The banqueting side of an event is most important as it is often the food quality and quantity that delegates will remember about an event or venue. This is an important time during the event for informality and attendees being able to network and mingle with other attendees and the company hosting the event.
It is important to liaise with the banqueting manager at the venue in the early planning stages of the event. This enables him to understand your event objectives and type of audience attending, the lengths of event in order to be able to give advise on menu and services to offer. The catering professional will have an idea of a balanced diet especially if you the delegates are on a 24 hour rate and the event continues for several days, you want to make sure that there is plenty of variety in the food on offer.
When your delegates register you should have a pre-event diet questionnaire where the guest can advise on any allergies or special diet, vegetarian, Halal only food etc… Knowing your delegates will enable you to discuss menu options best for the group.
Decide on the catering package you require, this will depend on the type of event you are holding as well as the duration of the event and whether accommodation is included. If you have the event at a hotel you can chose for either day delegate rate, 24 hour delegate rate if residential or on an itemised basis you will have a choice of food and beverage. If your event is a one day conference and people are travelling some distance arrival you may wish to organise coffee and tea with pastries or bacon rolls on arrival or during registration.
You need to consider your programme agenda and where best to fit in the coffee break, type of lunch whether a standing fork buffet which is good for networking, sit down buffet or a seated plate service. Each service will give a different ambience and require different length of time to serve. You will have an idea of the time allocated for the lunch breaks during the days programme. Times for breaks need to be flexible as sometimes sessions can over run or the programme changed. Continuous consultation and working with the venue producing a running order of the event will give the venue a good idea of timings for their banqueting staff preparation and service, if rooms need to have their set up turned around in which breaks.
Booking the right function room for meals and refreshments
- You may decide to have a private lunch for your group and if this important you will need to make sure that the room size will fit the type of meal you are intending to have. Seated buffet will require a larger room than standing buffet they will need 0.8sq meter per delegate for a standing buffer and for seated plated food they will need 1 Sq meter per delegate. Make sure that there are plenty of service stations for the number of guests attending to stop long queues forming.
- If it is an evening dinner make sure that there is enough room for the cabaret entertainer, dance floor, after dinner speaker, or moveable bar as necessary.
- Check the table capacities this is important is you are doing seating plans as some banqueting tables can be laid out of 8, 10 or 12 seated guests.
- Check what the function rooms are being used on either side as a loud disco could ruin a speech.
- If using outside terrace for pre dinner drinks have a back up plan for inclement weather.
Check with the client if alcoholic drinks should be served, as certain religions do not allow alcohol. Always have plenty of soft drinks available. It is usually recommended not to serve alcohol during lunch as some delegate might find it difficult to concentrate in the afternoon in the grave yard slot. Cocktail reception along with soft drinks is quite often used both at the finish to a day conference before leaving or after a break as pre dinner drinks for those events that are 24 hour delegate .
Decide on how much drink you are going to offer per delegate. This may be on a drinks package option on a consumption basis. If it is a cocktail drink then normally 2 glasses of wine per delegates or equivalent in soft drinks or small bottles of beer is fine for a half an hour drinks reception. Agree with the banqueting manager to let you know if the capacity of drinks ordered is getting near to the end so that you as the event organiser have the option to increase the amount if needs be. It is also best to make sure when you are dealing with the venue that the bar staff know that you or a designated person are the only ones authorised to alter/increase the allocation of food and beverage once agreed on the contract. This is to stop anyone else in the company deciding to order more alcohol and suddenly finding the extra charges on the main account.
At dinner the normal rule of thumb is half a bottle of wine per person with water available at the table. Also establish whether you are going to leave the bottles on the table or have a waiter serve, usually the latter serves less alcohol. As a general rule more white wine that red is drunk at gala dinners usually in a ratio 3:1. Ask to be able to see the empty bottles used at the end of the evening before signing the drinks bill chit. Always inform the venue as to whether you are going to have digestives served whether these are charged to the main account or whether guest will be paying for this themselves.
After dinner bar service, decide if this is going to be a cash bar or open bar, if the latter establish a limit to the spend, and have in place an agreed specific policy for overspend authorisation
John G Fisher – How to run a Successful Conference