Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
Food & Beverage
BY Oren Jaffe, CMP
EVALUATING A CATERING DEPARTMENT
Trust your eyes and taste buds when inspecting a property’s
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
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.
AT YOUR SERVICE
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
On your tour, note if the floors, cutting boards, sinks, ovens,
refrigerators, storage units and overall area are being
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?
OBEYING THE LAWS
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 (www.fsis.usda.gov), the
Food and Drug Administration (vm.cfsan.fda.gov), and the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/foodsafety).
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
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