Planning a corporate event means that all eyes are on you. You want to ensure your event runs smoothly, as every little slip-up reflects on your ability to do your job.
Whether you work in an event department or it seems the planning just happened to land in your lap, you need to include all the essential elements that make or break an event.
While people will judge you on a number of factors, they will likely be most critical of the food. In this article, we will offer 10 tips to help you serve a well-planned, scrumptious meal at your next corporate event.
1. Understand your budget
Before you do anything, confirm the event budget. If you’re lucky, accounting has a breakdown of costs, including catering. If not, you must consider how much of your overall budget should go towards food and drink.
On average, 36% of all in-person event expenses are related to food and beverages. You can use this number to help estimate how much of your budget is needed to cover your catering costs.
2. Overestimate your headcount
The thing with corporate events is that RSVPs are often put on the back burner, typically by busy executives focused on more important tasks. Unfortunately, these people also become door crashers, acting completely indignant when their name “isn’t on the list.”
Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to overestimate headcount to ensure there is enough seating and food. Provide updates to your caterer as the event date nears, and you’ll also avoid wasting money on no-shows.
3. Consider your preferred service style
Service style refers to how the food is served, whether it is a sit-down dinner, a buffet, or something in between, such as servers mingling with food trays. Not all venues offer the same service options, so discuss this right up front.
It impacts everything from headcount to the location of the space, and from the number of servers required to the entire event space layout.
4. Choose top-notch service
Whether you are serving up homestyle cooking at a buffet, or an elegant four-course meal, make sure your caterer has a reputation for top-notch service.
Even if you have a first-class menu, if your guests can’t enjoy their meal because the service is terrible, the quality of the food is often forgotten.
Ask how long servers have been with the caterer, whether they have full-time or occasional staff, and what type of experience they have at your type of event.
5. Menu, menu, menu
While real estate is all about location, location, location, catering is all about menu, menu, menu. Therefore, there are several menu considerations:
- Timing: Are you planning an all-day event with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a luncheon, a breakfast, or a dinner?
- Service: Are you having a buffet, a sit-down meal, or serving appetizers at a cocktail event?
- Courses: Will the meal involve several courses?
- Creativity: Are there special creative elements you’d like included in the menu, such as a carving station, or DIY crepe stand for dessert?
- Mass appeal: Is there a certain demographic you have to appeal to?
- Diet restrictions: What are your diet restrictions?
- Guest’s choice: Would you like to include a dinner option in the RSVP, such as vegan, chicken, or fish?
- Survey: Do you want to send out a survey to guests offering various menu options such as a sushi bar, pasta, a certain international cuisine, etc.?
- Bar: Is this an event where a bar makes sense, such as a gala or celebration, or is it a business luncheon or conference that should be “dry”?
6. Get creative
Instead of being tied down to traditional menus and catering, consider creative ways to liven up the event.
For example, you might want to have a cocktail created to greet guests as they arrive, or set up different food stations people visit throughout the evening such as an hors d’oeuvre station, crepe station, carving station, or dessert station.
These ideas create memorable dining experiences that showcase your creativity. Just be sure to keep things relevant to your guests.
7. Variety: The spice of life
If your budget allows, avoid being too restrictive and predictable with the menu. This isn’t about creativity and, instead, all about variety. What can you do to make things more enticing?
Perhaps it’s a menu featuring foods from around the world? You might introduce new ingredients or feature local seasonal ingredients.
Variety is the best way to take a ho-hum predictable menu to the next level and offer options that guests can enjoy.
8. Create a drink menu
Evening and gala events call for a drink menu, so don’t forget to include alcohol in the mix when planning your catering. Have fun creating a drink menu to both please and entertain guests.
Offering a customized selection of cocktails is always fun. You can name each cocktail after department heads or use industry buzzwords. The ingredients can also be sourced based on your business. Either way, drink menus are all the rage these days.
You can also focus on something more specific such as holding a craft beer, whisky, or vodka tasting. This adds a little more “spirit” to your event than a dull wine tasting.
Consider what drinks should be served throughout the event, like a cocktail or aperitifs to greet guests, wine for the meal, and specialty coffees to end the evening. Include mocktails and a wide selection of non-alcoholic drinks, so no one is left out.
9. Avoid common catering mistakes
To make sure things go to plan, avoid these common catering mistakes:
- Not keeping an up-to-date headcount of guests
- Not setting a budget
- Not shopping around for a caterer if this is your first event
- Disregarding dietary restrictions or allergies
- Not asking for a customized menu
- Not asking for an all-in cost
10. Create a serving schedule
For the final tip: Don’t depend on your caterers to decide when to serve food. This is especially important when dealing with multiple courses or special serving stations.
Create an itinerary outlining when each course should be served, right down to the coffee. This ensures the food arrives when people are hungry and every dish is served fresh at the ideal temperature.
Catering is often the focal point of a corporate event, with people looking forward to a good meal to celebrate their hard work. These tips will ensure that you exceed guest expectations and create a memorable meal everyone will enjoy.