February 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 2001 Current Issue
February 2001 Food&BeveragePLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Food & Beverage

BY Oren Jaffe, CMP


Trust your eyes and taste buds when inspecting a property’s kitchen facilities

You can dazzle a group with five-star hotels, exciting speakers and special effects. But if the food at an event isn’t good, participants will leave with a bad taste in their mouths.

During site inspections, it is imperative to assess the hotel’s catering department. The following suggestions should help you make sure the food is up to par.

The site visit is the perfect time to evaluate a hotel’s catering manager, so ask him to accompany you during a tour of the kitchen. Note his attitude and friendliness. Has he done his homework to find out the catering needs of your meeting? Does he introduce you to key kitchen staff?

The catering manager can help determine what ratio of servers to guests you will need. Review your requirements with him and verify that he can provide sufficient staff for your functions, including emergency additions in the event of a strike.

Your first impressions will be visual. Do staffers’ hands look clean? Are chefs wearing hair nets? An unkempt staff can mean unsanitary conditions and a higher risk of food poisoning for your group.

On your tour, note if the floors, cutting boards, sinks, ovens, refrigerators, storage units and overall area are being continuously cleaned.

Hotels should be happy to let you taste and evaluate food quality. After being seated, note how long it takes servers to bring out the food and beverages. Evaluate the manners, attire and professionalism of the catering staff. Ask food-related questions, and assess the accuracy and attitude of the responses.

Note the appearance and clarity of the menu. Does the food itself look fresh, hearty and colorful? Are the plates, glasses and silverware clean? Are the napkins clean and folded creatively? Is the server polite and efficient? If sampling a buffet, analyze the appearance, freshness and abundance of each item. Is there a “sneeze guard” (a protective overhang) atop the buffet station? Are there sufficient dishes, glasses, silverware and napkins? Is the area being cleaned continuously? Do you have ample space to maneuver around the buffet? Are foods clearly identified?

In addition to appearance, note how each food item smells and tastes. Have all dishes been cooked correctly? Ask how the hotel monitors food and beverages for quality. After your sampling, how thoroughly and quietly does the staff remove the dishes?

To prevent health problems resulting from contamination and poor sanitation, ensure that the hotel complies with the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

A number of government agencies have Web sites with information about these laws and other matters of food safety, including the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (, the Food and Drug Administration (, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

Make sure the hotel has adequate insurance to cover any health incident, ranging from minor food poisoning to death, caused by food served on the premises.

Your contract with the hotel should clearly spell out all your catering needs, including service, costs (plus gratuities), health-law compliance and insurance. In addition, it should include the schedule for all catering events.

Finally, make a few unannounced visits to affirm or disprove possible problems found during the site inspection. If you are consistently impressed, the hotel probably will please your attendees.

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