Five Things to Consider When Planning Food and Beverage for a Crowd
Food and beverage (F&B) often is the centerpiece of any event. Whether it’s a small birthday gathering or a large conference or fundraiser, there are many details to consider when selecting the menu, preparation and service of food and beverage. When planning F&B for a group, be sure to consider the following five items:
The venue is the backdrop of the event and, therefore, the best place to start planning. In wide open space like a ballroom, it may be best to position one or two large, centrally located bars and food stations around the room to encourage a smooth flow of people. If you’re in a more structured space, such as a museum, a larger number of smaller bars located throughout the space and passed hors d’oeuvres might be a better approach.
With every event, it is essential to consider the tastes and preferences of your attendees. Are they meat-and-potatoes people? Maybe they’re foodies, expecting an elevated experience. Do they want to indulge in sinful dishes or stick to healthier options? Do you have a lot of vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free diets to accommodate? Think about creative items you can serve that will delight your guests and ensure a memorable event.
Does the event have a theme? If so, how can your F&B enhance it? Think beyond green dye for Saint Patrick’s Day – try food in the shape of a shamrock (3 leaf clover) or maybe corned beef sliders. My favorite recent example is the after party for the opening night of Hamilton in Chicago. They served The Federalist wine – which had Hamilton’s face on the label! When that type of direct tie-in isn’t an option, can you adjust how you serve the food? If your event is focused on networking for example, you could serve a meal family style rather than plated. Not only does this allow people more choice, it encourages them to chat with their table mates.
Think about time in two ways: time of year and time of day. Serve local, seasonal food whenever possible is ideal. As much as I love berries, I wouldn’t serve strawberry shortcake in the dead of winter; nor would I serve heavy comfort foods in the summertime.
When your attendees are spending most of their day with you at an event and eating most of their meals with you, time of day is particularly important. Be ready to serve lots of coffee in the morning, but also protein to balance the usual spread of carbs. Make sure you serve food at regular intervals, and don’t between breakfast and lunch. Regardless of the time of day, make sure you always have water available. This seems obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to forget in some settings!
Last but not least, most F&B plans are shaped by how much money you have to spend. A general rule of thumb is: don’t order food for the precise number of people you’re expecting. Aim instead for 10 percent less because the per-person allocation for most caterers is more than most people will actually eat. Spend a bit of time thinking through your quantities so you can settle on comfortable numbers that fit the budget. If you’re struggling to provide the spread you want at a certain price, don’t be afraid to ask your vendors for advice. They often have creative suggestions that you have not considered and may be willing to customize their standard offerings to help you stay within budget.