How Many Wedding Appetizers Do You Need per Person?

charcuterie and cheese plate

Appetizers are a key part of any wedding reception. They are a great way to whet your guests’ appetites before the main meal is served or to tide them over if the meal is running late. But how many wedding appetizers do you need per person?

Generally, you need 6 wedding appetizers per person with a wedding dinner. If you’re having hors d’oeuvres for cocktail hour, aim to serve 12 appetizers per person. A wedding of 100 guests will require 600 appetizers, if served with dinner. And a cocktail hour of the same size will call for 1,200 appetizers.

The number of wedding appetizers you need will also depend on the time of day and the type of event you’re having. Read on as I go in-depth on wedding appetizers, including how many canapés you need per person and how much you’ll need for different-sized parties.

For example, if you’re having a cake and punch reception, you’ll need fewer appetizers than if you’re having a full cocktail hour and dinner reception. You can read more about the types of wedding dinners generally found at receptions here.

Factors That Determine How Many Wedding Appetizers You Need

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how many appetizers you’ll need, it’s important to understand the factors affecting this number.

These include:

  • The time of day
  • The type of event
  • The number of guests
  • The length of event
  • The menu

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

The Time of Day

People’s appetites vary throughout the day. They are usually at their lowest in the morning and start to increase as the day goes on, peaking in the evening. This means people will likely eat more wedding appetizers if the event is held in the evening than if it is held during the day.

For example, if you have a cocktail party that starts at 5 pm, your guests will likely have eaten lunch earlier in the day and will be looking for something to tide them over until dinner. 

In this case, you would need to provide more wedding appetizers per person than if the event were held at noon. A brunch event will require the fewest number of appetizers per person as people will have just eaten breakfast and generally expect a smaller meal.

The Type of Event

Are you holding a cocktail party, dinner party, or reception? The type of event you’re hosting will also affect how many appetizers you need to provide.

  • Cocktail parties are typically less formal than dinner parties or receptions. They are usually held in the evening and do not include a sit-down meal. Because of this, people attending a cocktail party will likely drink more and eat more than they would at a dinner party or reception. This means you will need to provide more wedding appetizers per person at a cocktail party than you would at a dinner party.
  • Dinner parties are more formal than cocktail parties but less formal than receptions. They usually include a sit-down meal with multiple courses. Because guests will be sitting down to eat, they will likely eat less than they would at a cocktail party. Here, the appetizers will be more of a “fill-in” between the main courses rather than a meal replacement. You will need fewer appetizers to keep your guests satisfied.
  • Receptions are the most formal type of event. They feature a sit-down meal with multiple courses, similar to a dinner party. The difference is that receptions are usually held after the ceremony, so guests will have already eaten. Because of this, you will need fewer appetizers. You can serve them as a “fill-in” or to tide your guests over if the meal is running late.

Planning to cater your own wedding? Check out this article on how to cater your own wedding with tips from a real bride.

The Number of Guests

The number of guests you expect will also affect the number of appetizers you’ll want to serve. A 50-guest event will require fewer appetizers than a 300-guest event. There are more mouths to feed, so you will need more food to satisfy everyone.

This is why how many guests you have has such a large impact on your budget. You can read more about how much weddings cost per person here.

If you’re having a small, intimate gathering, you can get away with serving more delicate, upscale appetizers. However, if you’re hosting a large event, you will want to serve heartier appetizers that can be eaten quickly and without utensils.

A wider selection of appetizers will also be necessary for a large event. This is because you’ll have more guests with different dietary restrictions and preferences. 

The Length of Event

How long will the event last? One-hour? Two-hours? Four-hours? The longer the event, the more appetizers you’ll need to provide. People will get hungrier the longer the event lasts.

Longer events will have multiple courses, so you probably want to provide enough appetizers to tide your guests over between courses. For instance, if you’re starting off with a pre-drink reception, you will need to provide more appetizers for the first session and add each subsequent hour. 

The Menu

When deciding how many wedding appetizers you need per person, you’ll also need to consider the menu. If you’re serving a multi-course meal, you’ll need fewer appetizers than if you were to serve a light meal or no meal.

A multi-course meal usually includes a starter, main course, and dessert. The starter will be a light dish like salad. The main course will be the largest and heaviest dish. And dessert will be a light, sweet dish to finish the meal.

The menu will give you an idea of how much food your guests will need. If you’re serving a multi-course meal, you will need fewer appetizers because each course will be larger and heavier. If you’re serving a light meal or no meal at all, you will need more appetizers to keep your guests’ appetites satisfied.

fancy canapés on a plate

How Many Canapés Do You Need per Person?

Canapés are bite-sized pieces of savory or sweet food served on a small piece of edible bases like bread or crackers. They are a popular choice for wedding appetizers as they are easy to eat and can be made ahead of time. Canapés are served with drinks, usually before the meal.

If you’re having a cocktail-style reception or a reception that features heavy appetizers instead of dinner, here’s a guide for how many canapés you should serve:

You need 4-6 canapés per person in the first hour for a pre-dinner drink reception. Add 2-3 canapés per person for every subsequent hour. So, for a 2-hour drink reception with 100 guests, you would need 800-1,200 canapés. 

Since canapés are small, the guests will likely snack on them throughout the event rather than eat them all at once.

Vegetable or dairy-free canapés aren’t as filling as those with meat or cheese, so plan accordingly if you have vegan guests to serve more than the average for those guests. 

If you’re serving a lot of carb-free or vegetarian canapés, you may want to add an extra 2-3 per person. 

Consider mixing vegetable canapés with meat or bread-based ones to give your guests more of a variety.

Average Cost of Appetizers per Person

With wedding catering costs averaging at $75 per person, appetizers make up a significant portion of your catering budget. The average price of appetizers or hors d’oeuvres is $20 per person but will depend on the type of appetizers you choose. More elaborate or gourmet appetizers will cost more, while simple finger foods will be less expensive.

For example, you can serve steak or lobster appetizers to get some luxurious food into your menu in bite-size form. More about how much it costs to serve steak at a wedding here. And here’s an article on lobster.

Or you could go the food truck route for a fun approach to apps. Here’s more information about how to have food trucks at your wedding.

Common Guest Sizes and How Many Appetizers You Need

Here is a helpful guide to appetizer quantities based on the size of your guest list:

Number of Wedding GuestsAppetizers Needed Expected Costs
Number of appetizers needed and how much it costs by number of wedding guests

How To Select Wedding Appetizers

A wedding is a once in a lifetime event, so giving extra thought to your food choices is normal. Including the wedding appetizers, which for some is the best food available at a wedding. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your cocktail hour food selection! You may want to select wedding appetizers that are delicious and visually appealing. Or you might want to give your guests a more memorable experience.

For my wedding, I chose to include pretzel pigs in a blanket made with local hot dogs. Not only was it a fun choice that reflected our personality as a couple. (We’re both foodies!) But it also had a local twist that rooted guests in a sense of place. Our venue was nice enough to bring us out a plate while we were taking photos during cocktail hour so we didn’t miss out!

husband and wife playing lawn games during wedding cocktail hour

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing your cocktail hour appetizers:

Keep It Simple

Wedding appetizers don’t need to be complicated. They are about providing a little something to tide your guests over and give them a taste of what’s to come. Stick to simple, classic appetizers that everyone will enjoy. You can customize them around your party menu to make them more unique.

Or Go All Out

For many cultures, the appetizer hour food can be the best food of the entire wedding. I’ve been to many Italian-American weddings for example that had two-hour long cocktail hours with multiple appetizer stations such as pasta or pizza, as well as charcuterie and cheese plates. The amount of food was a dinner in itself!

Check out this article on how long wedding dinners and cocktail hours usually are.

Make It Personal

Your wedding appetizers should reflect your personal taste and style. If you are having a rustic-themed wedding, you might want to serve country-style appetizers like mini quiches or chicken skewers. 

If you’re having a formal affair, you might want to serve elegant appetizers like a shrimp cocktail or caviar. Choose appetizers you and your partner will enjoy and make your wedding day more memorable.

Looking for more unique wedding ideas? Check out this article with unique wedding themes for your big day.

Contrast Colors, Shapes, and Textures

Appetizers need to be visually appealing to be irresistible. Contrast colors, shapes, and textures to create an eye-catching display. For example, you might want to pair a creamy dip with crunchy chips or pair a sweet fruit with savory cheese. This creates a beautiful and delicious spread that your guests will love.

Serve a Variety

You will want to have a variety of appetizers to please all your guests. This means having both hot and cold appetizers and meat and vegetarian options. This will ensure everyone has something to eat and no one goes hungry. It’s also a good idea to have a few gluten-free and dairy-free options for guests with allergies or dietary restrictions.

And if you have kids in attendance, you might want to include a few child-friendly favorites. Here are more ways to make your wedding more kid-friendly.

Balance the Choices

To create a perfect blend, alternate highly-flavored dishes with milder ones, sweet dishes with savory ones, and crunchy dishes with creamy ones. This will ensure that your guests have a variety of flavors and textures to enjoy. Additionally, it will keep them from getting overwhelmed by strong flavors or feeling too full before the main course.

Heck, you could even serve pizza at your cocktail hour! Check out this article about how to serve pizza at your wedding.


Appetizers are an important and joyful part of any wedding. They provide sustenance for your guests and give them something to nibble on as they mingle and chat. You need 6 wedding appetizers per person for a standard party or 12 appetizers for a cocktail party. Offer a variety of appetizers to please all your guests, and ensure you have enough to go around.


Jaime is the owner of Loud Bride and Coast Designs LLC. She got married in 2017 in Geneseo, NY and designed her own wedding invitations and programs for the occasion. Now, she designs bespoke wedding stationery and affordable templates for other couples. She lives in New York city with her husband and two children.

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