Saturday, March 12, 2011

Food and Beverage Planning (the basics - a long one)

"What keeps me motivated is not food itself, but all the bonds & memories the food represents."~Julia Child

Buffet at the Fairmont Pacific Rim

So it is time to plan the food and beverage program for your upcoming meeting. For some, this is a passion, and they cannot wait to dig into the menus, discussion with Chefs and sommeliers, and to create a program that is delicious, nutritious and memorable. For others, it unleashes dread. For others, it means opening up the standard menu packages sent by the venues, and making selections. In this post I am going to look at the basic considerations when planning a food and beverage program. Future posts will provide fodder for the foodies and event geeks (like me) that live for this part.

Of course, budget will always play a factor, and it has to include the cost of food, labour / service, potentially rentals - particularly for offsite functions or functions that exceed the "normal" capacity of the venue you are working with, beverage selections, and then on top of these costs there will always be a mandatory service charge (sometimes erroneously referred to as a gratuity) and then the taxes. If someone else is doing all of the planning on your behalf, including menu selections, management, minding the details of any special requirements and more, then there may also be a management fee (generally well earned) for this service as well. So as you begin, here is the basic information your caterer will require.

a. Who are you planning for
• Number of guests
• Men or women
• Age of participants - average range and if there are children
• Activity level of the day or event
• Guest expectations
• Origin of guests

b. What are you planning
• Multi day program
• One off event
• Day of meeting including more than one meal

c. When are you feeding them
 • Time of day / meal
• Time of year

d. Where
• What country are you in
• What country(ies) are your participants from / food preferences / food styles
• Are you in a hot or cold climate?
• Are you eating inside or outside?

e. WHY are you feeding them
• To control costs (ie vs receiving unknown expense accounts later)
• As part of a meeting ie. Working lunch or coffee break
• As part of an activity - from a horseback picnic to a glacier reception or lunch on a ski or atv day
• As part of an awards function - often a dinner setting
• As a way to have them all seated together and interacting
• As part of a team building exercise where they contribute to the meal
 f. Style of the meal
• Formal, plated with a presentation
• Formal, plated, to create a feeling of "special"
• Formal, but buffet, for reasons of time or selection
• Informal, buffet
• Is it rollups or multiple place settings
• Compostable disposables or china
• Paper napkins or linen
• At rounds or at long empire style tables
• Mix of standing and seating, reception style

g. What will you serve
• Which meal is it and what else is happening at that time
• What is available (or not) in the region you are in? What regional specialties will your guests be willing to try / will not likely enjoy?
• What do your guests typically eat at the meal you are planning ie. Breakfast to an American is very different from European or Asian expectations
• Nutritional considerations
• Special needs considerations - allergies, vegetarian / vegan, kosher, halal, gluten free, diabetic / carb counts etc.
• Balance of meals over a program
• Which beverages will be served when

The reality is that over a multiple day program, you may have all of these. It might start with an informal welcome reception with a buffet reflective of the region you are meeting in and go from here. Breakfast might include meetings or presentations, or round-table networking, or perhaps you even have a breakfast in bed served, or breakfast at leisure or on their own. Lunch may include seated lunches with formal presentations, or on a trade show floor to drive traffic to this area, or buffet style to allow for more flexibility for guests in making their own choices. You may host or have included in your program by sponsors or committees receptions, offering generally more stand-up space, cocktail / cruiser tables, bars (hosted or cash) and bite size or small plate offerings. Dinners can range from a casual bbq where the hip of beef arrives on a pitchfork (really!) to a beachside seafood feast, a clambake or a four or five course formal dinner in a ballroom with formal presentations and dancing. Really, the only limits on what happens with food are your imagination, budget, understanding your group's preferences and needs, and finally what each Chef brings to the table.

Food and beverage management is truly an art unto itself, and one that once embraced, there is no looking back. Leave your personal preferences aside, and if this is something you are not comfortable with, enlist the help of others, in your office or on your catering team. Keep following for more fun tips and ideas!

The final reality... sometimes they just want to eat a donut. Homer Simpson and the Last Soul Donut

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