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4 Hints for Nailing the Food and Catering at Your Next Event

March 14, 2019

Nailing this is part art, part science. Nevertheless, these four tips can help.

Planning food and beverage for a conference can be a challenge. If you miscalculate, you may not have enough or may overspend and end up with waste.

Here are four tips to help get your planning right.

1. Understand your audience

The first step is to know your guests. What are their general likes and dislikes? Is the event social or professional? How many guests will attend? Do some any potential allergies or other restrictions based on company policy, cultural, or religious considerations?

Knowing your audience and event will help you plan service levels, meal, and drink options, and how much food and beverage to order. More on this later.

2. Know your numbers

Many venues require you to provide firm F&B numbers 48-to-72 business hours prior to the event. This figure determines the number of meals you order and will be charged for.

Be aware that your meal order will determine your meal overset number—the number of extra meals the venue provide to cover unforeseen factors.

This figure varies from venue to venue and is between 0 per cent to 5 per cent, and sometimes more. But the industry average is 3 per cent.

This means that when confirming for 100 meals, the venue will have between 0 to 5 extra meals on hand.

Planning ample time for functions is also important. Allow 30 to 40 minutes for a breakfast, a minimum of 45 to 60 minutes for lunch, depending on the amount of people and how the meal is served.

Self-serve buffet options may require less time and are ideal for smaller groups. Plated meals take longer, especially if one server is used to serve multiple tables versus one server per table.

Refreshment breaks for 100 guests should be a minimum of 15 minutes, 30 minutes for groups up to 1,000 and 45 minutes for groups larger than 1,000.

3. Some rule of thumbs

Ordering the right amount of food and beverages is a challenge. Remember you will pay for every meal guaranteed, whether it is consumed or not.

So, it’s usually better to order less, understand the overset, and order more when needed.

  • Beverages

A safe rule-of-thumb is that 70 per cent of attendees will consume coffee, 20 per cent will drink decaf coffee and 10 per cent will drink tea. You could also have soft drinks available.

For more memorable gatherings, you may choose to provide local wines or craft beers.

If so, plan on providing one bartender/bar per 75 to 100 attendees.

When hosting a cash bar after a meeting, approximately 50 per cent of the attendees will participate. When having a hosted bar, 75+ per cent of the attendees will participate.

If hosting a bar, count on 2.5 drinks per person for a 1-hour event. If ordering wine by the bottle, estimate 5 glasses of wine per bottle.  If hosting a seated dinner with wine, estimate ½ bottle of wine per guest.

It is key however that you know your audience. Some may be inclined to consume less or more, and most event venues can advise you based on their previous experience.

  • Food

For buffet meals such as continental breakfasts, lunches and morning breaks try ordering meals at attendance x 80 per cent. With 100 attendees, this would guarantee 80 meals, a number that can be increased on site if needed.

Most events have a percentage of no-shows, or people not participating in meal events. You don’t want to overcommit and waste money and resources.

For afternoon breaks you may order attendance x 65 per cent. Many people may still be satisfied from lunch and not want to snack during the afternoon.

For more formal sit down and plated meals you might order attendance x 90 per cent. With 100 people attending and oversets you are usually covered.

Bear in mind that while hotel and resort kitchens may be able to easily serve additional meals, off-site events may not be able to provide additional meals.

  • Hors d’Oeuvres

The ordering of hors d’oeuvres (or nibbles or finger food or starters depending on where you’re based!) depends on the event following the reception. Is the reception followed by a dinner or not?

A 1-hour reception with dinner following will require 3-7 pieces per person, depending on the type of eaters you have at the event.
A reception not followed by dinner will require 8-to-12 pieces per person.
A 2-to 3-hour reception not followed by dinner will require 10 to 16 pieces per person.
4. Leftovers

Do you have a plan for dealing with the inevitable leftovers?

Consider donating the food to homeless shelters or distribution organisations for the needy in the area. If local regulations permit, you could take leftover treats directly to housekeeping and engineering departments at venues. In UK you cannot give away hot food due to food hygiene considerations, however cold food items are fine, as long as it is still compliant with health and safety considerations. Perhaps nothing can contribute more to the success of your event than having amazing food. If you plan ahead and get it right, your delegates will thank you for it.

For full details of all the catering offered at Cavendish Venues, have a look at our dedicated pages here https://www.cavendishvenues.co.uk/catering/

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