When it comes to planning catering for your event, you are faced with a series of decisions that can, on one hand, take your event to a stellar level, or, on the other hand, completely ruin its chances for success. When an event includes catering, you can be sure that, no matter how carefully curated all the other aspects (like entertainment or decorations) are, food is what people will remember the most out of the event.
This is why we’ve put together this guide to walk you through the steps you need to take in successfully planning catering for your event and in making sure your guests will have a pleasant memory of it.
Planning catering for your event: where to start
The first thing that determines your needs in terms of catering is the type of event. Not any event requires catering, and there are almost as many types of catering options as there are types of events. There are events, such as conferences, seminars, workshops and courses, in which catering plays a minor role. There are others such as charity galas or inaugurations, at which catering is the central element.
The second thing to consider is the event schedule. Seminars, meetings, workshops and courses normally don’t have allocated more than half-hours for coffee breaks and 1–1.5 hours for lunch. While a gala dinner wouldn’t last less than two hours. Each of these examples includes the catering in a very structured way, and catering moments are clearly marked within the event schedule. On the other hand, you might be dealing with a trade show that lasts the whole day (over several days). In this case, you need to make sure that food can be served on a continuous basis.
Choosing a caterer
The question that needs to be answered first here is: does the venue provide catering as well? If your event takes place in a hotel, conference center or even a restaurant, the most obvious option is that they are your caterer too. That means you actually chose the venue also based on the catering options it offered.
If your venue does not offer catering services, before choosing a caterer, make sure the type of venue itself is a place where you can legally have food served. If yes, check what permits need to be obtained from the authorities, both for food and for alcohol.
Otherwise, you will have to choose an actual caterer, and the best way to do it is to look for companies that are specialized and experienced in your type of event. Make sure you select at least three candidates, analyze menu options and price quotes. Then, arrange tastings with each of them, and make an informed decision. Another aspect to consider here is whether the same company will provide tables, linens, cutlery, and service. Otherwise you’ll have to source them separately.
Deciding on a menu
When planning catering for your event, the main factors that will determine your menu are:
- the type, theme and schedule of the event
- your guests’ eating preferences and dietary requirements
- your budget
- region of the event, and season.
The type and schedule of the event will determine whether you’ll have a buffet or seated meals. The theme of the event can dictate the actual dishes to be served. Your guests’ eating preferences and dietary requirements are of utmost importance. You need to do your best to know them in advance. First of all, make sure the caterer does provide options of vegetarian/vegan menus, as well as gluten-free and lactose-free menus.
The next thing you can do is actually ask this information from your guests themselves. And the best way to do it is to ask for their preferences/dietary requirements the moment they purchase their tickets. If your event web page and ticket sales are hosted on an online event management platform, this is do-able. And if you choose Metooo as your platform, with our survey feature you can ask these questions to your guests. You can also present them with menu options right inside the form that they have to fill in to purchase their tickets. Then, closer to the date of the event, once you have the majority of tickets sold, you can communicate to the caterer an estimate of the quantities for each option.
Dealing with the budget
Your event budget is another important aspect. You can optimize costs by choosing menu options that include in season and regional fresh produce and by optimizing quantities. A major cause for costs going out of control is the open bar for drinks. What you can do here is offer a limited number of drinks included in the ticket price or invitation, and charge the guests for the additional drinks.
To make sure you no cost passes unnoticed, use an event budget template (like the one we created, that you can download for free here) and write down all costs related to catering in the designated section.
Based on the event type, number of guests and meal type (buffet or seated meals) you will determine the logistics needed: number of serving personnel, number and type of tables and chairs, linen, decorations, and cutlery.
After this, you need to come up with a table plan that defines the way in which the eating area is integrated within the rest of the event setup. The main thing to keep in mind is to facilitate guests’ traffic. For example, avoid placing the buffets or the bar near the venue entrance(s). Any waiting lines for the buffet or bar can get in the way of people entering or exiting the venue.
Don’t forget to include catering preparation and cleanup time into the overall event schedule, and allow enough time for both operations. Preparation can be a sensible issue if catering is provided by an outside supplier. So make sure the venue can provide a “back room” for foods to be stored and plates prepared. Also make sure that the venue provides electric power sources and water sources in key areas where your catering preparations will take place.
Integrate catering into your event marketing
If food is a central part of your event, make sure you communicate this to the world, in a mouth-watering way! Integrate photos of the most spectacular dishes in the menu into your marketing visuals, and make sure your event website displays the full menu. If you choose to use Metooo as your event platform, you can transform your event web page into an appetizing temptation by customizing it to contain photos and detailed text.
Another thing you can do is create various pricing options for the event by offering different menu options at different prices, to appeal to the tastes of several categories of public. This would be a great idea for a gala dinner, for example. On our platform you can do this simply by creating various types of tickets for the same event, each ticket will be a menu option.
There is still much to say on the topic of planning catering for your event. Many specific questions may arise based on your event type. By using these guidelines as a framework, you will, though, have a solid base to make sure you don’t miss the essential aspects no matter how complex or challenging your event is.