Nov 15, 2009

Menu Planning for Events

When clients come my way and we begin planning for their events, budget is always one of the first discussions. Food is at the top of the list of budget items to set. Typically, 50% of the event budget goes to the menu so it really is an area that needs some serious thought right from the start. Figuring out the budget and what food costs could be will tell us what monies are left for the remaining part of the event.

A little researching and some good common sense are critical when selecting your menu.

When my son was planning his wedding menu a few years ago, he asked me what I thought he should budget for the menu. I told him that I thought he should consider $125 per person for the location he selected. This number accounted for a cocktail hour and possibly a four course meal. He immediately caught his breath and told me that there was no way the food would cost that much! One of the next "foodie" phone calls I received from him went something like this, "Do you know what they charge for ONE passed shrimp shooter!"

My son's reaction is not at all uncommon - what most people don't realize that the cost of the shrimp is not what the shrimp costs. Included in the costs are the banquet facilities, the labor of preparing the shrimp, the shot glass that was purchased, washed, stored, retrieved, filled with the usually colorful sprouts and topped with a dollop of cocktail sauce, the time it took the chef to submit the order for the shrimp, etc. etc. etc. Keep these steps in mind when reviewing food costs. Those lovely little appetizers while divine for the eye and palate, are also labor intensive. The cocktail hour is my favorite segment of any event...if it were my choice; we would move from cocktail hour to dessert and call it a day! However, your guests are probably expecting a little more if they have been invited to a traditional dinner reception.

I advise my clients to select food and food presentations that really excite you. Search the food magazines, if there is a photo that makes green beans look out of this world - let's have a look! TV has made "foodies" out of the general public these days. I don't think there has ever been a time in history when everyone has become so aware of the presentation of food! With iron chefs, food networks, food challenges, we all sit in our "judges" seat to cast a vote on what makes for great food and WITHOUT tasting a morsel of it!

Bear in mind when you go to your food meetings interesting food doesn't have to mean big costs. A dash or two of a little ingenuity can make a common item fabulous! Again, bringing photos is a great help. Be sure to share these photos with your catering person so they understand what you are hoping to achieve. Don't be shy...I have seen clients shrink away from giving their true thoughts at a tasting because they didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Being polite is nice and necessary but don't jeopardize your event by not being clear what you want your menu to look like or how it should taste.

Beside great presentation and taste, what else should you consider? Portion size. Food waste is costly and when I see plates of uneaten food being cleared from tables...what I really see is a client's money being thrown in the trash! This is not to say that the food was not good, but maybe there was just too much of it! Keep portions and number of courses appropriate - bigger is not always better! If you have entertainment following a meal, do not let your guests get so full that they enter a "food coma." Usually these guests are invited to dance and party the night away...if they have indulged too heavily on your gourmet delights, they just may not have the energy to make it to the dance floor.

Also, it is important for every host and hostess to think about their guests' palates. Select food items that are not too extreme or elaborate so guests are reluctant to try them. The duet plate is a great idea for seated dinners. It is four ounces of two types of proteins -a fish and beef, a chicken and beef. With so many interesting combinations to consider, your guest may like both, but if not, for sure one of the entree options will delight them.

The addition of an intermezzo is lovely...but not inexpensive! This course will typically follow the salad course and is meant to cleanse the palate for the arrival of the entree. These small scoops of sorbet are attractively presented in mini martini glasses, cloches, or small ice sculptures. The cost is usually about $8.00 per person. So, again, looking at the budget, does it fit?

Dessert...I admit, it is usually my favorite course and I think it can be one of the most interesting. But I am not in favor of serving a dessert following a salad, intermezzo and entree course! Why? Too much food! What I have witnessed more times than I care to count, are plates of dessert being wasted, untouched plates being picked up by staff and cleared from empty tables where guests have moved on to dancing and visiting! I love when dessert is served at a later time or dessert is presented as a buffet so guests can help themselves when they need that sweet finale. Many of my clients prefer to offer a tray of mini sweets at their guests table so those who crave a sweet ending to their meal are fulfilled. I find that a sweets buffet is the most popular, the most visually interesting and has the least amount of waste.

A late night snack is becoming more and more popular! This "course" has a couple of advantages. First, I find it fun when the late night snack reflects the host and hostess. If they are big pizza fans or slider fans OR love toasted cheese, then this is what that snack should be. It is really another way to personalize the event. Second, if there is a large amount of alcohol being consumed, the late night snack helps reduce some of the effects of too much drinking!

The goal of any event is that your guests have had a great time. Generally, guests will only remember a meal in one of two ways...either it was a gastronomical delight OR it was a total disaster! Unfortunately an average good meal won't be remembered by your guests a month later...what they will remember is if they had a good time. So keep in mind that the remaining 50% of your budget needs to shine and make an impression!


Posted Under: The Dining Experience