Event Planning: Food and Beverage Services
and Venues Even if your event is only a few hours long
you’ll need to feed your attendees something and supply them with beverages. At the very
least, a three-hour board meeting requires a coffee, water and snack service. If your
event is a many day conference, you’ll be planning for and providing breakfasts, lunches,
dinners, coffee breaks and a variety of receptions. The old adage “a way to a man’s heart
is through his stomach” becomes “a way to your attendees happiness and productivity
is through well planned food and beverage services” for event planners. In this video
module we’ll explore food and beverage service types and their benefits, styles of meals
and beverage services based on your attendee base, variables you must consider when planning
your food and beverage services and ways you can trim your food and beverage budget without
leaving your guests wanting. For some events, you may want to choose a
self-catered option. This is when you invite your guests to bring their own refreshments
and is only appropriate for small groups who intend to roll up their sleeves, get to work
on something mutually important to all of them, and not waste any time with frills and
fuss. These attendees will also have agreed that they want a self-catered event to cut
the overall costs of attending it. If the event is about food, a convention of chefs
or bakers for example, you may want to host a showcase meal where each attendee prepares
a specialty and enough of it for everyone to have a sample. In any self-catered event,
make sure you have an alcohol policy and whatever permit you may need for alcohol to be used
on the premises. If you are having caterers provide your food
services, you first need to decide if the food will be prepared on-premise or off-premise.
In many cases, your venue will have on-premise food service providers and disallow any other
caterers to provide food other than specialty items like wedding cakes. If there are no
restrictions to using outside caterers, you need to determine if it makes more sense for
your caterer to use kitchen facilities, if any, at the venue or prepare all of the food
at their facility and deliver it for plating and serving only. Some caterers will only
use their own facilities, others are quite flexible. You will also have to make special
accommodations for specialty caterers who provide chuckwagon barbecues cooked outside,
Hawaiian in-ground pig roasts, picnics and the like. When making these determinations,
factor in such issues as food safety—how long the food will be prepared before its
delivered and heat conditions that may lead to food spoilage for instance—as well as
how the menu choices will look and taste if they are pre-cooked or if they must be fully
prepared on site to be optimally fresh and tasty.
You may also decide to hold one or many food and beverage services at existing restaurants
or pubs. These facilities may be on site or off; either way, you need to make sure the
facility is fully amenable to closing to the public for your private function and willing
to create custom menus for your group. Help the facility make closing to the public painless
for everyone involved by posting signs about the closing well in advance, making it clear
on event day that the place is hostng a private party, supplying a drink or food voucher for
anyone who still ends up being turned away, etc. It is also a good idea to notify neighboring
facilities they may have extra business and even provide transportation or directions
for those who are turned away. If you bring in a bartender service for any
portion of your events, it will be hosted—you pay for the beverages consumed, non-hosted
or cash bar where the guests buy their own drinks or a combination thereof; for example,
you may give each guest a voucher for one free drink at a cash bar or host the bar for
an hour and then switch it to no-hosted. Regardless of the type of service you choose, make sure
your bartenders can all make any type of drink requested and/or are knowledgeable about any
specialty bar services you require such as a wine- or scotch-tasting table or a cappuccino
bar. It is also your responsibility to make sure all the permits, licenses and insurances
required for serving alcoholic beverages are in-place and current.
There are five essential types of food and beverage services common to most events: breakfast,
lunch, dinner, breaks and receptions. When planning service type and menu styles for
each, take into consideration what the guests will be doing before and after the meal, i.e.
sitting vs. doing something active, your budget, their age group and interests, etc. Here are
some basic meal options and ideas for when and why to incorporate them.
Breakfast: You may want to offer your guests the option to take care of their own breakfast
needs so they can have in-room dining or restaurant food on- or off-site. Many people prefer to
start their day in their own way; some like a cooked breakfast others only want yoghurt
and fruit. If you decide to host a breakfast, your best bet is continental buffet style
with an hot meal cooking station; in this way, all the cooked food can be prepared as
needed. Even with this option you should be able to complete the breakfast service in
an hour with the proper amount of food, dining table areas and staffing. A buffet breakfast
is less expensive than a plated breakfast and offers something for everyone.
Lunch: Because you will usually be serving lunch between meeting or activity sessions,
it’s almost always a good idea to provide this meal so that everyone gets back into
session on schedule. In a business casual event you may want to offer a box lunch options
so guests can go outside, return to their rooms for a while, or have working lunches.
If you served a hot breakfast and have dinner planned, you probably don’t need to serve
a hot lunch as well. Always make sure there are light lunch options like fruit and cheese
and crackers so people don’t overeat mid-day and become lethargic. It is seldom appropriate
to serve alcoholic beverages at this time because it takes the attendees minds off the
afternoon presentations and activities. Your lunch menu and service should have broad appeal
and only take an hour to. Dinner: There are really no restrictions as
to what type of food you can serve and how when it comes to this meal. Dinner at events
is usually a festive and social occasion, so make sure your menus suit your audience—you
can even ask them their preferences at pre-registration—and that you have at least three menu options.
For example, if the menu is Italian, have one meat, one seafood and one vegetarian pasts
option; Asian foods lend themselves well to buffet style because so many menu options
are small single-serve delicacies. If you plan a steak and potatoes fare, make sure
you schedule some extra time so people can wait while their steaks are cooked to order.
If the dinner is plated allow a minimum of an hour and a half from start to finish, and
a minimum of an hour for buffet style. If desert is served factor in at least an additional
20 minutes. Breaks: The basic break items include coffee,
tea, water, sodas and juices and quick nibbles such as doughnuts, rolls and pastries. It
is important that break items can be consumed relatively quickly and are easy to carry around
without spilling. As people become more and more health conscious, you’ll likely see
more requests for fresh fruit and non-sweet options at the break table; even if you don’t,
do try to give those who prefer to stay away from processed sugar some healthy options.
Allow an average of 20 minutes for each break and expect that attendees will bring refreshments
back into session with them. Receptions: Most of your receptions will include
a bartender service and your guests will be standing up and milling around socializing.
Whatever you serve for appetizer-type items, make sure they are finger foods that do not
require dipping sauces and can be easily carried about without the risk of tipping over, falling
off plates or splashing on your attendees. Also make sure you have plenty of beverage
options for guests who do not drink alcohol. A typical reception is at least an hour long
but no more than three; the longer alcohol is available the greater the risk that some
attendees will over-imbibe. Next we’ll look at some of the considerations
involved in planning each and every food and beverage service.
Menu: Follow some general rules of thumb when creating your menus. If the post meal activity
is non-active and/or your guests are elderly, avoid spicy food to aid digestive comfort.
Younger crowds tend to do better with spicy and exotic foods, but stick to serving those
when the attendees will have free time after the meal. Promote healthful dining at all
your events by offering lots of fresh produce, whole grain, and low fat items, and limit
sweets and deserts. If there are children at the event, avoid processed sugars as much
as possible to avoid energy peaks and valleys and the behaviors that come with them. Whenever
you can, poll your attendees for their preferences before you begin to craft your menus.
Buffet vs. Plated: For full meals, base your choice of plated vs. buffet style primarily
on cost, convenience and how long you want the meal to last. It takes at least a half
hour longer to serve a plated meal, and is almost always significantly more expensive
than buffet style. Buffet style is also great for diverse attendee bases because almost
everyone will find something they like, and appreciate the convenience of making their
own choices at their own speed. Boxed: Boxed breakfasts, breaks and lunches
are great for large venues where it takes time to get from one place to another and
events where people will want to spend their breaks away from it all in their rooms, outside
or in splinter groups with other attendees. They are also great for short duration, high-content
events when there is a very full agenda. Working: You may want to provide boxed meals
or buffets with to-go containers for some events because the attendees may prefer to
work through the meal breaks. Events where working groups for to tackle a subject and
present their findings, for example, leave little time for sit-down food services.
Passed items: Passed items are appropriate almost entirely at sit-down receptions where
family-style dining is served to small table groups. This style increases incidence of
spillage, so isn’t preferred but can certainly be used when the event theme calls for it.
Special Needs: Always make sure you have full provisions in place to accommodate your guests’
special needs—even if you were not informed of them ahead of time. These special concerns
include but are not limited to: food allergies, religious requirements , vegetarianism and
dietary restrictions for medical reasons. For each meal event, you will have to complete
a banquet event order which will be included in your catering, food and beverage service
contracts. This document will identify all the details of the food and beverage provided
for the meal and how it will be served and presented as well as the head count. It will
also define the room setup, number of serving and preparation staff and any audio and visual
operations or entertainment that will take place during the meal as well as the type
of décor that will be present in the space. It is also very important that this document
outlines all associated fees, gratuities and taxes that apply. The contract and banquet
event order will address such budget items as catering minimums, labor charges, chef
fees, bartender fees, room rental fees and service charge and sales tax—all of which
are separate from the cost of the menu. Almost no event planner ever gets the chance
to plan a food and beverage event with an unlimited budget. Following are a number of
ways you can reduce food and beverage service expenses:
1. Use shot size glasses for juices and other beverages like specialty coffees; guests don’t
usually empty full beverage glasses and this way they can sample a number of choices without
waste. 2. Make sure your caterer can handle special
dietary needs so you don’t have to use other more expensive suppliers for specialty items.
3. Serve foods in bulk instead of single-serve packages (yoghurt for example); you can save
up to 20% serving bulk items. 4. Don’t keep refilling items at buffets
and breaks; when the service runs out of an item, consolidate what remains.
5. Serve sliced instead of whole fruits and vegetables; less will go further with less
waste. 6. Have your coffee and tea service charge
by the cup used rather tan head count as much of what’s served won’t get used.
7. Serve one-plate meals whenever possible, I’e’ chicken salad instead of a chicken
and rice dish with a salad on the side. 8. Skip deserts.
9. Think small and homey, like bite-size sandwich with soup shots.
10. Have just a few buffet items instead of dozens.
11. Use inexpensive domestic cold cuts rather than high-end deli meats.
12. Use small plates and bowls at buffets to keep serving sizes and waste to a minimum.
13. Source meal sponsorships. 14. Serve half glasses at champagne toasts;
guests seldom drink the entire glass. 15. Serve four ounces of protein rather than
six or more as entrees. 16. Bulk up meals with filling pastas and
potatoes, peas and corn. 17. If you serve desert, serve truffle-sized
sweets instead of full deserts. Last but definitely not least, always green
your food and beverage through these 10 easy-to-implement steps:
1. Use china and re-usable dishes. 2. Bulk containers condiments, cream and sugar.
3. Serve water in pictures. Don’t use bottled water or pre-fill glasses.
4. Use cloth not paper linens and napkins. 5. Serve sustainable seafood.
6. Source locally grown and organic foods. 7. Buy only fair trade/shade grown coffee.
8. Donate leftover food and table décor. 9. Compost all food waste.
10. Eliminate polystyrene and plastics of all kinds..
Now go keep your attendees well fed, healthy, full of energy and eager to enjoy whatever