Most meetings and events have a food and beverage component, in fact, many large events are built around a specific meal. It’s often one of the largest, if not the largest, expenses for events. So why are we still treating food like an afterthought?As budgets continue to shrink and the cost of food continues to rise, it’s easy to look at food service at events as a “have to do” and try to scrape something together for the lowest dollar amount. But that rarely pays off. If serving food at events was really just about feeding people, it would probably be more cost effective to give guests and attendees cash or vouchers to go across the street to the nearest fast food restaurant.Why food is so tied to events goes back to the basics of hospitality. Events are ultimately about hospitality – the event organizer, whether that is a corporation, an association, or an individual, is the host of an event, and the attendees are his guests. The idea of hospitality goes back to biblical times, when people would open their homes to guests, even strangers, and break bread. This idea of sharing a meal lead to shared conversation, shared ideas, shared fellowship and connections. Sounds a lot like our modern event planning objectives or networking, right?If you intentionally make the connection between event planning and hospitality, it’s easy to realize that any food service – from continental breakfast all the way through formal plated dinners – is hospitality. So a meal isn’t just a meal, it’s an opportunity to make connections, to bring people together to break bread. All of a sudden that budget line item is actually doing double duty!Putting a little bit more effort into the menu selection helps make that meal work for you and your meeting. Instead of blindly choosing the buffet with the lowest price or sticking with the safe duet plated entree because that’s what you always do, be creative and take some risks!But I want to be creative with my menus but I just don’t have the budget! Who says menu creativity had to be expensive. You don’t have to offer lobster tail and caviar to be creative. There are plenty of ways to mix things up without busting your budget. Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Get rid of the plated dinner and offer specialty food stations instead. It gets people moving around and talking and it’s usually lower cost. Make each of the specialty stations a different take on a theme (ie, different food regions) for a conversation starter among guests.
- Instead of a traditional sandwich display, offer a make-your-own salad line with creative toppings. Most guests will appreciate the healthier options.
- Get interactive! Let guests get in on the action either through cooking demonstrations or “make your own” bars.
- Go retro. Nothing gets guests talking quite like nostalgia.
- Serve meals family style. By literally sharing a meal from a common platter, guests will be sure to start conversations with one another.