kitchen space required. If your commercial kitchen isn't suitable for such a large event, consider renting a larger kitchen space or a mobile food trailer.
  • Order your turkeys. Save time and money by ordering turkeys in advance from a bulk supplier.

2 Weeks Before Thanksgiving

  • Acquire your serving dishes. Choose the correct size serving pans or chafing dishes for your dinner service. If you want to minimize cleanup time, try disposable aluminum food pans.
  • Plate of cooked turkey.
  • Gather your serving utensils. Designate serving utensils for each dish. A shortage of serving utensils could slow down your guest line if you're having a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Create a shopping list. Create a list of all your ingredients and make note of which items are non-perishable versus which items are fresh.
  • Make room for refrigerated foods. Inspect your refrigeration equipment and ensure adequate room for all of your ingredients and prepared dishes. You may need room for several large turkeys, so keep that in mind.

1 Week Before Thanksgiving

  • Start food shopping. Order all the non-perishable ingredients on your shopping list.
  • Stock up on take-out containers. Ensure you have enough take-out containers to allow guests to take leftovers home.
  • Create a plan for Thanksgiving Day. Make a timeline that includes specific start times for food prep, cooking, and serving. Share your plan with all staff members assisting with the event.
  • Start making side dishes. This is a great time to make pie crusts and dinner rolls. Put them in the freezer until later in the week.
  • Start defrosting turkeys. If you have purchased frozen turkeys, start defrosting them now. A turkey needs 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds to defrost. Always defrost frozen poultry inside your reach-in or walk-in cooler.
  • Pick up the turkeys you ordered. If you ordered fresh turkeys ahead of time, pick them up from your local farm or grocer.

Monday Before Thanksgiving

  • Shop for all fresh ingredients. Buy fresh ingredients and any other last-minute items you need.
  • Prepare stuffing ingredients. If you are making stuffing from scratch, cube day-old bread loaves and simmer a large pot of fresh stock.

Tuesday Before Thanksgiving

  • Prepare brining liquid. If you are brining your turkeys, gather the dry ingredients for your brine and combine them. You can brine a turkey for a few hours or up to 2 days, depending on the concentration of seasonings in your brine. Use a more diluted mixture to brine over a few days or a concentrated mixture for 8 to 12 hours.
  • Defrost any frozen dishes. Move dinner rolls, pie crusts, or any frozen dishes from the freezer to the refrigerator.
  • Make cranberry sauce. Because of its high acidity, cranberry sauce has a long fridge life. Put this dish together and store it in the refrigerator until Thursday.

Thanksgiving Eve

  • Make pies. Bake pies and put them aside in the fridge. By making pies on Wednesday, you'll free up oven space and preparation time on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Make green bean casserole. Prepare green beans and their sauce, but reserve the topping until Thanksgiving Day so it doesn't get soggy.
  • Make stuffing and mashed potatoes. If you have time, prepare your various potatoes and stuffing simultaneously so you can devote most of your cooking time to the turkeys the next day.
  • Label serving utensils and dishes. All staff members will know which utensils and dishes to use if they are labeled.
  • Set up buffet and tables. If you have access to your venue ahead of time, set up your space for dinner the next day.

Thanksgiving Day

  • Begin cooking turkeys. Remember that a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit is required for turkey to prevent foodborne illness. Take the temperature reading from the thigh meat to ensure the turkey is thoroughly cooked.
  • Bring dishes to room temperature. Remove your rolls, sides, and pies that do not require chilling from the fridge.
  • What temperature to cook turkey?
  • Let cooked turkeys rest. Once cooked, it's best to let your turkeys rest for 15-20 minutes before carving. Resting the meat will keep it from drying out.
  • Re-heat sides. While the turkeys are resting, put the side dishes in the oven to warm them before serving.
  • Make gravy. When the turkeys are cooked, start making gravy from their drippings.
  • Transfer everything to serving dishes. Move everything to the serving dishes you designated earlier.
  • Set out toppings and sauces. Place toppings and sauces like various butters, gravy, and cranberry sauce out, allowing guests to top their dishes how they see fit.
  • Uncork wine bottles. Open up and set out some bottles of wine or other alcohol to pair with your delicious Thanksgiving meal.
  • Set up supplies for coffee and tea. Putting these aside before dinner will help your beverage service go much faster once dinner is over.

How to Serve Thanksgiving Dinner

Now that you know how to make Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, here are some tips for serving your holiday menu.

Buffet or Plated?

Dinner buffets are considered casual, while a plated dinner is more formal. Also, consider that plating every dish requires more work ahead of time, but it allows you to control portions. Buffets are less work in the kitchen and provide more freedom for each guest.

Buffet Lineup

The position of a dish at your buffet can impact the portion size that your guests choose. Placing the turkey at the beginning of your buffet line encourages guests to take larger portions. If you place the turkey at the end of the table, their plates will already be full and they'll take less. If you have any dishes that may run out, try placing them at the end of the buffet.

Keeping Dishes Warm

Keeping all of your dishes at food-safe temperatures is crucial for safety. Chafing dishes or steam tables can be used to keep hot foods hot. Monitor the temperatures of all displayed foods every 2 hours to ensure they meet the minimum temperature required for food safety.

When making Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, the key to success is planning ahead. This month, refer to our table for serving suggestions and follow our Thanksgiving checklist and timeline to stay on track.

Thanksgiving Serving Chart

Below is a chart on Thanksgiving portions so you can determine how much Thanksgiving food you need per person, especially if you are serving Thanksgiving for a crowd this year:

How Much Food to Make for Thanksgiving infographic.

While cooking Thanksgiving dinner can be fun, it can become stressful when the guestlist hovers around 100. Prepare in advance with our Thanksgiving timeline to cook confidently for a crowd.

Posted in: Catering Tips|Holidays|By Christine Potts
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