Blog #7 – Catering for an event – remember it is not just about the food and drink!

In News, Events by Anna Bailey

Organising an event can be a daunting task and, whether a corporate or private event, very often it is the dining experience that guests remember – and talk about – long after the event itself has drawn to a close. So, it is important to spend as much time, and available budget, to ensure that the catering of your event is memorable for all the right reasons. 

So, where to start?

Rule # 1 – don’t overthink it. If you are planning a wedding or a birthday party, zoom out and think about what it is you want at your event and what you think your guests might enjoy – jot down some initial ideas and chat to some open-minded friends and family members about what they think. If you’re planning a business or corporate event, consider the demographic of the attendees and consider aspects such as the seasons; salads are lovely and healthy, but something warmer may be more appealing to winter delegates.

Rule # 2 – in our experience, guests do admire you for trying something a little bit different in terms of cuisine or style of delivery, as long as you keep in mind that you can’t expect to please all the people all the time! For a wedding, remember it is the special couple’s day so reflecting their love of Thai food, their vegan diet or passion for pie and mash, could be a really great opportunity to have some fun with the menu. For corporate events, consider the client and what might reflect their values or brand. Think about sustainability or provenance of the food served and look at local produce or artisan goods if budget allows. If a ticketed event, consider the price the guests are paying. There is nothing worse than an event where attendees are left questioning the quality or quantity of food versus price they have paid!

Rule # 3 – think about the structure and flow of your event and how many times you might need to nourish your guests. If you are holding a full-day conference, then it is polite to offer your guests something with their morning tea and coffee and then keep them well-fed and watered all day, sometimes long into the evening.

For the various offerings, perhaps have some healthy options available, as they can be long days. Whatever time of the day you are holding your event, make it very clear whether you will be providing food or refreshment, what will be available. There is nothing worse than attending an event where this has not been made clear, guests eating beforehand (just to be on the safe side) and then seeing the dismayed organisers wondering why no one is touching the food!  If you are planning a wedding, think about the timing of the ceremony – if it is at 1pm and the Wedding Breakfast isn’t being served until 5pm, then you really need to factor in some additional sustenance to ensure that something is soaking up the alcohol readily on offer. Likewise, if you have guests arriving later, make sure they are offered something to eat.

Rule #4 – establish whether your venue offers flexibility for catering. Some venues will have their own in-house caterers, whilst others will allow you to bring in your own choice of suppliers. Be careful here as you might need to include the provision of tables, chairs, chair covers linen, cutlery, crockery, glassware in your catering budget. Be very careful to ask the right questions and establish exactly what the venue offers and what it doesn’t. Your numbers will dictate the different serving options – such as sit-down meal, buffet serving stations, bowl food; there are many options available these days, but you also need to consider how your guests will eat. Most people of a certain age feel more comfortable sitting down and eating rather than perching at a poseur table, whilst younger people will probably be fine with it, so it is important to consider the appropriate needs of your audience.

Rule #5 – before you speak to caterers, you need to establish the approximate number of guests you are expecting as well as an indication of available budget. This will enable caterers to present you with viable menu options for the size of event.

Rule #6 – finalise any theme before appointing your caterers. It is important that the theme of your event be carried through to the catering otherwise the event may feel rather disjointed.

Rule #7 - once you have done your homework, sought recommendations and references and then appointed your caterers, do just let them get on with it. They know what they are doing and – unless you are a trained chef – you will just get in the way. Remember that they do this for a living so ask them for ideas – what has worked for similar occasions to yours? Consider that what might work well for a beach wedding is likely to be completely unsuitable for a formal event in a grander environment. Once you have tasted and chosen your menu, then you should always leave the rest to the professionals (or your event planner who has experience of managing caterers). They will also be able to help and support with dietary requirements and allergies, which are hugely important now. 

Rule #8 – keep the venue/catering manager updated with numbers/dietary requirements/allergies and so on in the lead-up to the event. With a corporate event especially, numbers can change quite drastically in the lead up and it is important to be very clear on the date you are expected to provide final numbers, as this is what you will be charged for.

Rule #9 – the bar bill. This is an important factor in the success of any event as the last thing you want to do is face an unexpected bar bill. Set any tab or limit before the event and, if there is to be any leeway at all in terms of budget during the event, then make sure the catering manager knows exactly who is to authorise that change.

Rule #10 – for a corporate event, plan the timing of any catering breaks with your catering manager well in advance of the event itself. Then, on the day, keep the catering team well informed. It is usually sensible to have at least one member of your event management team focused solely on overseeing/liaising with the catering team. It is a real skill to keep an event to time and sessions, speeches etc. will always overrun so you must always keep the catering manager in the loop so that they can ensure the food is kept hot and, more importantly, safe.

Get in touch! 

We hope that this blog has been useful. Effective planning of your catering requirements and close collaboration with your catering manager during the event are both key to its success. We have managed many events of all kinds and dealt with many different catering personalities – believe me, it always helps to have decades of experience up your sleeve when running an event!

Do you have an event coming up and no idea where to start?

Please get in touch and contact us here, we’d be delighted to help you!