Whether you’re coordinating a corporate lunch for 15 or hosting a bridal shower for 30, when it comes to menu planning, a little food for-thought, goes a long way. Of course, if you have the extra time you can prepare the food from scratch, or if you’re like most hosts, you’re reading this post because your fridge is empty and you don't have time, and you need help.
Deciding to hire a professional caterer to provide all, or supplemental food and beverage items is a great way to save time during the planning process, but it’s also an insurance policy that on the day of the event, everything will go according plan.
Purposeful Event Planning
Start by considering the purpose of your event. Thinking about the why, who, when and where will provide a blueprint throughout the planning process and help you stay on budget. During this preliminary stage determine:
- What type of event are you hosting?
- How many guests are expected?
- If the event formal or casual?
- What will guests be doing?
- What location will provide an ideal setting to create the appropriate atmosphere?
- What time food service is most appropriate?
- Do you want to use china and glassware, or disposable serving pieces?
- What is your total event budget?
- What portion of your budget will be spent on décor, food and beverage, and entertainment?
Professional caterers offer a variety of service levels that can range from convenient delivery and pick up menus to full-service. Typically, for smaller events such as birthdays, social parties, graduations, funerals and office or business luncheons, delivery and pick up options will provide a wide range of food choices at a less expensive price point than that of a full-service event.
During the menu creation step, take the time to learn about your guests and any specific theme or dietary restrictions they might have. Tailoring the menu to your guest’s expectations and your intended event purpose will achieve a unique menu mix that ensures everyone is happy and full.
Look to your caterer to assist with quantifying food amounts, creating the food service timeline and offering creative suggestions for menu and presentation enhancements. Brainstorm the following questions with your caterer:
- How much food do you want provide? Is the expectation lunch, light bites or a full meal?
- Guest dietary restrictions?
- Food safety guidelines including time food will be displayed or served.
- Are there onsite facilities (oven, refrigerator, freezer, etc.) to maintain correct food temperature?
- Based on the overall event agenda, what will the flow be for food service; will guests arrive all at once, or trickle in?
- Are you providing supplemental food and beverage, or will your caterer provide everything?
- What is your food and beverage budget?
How To Set Up A Buffet Table
If you have opted for delivery, pick up or to make your own food then you will need to consider where and how to set up your buffet display. The size, shape and direction of your buffet line will depend on the room, numbers of guests and food items.
Start by considering the relationship between the food table, bar/beverage table, and guest seating within the room. Ideally, food and bar/beverage will be presented on separate tables, so that guests may easily replenish with minimal waiting. This preliminary step will help define the overall flow for how guests will serve themselves and ensure no bottleneck areas.
Place plates and rolled silverware at the beginning of the buffet line. Then arrange food items in the expected order that a person typically eats. This is simply, hors ‘d oeuvres/appetizers, bread, salad, sides and then entrees. If you are planning to place deserts on the same buffet, than naturally go at the end. Voila!
Buffet Planning Tips:
- It goes without saying, but start with a sturdy table.
- Strategically place receptacles for trash around the room and close to the food and bar/beverage tables.
- Write a list of appropriate serving utensils needed for each item and purchase a few extras, or have your caterer provide.
- Consider a small plate for holding serving utensils next to food items in a chaffing dish or container with a lid.
- Leave enough space between food items for menu cards and minimal décor.
Your guests have arrived; your buffet is set, the only thing left to do is enjoy. And just remember, the success of any event is in the planning.