How to Plan a Business Conference Lunch Menu

Tips for Choosing the Right Corporate Lunch Menu

Business people using technology at lunch meeting
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Setting up lunches is a part of an event coordinator’s duties. There are many different types of lunch events, and coordinators are often tasked with making recommendations appropriate to the event, venue, and number of guests being served. For example, a lunch provided to a working group in a corporate setting will be very different from a "luncheon" provided to donors at a groundbreaking for a new hospital. Here are a few variables to consider:

  • What is the occasion? Is it a formal event, such as a sit-down luncheon served after a morning wedding, or is a simple corporate "grab and go?"
  • Will this be a plated or buffet event? While most lunches are served buffet style, you'll need to consult with your client before making that assumption.
  • How many are being served? If you're serving hundreds (or only a dozen), you'll need to consider appropriate foods, service options, and price points.
  • Where is the event taking place? In some cases, catering occurs at a large venue where the staff and facilities are event-ready. In other cases, lunches may be staged in private homes or unusual settings such as a museum gallery.

Common Lunch Event Options

A client's needs should always come first, and none of these common options may be ideal for each client. But in most cases, one of these options will be suitable with the right choice of foods and drinks.

Deli Buffets

The deli buffet is quite popular for a simple event and includes mostly finger foods that are easy to select and can usually please most any crowd—assuming the needs of gluten-free, kosher, and vegetarian guests are accommodated. Most deli buffets include the following:

  • Mixed green salad (include three types of dressing)
  • Fruit salad, potato salad, antipasto and/or chips
  • Three types of sandwich meats (and multiple healthy breads)
  • Dessert trays such as brownies or cookies

Themed American and Ethnic Buffets

Most caterers will offer several different themed lunch options for consideration, such as Italian, American, Asian, etc. These options allow the coordinator to incorporate their food selection into the overall theme of an event. For example, popular themes include the following with a variety of appetizers, entree, and dessert options related to any of these and other buffet themes.

  • American: burgers and fries
  • Italian: pasta, pizza, Tuscan style chicken
  • Southwest: tacos and fajita stations
  • Asian: spring rolls, stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes

Box Lunches

Best for working lunches, the box lunch is fast and easy, so that event guests remain focused on the objective of the meeting itself. While sandwiches are the most commonly selected item, wraps might also be an acceptable choice. When selecting box lunches, be sure to offer at least four different varieties for attendees, along with gluten-free breads and desserts):

  • Turkey, roast beef, ham, and vegetarian sandwiches
  • A piece of fresh fruit
  • Chips and a cookie
  • Condiments (always on the side), plastic utensils and napkins

Build Your Own Lunch Menu

Most caterers provide multiple options for "build your own" lunch menus, and these may be served as a buffet or as a plated meal. "Build your own" is most appropriate for a formal event or an event at which the client wants to impress his or her guests. (Note: if plated, plan for a three-course minimum.) These menus typically include the following:

Appetizers and salads

  • Lettuce salad options (e.g., Caesar, spinach, mixed greens)
  • Fruit salads (berries, melons, pineapple)
  • Soup (two options minimum)

Entrees (popular options)

  • Chicken, pork, beef, or salmon
  • Caesar salad with grilled chicken
  • Sides include vegetable, potato, pasta or rice

Desserts (popular options)

  • Cheesecake
  • Chocolate mousse
  • Pie with ice cream


Regardless of the type of meal selected, it's important to offer guests a variety of drinks to go along with their meal. With the increased popularity of flavored waters, vitamin waters and energy drinks, event coordinators should request specific brands and flavors of waters in addition to basic bottled water.

Most venues can secure these products with a custom request from their suppliers, and should only charge based on consumption. Alcohol is rarely served at a lunch event, though in some cases, it is appropriate and should be included. Other common options include diet and regular soft drinks, assorted bottled juices, coffee, decaffeinated coffee, and tea.