by Mimi Almeida | November 08, 2012
Making food-and-beverage decisions for dozens of attendees is an enormous responsibility. Smart meeting planners know that the property’s executive chef can be their greatest ally in ensuring a flawless culinary component to functions.

A good chef will want to do everything possible to please planners and attendees alike and will appreciate receiving your input. Following are some tips for getting the most out of your relationship with the magician in the kitchen.

• Study menus. Before meeting the chef, get copies of all the property’s restaurant, room service and banquet menus. They will give you inspiration and direction when working with the chef in designing your own meal plans. Look for recurring themes in item selections across all of these menus; they are cues to the style and specialties of the kitchen.

• Describe your crowd. Be as direct as possible about the sophistication level and demographics of your group. The chef might suggest more adventurous dishes for foodie crowds, or more traditional fare for those with conservative palates.

• Talk about money. Be honest about your budget. If some banquet menu items are out of your reach, ask the chef to recommend less costly alternatives to pricey signature dishes.

• Share your history. Let the chef know about any dishes that were big hits — or flops — with this group or for similar events in the past. Discuss what items to avoid, as well as foods that will go over well.

• Highlight special needs. Be sure to point out any food allergies, vegetarian requests and any particular ethnic or religious preferences of your group. (A general rule of thumb: About 5 percent of attendees will request vegetarian meals.)

• Talk about style and timing. Discuss the best serving formats — e.g., buffet, plated, family-style, or French or Russian wait service — for each meal. Also, discuss any time constraints (for example, a lunch that must be concluded in 30 minutes) or programming issues (if a speaker will kick off the meal, the first course can be set before attendees arrive).

• Think local. Ask the chef for recommendations on seasonal and local specialties. These might not be listed on the standard banquet menus. Not only will food be fresher and reflect regional specialities, using local/seasonal ingredients makes good environmental and often good fiscal sense.

• Address aesthetics. Be very clear about your expectations on food presentation. Even the most delicious food can seem less tasty if it’s not tastefully presented on a platter or plate. Ask the chef for recommendations as to how to present each meal or dish in the most artful, eye-pleasing manner.

• Schedule a test taste. Before committing to a final menu, ask the chef to organize a tasting for you and possibly several other meeting stakeholders. Be polite and respectful in suggesting changes.

• Honor the partnership. Chefs are hard-working professionals with a passion for what they do. They also are seasoned business people with a keen awareness of the realities of their product, process and pricing. With your cooperation, they will leverage those skills to help you meet your goals and budget. MC