Is abundance better than variety?
March 13, 2012 4:26 PM   Subscribe

How many varieties of tiny bite-sized dessert cakes should I offer if I want to serve 20 people? (Limitation: I can only buy 70 pieces.)

I'm throwing a surprise party for my in-laws and I need help with the desserts. Rather than a single cake, I'm opting for bite-sized desserts.
  • I have 22 unique and interesting flavors from which to choose (see them here)
  • Most of the guests are 50+ years old; the rest are in their 30s
  • I have one important guest with Celiac disease (who may or may not like chocolate, but I'd like to have one gluten-free option)

Essentially, my question is this: Should I keep the number of flavors equal to the number of pieces I'm "allotting" for each person... (i.e., If there are 5 flavors, would people take 5 pieces, even though normally they would only take 2 or 3 pieces?) ... Or could I offer more flavors and hope people will only take 2-3 pieces?

BTW, suggestions for flavor choices and quantities of each are welcomed. I'm finding it awfully difficult to anticipate the palates of people I don't know very well.
posted by parilous to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Depends on how the meal is being served and the style of party it is.

Buffet style: First-come, first-served. I would just pick four common flavors and not overwhelm people with too many choices. If it's a small dinner party, most people are restrained.

Sit-down style: Serve small platters where each guest gets a plate with 3 different kinds of flavors and leave 10 for those who want extras.
posted by HeyAllie at 4:40 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Before I clicked through to the bakery's link, I wrote, "I suspect with bite-sized desserts, most people are going to take one of each flavor if they see an array of them on offer. I'd go with 70/20...20 each of one variety, with the remaining 10 as gluten-free."

However, upon looking at how the mini cakes all look like alike but for frosting color, I'd go with 3 each of all 22 varieties (if possible), with the remainder as extra gluten-free ones kept in reserve/hidden to make sure your important guest gets something they can eat.

Also, ask the bakery. In my experience, no one is better at suggesting flavor combos and portion sizes than the baker who made the product.
posted by jamaro at 4:42 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Five varieties with three being gluten-free. Which flavours you choose will only matter to you as no one else will know which flavours you did not choose.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 4:42 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Although I can't find citations right now, I seem to recall various studies showing that people tend to eat more if there are more options presented (i.e., taste a little bit of each kind of thing).

I'd say that the more important thing, if you really can't order more than 70 pieces, is how the desserts are served. If you have one table with all the options and plates, I suspect that would get people to eat more than if you had, say, servers mingling with trays and passing out only napkins, or even if you just had trays positioned throughout the room. Also, are you serving other food? If not, I'd suggest also limiting alcohol so that people don't get accidentally drunk from eating so little.

Finally, I'd put aside the options for people with special dietary needs (celiac, vegan, etc.) and not offer them to the larger group. Otherwise, someone is going to eat all of Aunt Sally's dessert without realizing that she needs it, and she won't get any (I say this as a long-time vegetarian who is pretty used to going hungry when meat-eaters end up eating all of the veggie options at buffets).
posted by decathecting at 4:44 PM on March 13, 2012

The more choices you offer, the less likely people will be satisfied with the choice they make. I would stick with 3 or maybe 4 choices (can you negotiate the price down if you're buying more of them?).
posted by katemonster at 5:43 PM on March 13, 2012

12 each of the following:

Oreo Cake Truffle
Chocolate Strawberry Cake Truffle
Cookie Dough Truffle
Ultimate Chocolate Truffle
Lemon Cake Truffle

3 each of the 3 Gluten Free ones (serve on a separate platter, alerting your friend of her options).
Substitute any of the above for a flavor that is a favorite of in-laws.

It's super easy to dip strawberries in chocolate. Serve chocolate covered strawberries with the truffles to break things up a bit. Treat it like a tasting party, with dessert wine, coffee and hot tea on hand. Use pretty napkins instead of plates and encourage guests to move about the room and visit while tasting.

70 should be plenty. Most people over 50 watch their sugar intake. I think your dessert option is perfect for the over 50 crowd. Cake would be too much sugar. This is perfect, they can have a treat without overindulging.

I would mix the flavors up on 3 or 4 platters, with the chocolate covered strawberries mixed in as accents. Have a list handy of what the flavors are (with pictures if possible) and give the list to either father in law or mother in law, whomever is more social. They will have so much fun discovering the flavors with their friends. Keep a knife handy for those who want to split one, just to have a taste.

It really is a great dessert idea- very social and interesting. Message me if you need tips on dipping strawberries.
posted by myselfasme at 5:43 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like myselfasme's idea of adding chocolate-covered strawberries; why not go farther, and add a selection of fresh fruit? You could also use (seedless) grapes, both green and purple, interspersed on the platters with the little cakes; maybe make up a bowl of cut fruits like melon chunks, mandarin orange segments, grapes and/or blueberries --- decorative, flavorful, and it'll make your cakes go that much farther.
posted by easily confused at 6:07 PM on March 13, 2012

Three flavours: a chocolate one, a fruity one, and a safe or crazy one, depending on your crowd. I'd get three gluten free ones for the celiac, and keep them entirely separate, or only get gluten free. Don't get the peanut butter one, cookie dough isn't a flavour that older people usually get into too much, maybe coconut is a good idea for the non choc, non fruit. People will tend to want to try all the flavours, given half a chance, minimise internal struggles and snatching by limiting choices.
posted by thylacinthine at 6:23 PM on March 13, 2012

Ah, it's the pizza problem. When ordering pizza for a large crowd, do you buy five or six different kinds of pizza, or just a whole bunch of two kinds?

In my experience as frequent office-pizza-order-er, the experience is better with a more limited selection.

If you buy five kinds of pizza, you get less of each kind, and thus there is a greater chance that one kind will run out before someone gets to try it. Also, there will inevitably be one flavor that no one likes, which means that you end up with inefficiency - i.e. leftover pizza. Finally, people tend to dither and panic over their choices if you give them too many options.

However, if you buy 3 standards, everyone is happy and there is more than enough of each. (Pepperoni, cheese, "the works.")

In this case, I would go with:
  • Ultimate Chocolate Cake
  • Red Velvet Cake Truffle
  • Peanut Butter Balls GF
I was looking for a "white cake" option, because in any group of people, there's always at least one who always likes plain food. I guess if I was going to add a fourth, I would choose carrot cake.

As a bonus, these each ought to look different enough that people will be able to tell what they are getting. There are a lot of potential lookalikes on that list, and you know Aunt Mildred is going to be ticked off if she bites into a Lemon Cake thinking it's Pina Colada Cake, or vice versa. You'd never hear the end of it.
posted by ErikaB at 6:39 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would also limit it to three flavors so that people don't feel like they're missing out when they don't get to try as many as are available.

I personally would pick as being likely the most commonly enjoyed (not what I, personally would want):
Ultimate Chocolate Cake Truffle
Lemon Cake Truffle
Raspberry Cake Truffle OR Carrot Cake Truffle

I'd get 21x each of those, and then get the remaining 7 in the gluten-free. The extras on all sides are for accidents/unforeseen grazing.

The other option I'd consider would be to get 23x:
Ultimate Chocolate Cake Truffle
Lemon Cake Truffle
Cherry Jubilee Truffle (gluten-free)

I'd think the cherry would be the most uniformly liked of the gluten-free options.
posted by vegartanipla at 6:41 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think 3 options with one of those three being gluten free is perfect - then you can label them and make it easy for people to discern which is which (and especially for your gluten free guest, and you won't run out of the gluten free option before he or she gets to the dessert table).

The ones that sounded best to me were
- carrot cake truffle
- lemon cake truffle
- raspberry cake truffle
- cherry jubilee truffle - gluten free
posted by echo0720 at 6:47 PM on March 13, 2012

As odd as it sounds not everyone likes chocolate. And as someone who's job has occasionally involved overseeing catered gigs for groups of 20-100, there are some people who don't think it's dessert WITHOUT chocolate. So I would vote for one chocolate thing, one fruity thing, and one neutral thing, agreeing that the special gluten-free cake truffles should be kept separate. Since they're for a specific person, why not ask them which they prefer? No doubt s/he will appreciate not only edible treats, but ones that s/he actually likes.
posted by smirkette at 7:01 PM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

In this instance, I think you either need to go with 3 flavors or more than 10 flavors. If you go with any number in between, you will get people who want to try them all and take more than their share. If you go with more than 10, it should be clear that people need to be selective. 6 each of 12 flavors would be 72, which is 2 more than you need, but close.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 PM on March 13, 2012

I'd also go for fewer choices because people will be tempted to try one of everything.

Maybe do two parts chocolate, one part fruity, one part vanilla. People tend to gravitate toward chocolate.
posted by elizeh at 7:09 PM on March 13, 2012

If I were a guest, I would be (a little bit) sad if I had my eye on one particular variety and it got all eaten before I got a chance to have some. So I think 2 or max 3 varieties would be best: that way no one will probably miss out on their first choice(s).
posted by lollusc at 7:27 PM on March 13, 2012

If there were 5 varieties I would be tempted to try them all. I like the choose three idea. I really like the "include fresh fruit" idea.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:18 PM on March 13, 2012

There's lots of good answers here but sticking with 3 or 4 types is better than 10 or 15. It's just the way people are, limited choices makes people happier.

In my experience, the general population is usually split somewhat evenly between chocolate and lemon lovers, with some strange people liking nuts over both. I would go with Ultimate Chocolate, Lemon Cake and Coconut Almond (bonus: GF!), with maybe bringing in Grand Marnier, Mocha Cake or Red Velvet for variety.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:06 PM on March 13, 2012

From my reading, some answerers are unclear on this, so I just want to note that ALL of these cake balls are dipped in chocolate. Even the fruity or nut ones.

So if you have guests that don't like chocolate, I don't know that any of these cake truffles are going to be their favoritest dessert ever. But I wouldn't worry about it. Though if you are planning on doing a fruit thing too, I would say don't dip them in chocolate as well, just to hedge your bets.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:22 PM on March 13, 2012

Though I guess it's contestable if white chocolate really counts as chocolate...
posted by vegartanipla at 10:24 PM on March 13, 2012

Thanks to everyone for the feedback. It sounds overwhelmingly like it should be limited to <5>
We're having the party in a restaurant after hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, and a full dinner. The desserts will be buffet-style; the dinner is not. We liked the bite-sized idea because it was good for those watching their calories and sugar. (It's harder to estimate either with a slice of cake.) The cakes will be plated on a 4-tier serving stand. I have a matching cake plate, as well.

All food items will be labeled, including the gluten-free option(s). Unfortunately, I can't ask specific preference, as the surprise would be ruined. I like the idea of saving it aside separately, perhaps in its own box.

I will check into getting fresh fruit, but in my experience, restaurants tend to be dodgy about bringing in outside food, save for store-bought cake. Great advice, though!

Thanks again!
posted by parilous at 11:28 PM on March 13, 2012

Ack! my previewed answer didn't look like that. :( Here's the first paragraph without the HTML error:

Thanks to everyone for the feedback. It sounds overwhelmingly like it should be limited to less than 5 flavors. I'm fascinated by the thought process for your choices, so I especially appreciate those that spelled their rationale out for me. Very, very helpful!
posted by parilous at 11:29 PM on March 13, 2012

Definitely keep the gluten free ones totally separate. Not only will they not get eaten, but then you limit the possibility of any cross contamination (for example, using the same knife to cut gluten containing then gluten free food is enough to make someone with Celiac disease sick). I'd personally be a little bit worried about both types of food coming from the same kitchen, I have at least one Celiac friend for which this would be unacceptable. So maybe confirm with the bakery what their level of 'gluten free' entails (they should have a flyer or paperwork or something you can have on hand for your friend). If they don't really know then I'd be extra worried, like they don't actually understand what gluten free really means for someone with Celiac disease.

I also agree with only choosing three. I'm actually getting slightly itchy at the thought of all those types of cake I can't try if there were more! Chocolate, fruit, and lemon or plain also seems like a good mix, that way there will be something everyone likes plus those three things just go together well. For fruit etc you could probably get either the cake people or the restaurant people to provide this for you (for a cost of course!) thus getting around the problem of bringing in outside food.
posted by shelleycat at 1:17 AM on March 14, 2012

OK, I've decided on selecting 3 flavors (23 truffles of each) and buy one of each of the 3 gluten-free flavors to save aside in a separate container (for a total of 72).

I chose:

* Ultimate chocolate
* Lemon or Raspberry (I will consult with bakery to see which is more popular)
* Carrot

If it were for me or my friends, the flavor choices would be very different; but most people mentioned 1-2 of these flavors, so I think they will have the most appeal. Thanks, everyone!
posted by parilous at 12:21 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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