What Will You Have?

Just this past week at the Diversity Roundtable, our committee planned a very simple menu of deli sandwiches, fruit salad, and cookies. The food was great; yet, after the event, we were left with a mini mountain of sandwiches, begging the question – did we over order? Could we have been more efficient?

If you’re like me, you’re constantly concerned with the following three questions regarding meal selection:
1.    Can I accommodate all special dietary needs?
2.    Are my catering choices fitting (and tasty) for the event?
3.    Will I have enough to feed all my guests?  

Apparently, in the case last week, we certainly had enough food. But, for future reference, here are a few tips to help you (and me!) answer all the above questions when choosing our next menu.

Accommodating dietary needs

•    Ask if your guests have special dietary needs (always when plated but, if applicable, in other cases, too).
•    When serving hors d’oeuvres, order a wide variety to meet the needs of vegetarians, vegans, etc., and those who are more health-conscious.
•    If your audience dominates a specific culture or religion, be sure to serve cuisine appropriate for them.
•    Lately, we have found that at least one of your Georgia Tech guests will be a vegetarian or vegan and/or require a gluten-free or lactose-free meal. Discuss with your caterer ahead of time to ensure they can accommodate these requests, as well as those made at the last minute at your event.  

Are my choices appropriate?

•    What is the goal behind the meal at your event? To allow for more work to take place? To offer a reprieve from a day-long meeting? For the first situation, opt for an easy-to-eat, fortifying lunch that is pre-prepared; for the second, consider a more playful meal that allows guests to customize choices (i.e. sundae bar).  
•    If coordinating a stand-up reception, steer clear of anything with bones, dipping sauces, shells, etc., to alleviate awkward situations or excessive trash.
•    Are you trying to execute multiple food stations in a limited amount of time or in a small space? While stations are nice, guests will take more time at each one, which can limit their time to mingle and enjoy the food. Assess your space and time constraints and order food that complements each.

Have I ordered enough food?

•    This can certainly be tricky business, because depending upon the nature of your event, you may have 5 to 15 percent attrition and can almost guarantee a few to many walk-ups. Consult past data, if available, and discuss with your caterer the overage percent they prepare. In many cases, I am finding that our caterers stick very close to the numbers we guarantee, so be careful the number you guarantee.
•    Ask for a tasting so you can see the portions of food. If you are hosting a buffet lunch and the sandwiches are cut in half, most likely guests may only take a half instead of a whole.
•    For receptions, ask for selections that will stretch your dollar the furthest — most likely dips, spreads, cheese platters, and food trays, where you’re charged an item cost instead of a per-piece expense.
•    Have you accounted for staff or volunteers who should also be fed? Be sure to include them in your meal count.
•    Timing and transition can be everything. If you are serving light hors d’oeuvres at 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday, most likely your guests will be hungry. If you are trying to stretch an event over a four-hour time span, ensure that your food comes out in waves, so that those who arrive in the second half of the event are met with the same reception as those who arrived at the beginning.