Plan a Catered Event Menu That Will Impress Your Guests

9 Steps That Will Ensure the Meal Is a Hit and Not a Flop

When planning the food and beverage for any event, it's important to consider the not-so-obvious items to help ensure a successful program and a delicious meal. Catered events are often known to provide sub-par food at best and inedible food at worst. Don't fall victim to less-than-stellar event food. The following nine steps to catering coordination and menu planning will ensure that your event stands out among the typical catered event meals.

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Know Your Guest Profile

Group of conference participants standing in lobby of conference center, socializing during lunch break
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What is the profile of the guests being invited to the event? For example, most business people attend many events throughout the year, and the phrase "rubber chicken circuit" is common among political, business, and fundraising circles. To prevent your event from meeting this unflattering description, consider the following:

  • The professional level of your guests
  • The frequency your guests attend similar events
  • The location where guests reside
  • The ethnic background of your guests
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Know Your Guest Preferences

Waitress holding platter of organic appetizers
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By taking the opportunity to understand the general profile of your guest list, the event planner is better prepared to begin considering what menu options to offer. The following may help you better plan to meet their needs:

  • Older groups of attendees may prefer a milder menu.
  • Attendees concerned about health and fitness may prefer more seafood and vegetarian options.
  • Younger or middle-aged attendees may prefer spicier or simply more adventurous meals.

The idea here is to consider what your guests will enjoy the most based on the type of event you are planning.

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Provide Menu Choices

Buffet of delicious food
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While you may do your best to anticipate your guests' food preferences, you will never be able to please everyone with one entrée. Event planners should always plan to offer several entrée or menu choices to ensure that all guests will be pleased with their meal. Some general guidelines to consider:

  • Offer at least two choices of entrées (three is even better).
  • Offer three or more salad dressing options for salad courses.
  • Serve all condiments on the side.
  • Offer two dessert options: one very indulgent, one healthy.
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Anticipate Special Needs

Plate of salad on outdoor banquet table
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Today, there are more dietary preferences and concerns to consider than ever before. Before any event, it is critical for an event planner to find out if any of the guests have a special dietary need so that the catering manager can address those needs prior to the event. Special dietary considerations may include:

  • Food allergies (such as lactose intolerance, nut allergies, etc.)
  • Food Intolerances (such as Celiacs)
  • Religious requirements (such as Kosher observance)
  • Voluntary dietary restrictions (such as vegetarianism or veganism)
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Incorporate Seasonal and Fresh Items

Group of friends sitting around banquet table
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When selecting the menu, the time of year should play a large factor in determining food and beverage. Take into consideration which items are in season for spring or winter menus. Another important factor is to consider the region or location of the event and popular food items from the area. Incorporate fresh seafood or regionally grown produce to reflect the locale and ensure some of the freshest ingredients.

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Consider Ethnic or Regional Menus

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Plan events that have ethnic themes. It allows an event planner and the executive chef to work together to bring region-specific and international foods into your event, which can please guests and help your event stand out. Common ethnic catering includes the following:

  • Asian
  • French
  • German
  • Greek
  • Italian
  • Mexican
  • Middle Eastern
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Select a Menu that Fits the Event Schedule

Breakfast Buffet
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Sometimes the clock will be the greatest guide to determining the menu and meal service for an event. Choose the meal-type and menu options that best suit the time you have for the meal. Consider these common event meal examples:

  • Box lunches are best if you have 30 minutes or are on the go.
  • Plated meals usually require at least 1.5 hours.
  • Buffets may be completed in about 1 hour.
  • Cocktail receptions require a minimum of 1 hour before dinner.
  • Working breakfasts or lunches should incorporate menu items that can hold up for longer periods of time without ruining the integrity of the food.
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Allow for a Comfortable Room Setup

Business people standing by table in office, talking and drinking champagne
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Choose the appropriate room layout that supports your event objectives and the scheduled meals. If you're serving a meal, the tables will be filled with used dishes and glassware, in addition to binders, notepads, and pens. If you're holding a separate cocktail reception, know that round cocktail tables can only comfortably handle smaller plates and drinks. It's important to choose the best room and table setup and allow space for people to move as needed. Consider these room setup tips:

  • Boardroom setup should be for a maximum of 15 guests.
  • U-shape and rectangular table layouts promote discussion but are less accommodating for buffet meals.
  • Classroom style is great for a presentation.
  • Banquet style promotes small group discussions.

Regardless of the setup, allow for people to spread out. For instance, you might consider setting a 10-person banquet table for only eight people.

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Consider the Final Presentation of Food and Beverage

Food presentation
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It is said by the best chefs that we eat with our eyes and our noses before actually tasting the food. Whether it's served plated or buffet, a catered meal should by visually colorful, fragrant, and most importantly appetizing. The presentation of food should make your guests want to eat it. It means linens and decorations that complement the theme of the meal. If it doesn't look good and smell good, your guests will not be happy.