When arranging the food and beverage for your
meeting, options on the same old catering menu can be pretty
boring. Sometimes it seems that every facility offers the same
items they just give them different names. After all, how many ways
can you serve scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast or prepare a
chicken Caesar salad for lunch? How many times can you serve
chicken and still keep attendees happy?
To add some zest, follow these suggestions for straying from
Know Your Client
Before deciding to tweak the banquet offerings, find out what your
attendees like to eat. To create a winning menu, you need to know
your group’s demographics and eating habits, what they enjoyed last
year and what wasn’t so popular.
Refer to your notes from events past to learn from old home
runs and errors. Or, if you are new to the event, ask committee
members or others involved in the planning process to recall what
earned raves and what went back to the kitchen untouched.
Make sure whatever you serve fits your audience. A group
function simply is not the time to surprise meat eaters with a
plate of sushi.
Of course, your budget will control what meals you can serve.
You should know exactly how much you have to spend for every meal,
including the accompanying tax and gratuity. This will help you
decide what you can afford and how much wow you can add to the
Meet the Chef
A great way to ensure a wonderful dining experience is to
engage those who will be preparing your meals.
As the menu discussions begin, ask to meet with the chef. Get
together in the catering manager’s office so you can chat and get
to know one another. Ask where the chef studied, where he
apprenticed, other jobs he’s held and what his current favorite
ingredients are. Show interest in the rest of the kitchen staff by
touring their work areas and asking questions about what they like
to cook. Let them know you are excited to have them on your
Share your experiences with the chef, including what has been
successful with your group or areas that could use some
improvement. Discuss your budget, and ask for help creating
something new and fresh within your price range. Most kitchen
staffs will be happy to be given such a challenging
Make It Special
We meeting planners have hundreds of details to manage and
often get comfortable doing elements of our jobs the same way every
time. Managing meals is no exception.
So how do we keep things under control but create an
environment that encourages creativity? By trying to make the meal
For example: Instead of a plated meal with salad, pasta and a
dinner roll, add some pizzazz by theming the meal. Have the
waitstaff wear chef’s hats, play some great Italian music, set up
pasta stations in front of the guests, and offer varieties of sauce
and toppings for them to dress their plates themselves.
Serve the salad and rolls family-style from large bowls placed
at each table. Instead of cola and iced tea, offer Italian-style
flavored waters and maybe hire a singing waiter to serve the
drinks. After the meal, offer espresso instead of coffee. Make it
fun for everyone, including the servers.
A good reason to go off menu is to engage and inspire all those
involved in the meal-planning process including you. Yes, it’s a
lot easier to just pick up a menu and order “the usual” corporate
cuisine, but why do that when a whole new world of wonderful dining
experiences awaits the enjoyment of all? All you have to do is
Bob Krause is founder of Plann-It Meetings & Events
in San Diego (www.plann-it.com),
specializing in corporate meetings.