Food and beverages are an important part of almost all corporate events; have you attended one without any? Probably not. Guests are more likely to enjoy - and remember - events or occasions where great food has been served; there is also a great amount of behind-the-scenes thought and planning that goes into setting a menu. Which is why planning the menu for an event is not so simple as hiring a caterer and telling them to “go nuts”. It is absolutely essential that the event planner and the catering professional put in concerted efforts to plan the food correctly.
Now, let us talk about some important considerations to be kept in mind while looking to build the best menu possible:
Know Your Guests and Their Preferences
If there is something that goes without saying, it is this: know who’s attending your event, their demographics - age, gender, ethnic or financial background etc. - and its influence on their preferences.
It is also sometimes important to keep in mind the type of the event, as that also may play a key role in limiting the options to be provided. For example, if you are planning food options for guests attending a national-level conference, where you expect attendance from almost all States, it is better to come up with popular options that represent each State in attendance.
Keep in mind, demographics may or may not affect your food choices, but it’s ok to allow some stereotyping to inform your menu.
Provide Choices. As Much As Possible
This might seem like something that’s obvious, but it's still worth mentioning: go for as much variety as possible. The menu should include several pre-packaged meal options and customizable selections. It’s wise to remember that there is no fixed approach to incorporate diversity in your food options, especially when you’re looking to feed them throughout the day. However, here’s a reference, for a start:
Breakfast: Packaged menus are usually more cost-effective and easier to select for breakfast, including continental options, hot buffets and breakfast stations. However, you can also have the option of offering some DIY items, like a build-your-own sandwich bar or make-your-own salad line with creative toppings.
Lunch: Most caterers offer several lunch buffet options, "working lunch" choices (such as a la carte sandwiches and appropriate sides), and even boxed lunches. The best choice of meal type will be entirely dependent on how much time guests will have to eat.
Dinner: You always have a choice of packaged dinner buffets or plated dinners, and both can offer a choice of three to five courses.
For multi-day conferences however, it is also advisable to plan beyond the three-square-meals-a-day concept and include options around the scheduled breaks, too. For break items, it is better to choose themed breaks, rather than standard beverages and snacks, to make things interesting and also to initiate a conversation among guests.
Prioritise Seasonal, Fresh Foods
Think a bit about what time of the year your event is taking place. Based on this calculation, try to account for the items that are available during that period only. This helps in economising the budget allocated for food and beverages in the event. For example, choosing baked items and warm wraps during winters, and providing fresh salads and light desserts during summers.
Apart from that, picking out seasonal food options also sends out a positive gesture of inclusivity, especially for events held during festivals. For example, if you are planning to host an event during or around the time of Ramadan, it would be a heartwarming gesture to incorporate some food options specific to the month, like haleem.
Think about Regional Food Options, Too.
Making a note of where the event is organized is equally as important as when or what time of the year it is being held. If, for example, you are hosting a national-level event and a large number of North Indian guests attend it, consider working with your caterer to create region-specific options.
Time Holds the Key
To decide with the best food options that go along with your event, it is necessary to have a general idea of how long each type of food takes on an average, and plan your menu accordingly. This should also incorporate the time taken for preparing the items, setting them out and serving the guests, and a ballpark figure for the time it takes to consume it. Time is the ultimate factor deciding what sort of meal you’ll be able to offer. If your event only allows for a few minutes of spare time here and there, a box lunch or a few food vendors might be your best choice. If you’re running into the evening and want to serve a buffet or plated meal, leave a few hours in which to do so.
Consider the Special Needs of Your Guests
Menu planning considerations generally should take into account special needs of the attendees. If any of your guests have special needs or dietary requirements – such as dietary needs, religious restrictions, or severe food allergies – you need to be aware of them. It’s critical that you don’t offer food that may offend – or worse, harm – any of your attendees.
A final tip. Your caterer must know the proposed setup in order to plan perfect execution of the menu. So, consider sharing the location of the event and the arrangement plans for your guests well in advance with the caterer.
This is our two cents’ contribution to this topic. If you have some feedback, comments or suggestions to share, please do not hesitate and drop them in the comments section below!