Organizing memorable and
practical meals requires a lot more thought and effort
than simply selecting food and beverage. Cutting-edge planners
break away from the comfort traps -- round tables in the dining
area, mind-numbing buffet offerings, rigid time schedules -- to
make meals an enhancement to the event, rather than a feeding
Many attendees have to call in to their
offices during lunch breaks or have been up so early that by 11
a.m. and again at 5 p.m., they are starving. If lunch or dinner
doesn’t include specific content or entertainment -- and the
ballroom or dining area is not being used for functions other than
meals -- try stretching the lunch period from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and
dinner from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For times when a session will be held
or a speaker will give a presentation during a meal, make sure
attendees know in advance the specific time of the event to allow
them to eat before or after at their own discretion. (Note:
Stretching meal hours is not as costly as one would imagine; labor
costs should not change, as they are generally calculated by type
of service and number of attendees.)
Pros: Fewer crowds,
more opportunity to network. Your vendors/exhibitors, busy
attendees and all the early birds in the group will thank you.
Cons: Keeping food
fresh, hot and restocked will be more of a challenge for the
The look and setup of the dining area
can enhance the goals and objectives of an event. If the conference
is meant to generate sales leads, consider creating mini-office
lunch rooms scattered about a ballroom. These areas can be set up
with desks, computers and swivel chairs instead of traditional
rounds (be aware that this will bump your budget up by about 10
percent, but if you factor in a working lunch, you are essentially
merging content and meal costs).
When the purpose of the event is to
promote socializing, creativity and the exchange of ideas, a more
relaxed meal vibe is called for. Mix it up by furnishing club-style
seating: couches, ottomans and cocktail tables (again, this will
cost more than traditional room setups).
For events with larger budgets, theme
the lunch or dinner. One idea: a lakeside picnic, created by
decorating a ballroom with a faux pond, faux grass and checkered
tablecloths; serve picnic foods (sandwiches, chips, brownies) from
colorful picnic baskets. Or create several themed areas throughout
the rooms with beach cabanas, tropical tiki huts, igloos made out
of foam or tents. All these items can be sourced through event
decor or production firms; rental costs typically run from $50
(tents) to $500 (luxury cabanas). Besides decor, these themed
events require more labor and more time to set up.
Pros: Ambience will
help you reach and exceed your goals by influencing how attendees
react and feel within their surroundings.
Cons: If you get the
ambience wrong, it could have a negative effect on your goals and
objectives. And, as noted, it will increase costs.
Jump-start a meal by putting chefs in
the middle of the room in an open kitchen and have them cook up
crowd-friendly, fresh fare, such as tapas (Spanish snacks like mini
tortilla omelets, empa-nadas and paella) or panini.
Be sure to offer traditional foods to sate the fussy eaters in your
group. Don’t forget to include options that address specific
dietary requirements, such as low-sodium and vegetarian dishes.
Pros: You’ll have
happy, impressed, alert attendees.
Cons: There are always
a few who are never happy with food, regardless of choices.
Louise M. Felsher, CMP,
CMM,is a marketing event consultant based in
California’s Silicon Valley.