Whether planning a party, a wedding, or a gala evening, the three most important aspects to get right are – 1) food and beverage, 2) how food and beverage are served (and quantity available) and 3) music. If you get these three things right, you can be sure to have a happy crowd.
Sounds simple right? Well, it’s not quite that straightforward so I thought I’d start with food and jot down a few tips for choosing the ‘right food for the mood’. I’ll also blog about beverages, service standards and music in the future, so be sure to check back!
Here it goes…
Whether planning a big or small event, make sure you source a professional catering service (or work with someone – a chef – who’s used to event catering). Working with someone who understands proper quantities, service standards and preparation can make all the difference. One of my favourite Chefs to work with when I do events in Toronto is Chef Corbin Tomaszeski (I might be biased because he’s also originally from Edmonton, but mostly it’s because he get’s it – and that makes my job a lot easier).
BUT, before you confirm your caterer, I suggest you first follow these steps.
1.) Event Format: Know what event format you want. Is this a cocktail party, a corporate meeting, a wedding or a gala affair? It’s important to pair the food served with the format of the event. For example, during a cocktail party it’s important to serve bite-sized appetizers that can easily be popped in to one’s mouth with one hand while the other hand is holding a glass of wine. It’s surprising how many times I still find myself at an event needing to put down a glass of wine in order to eat a large portioned messy appetizer – it’s awkward and can easily be avoided.
2.) Size: Yes, size matters. As I mentioned above, bite-sized pieces are usually best for cocktail parties. Guests need to be able to negotiate a glass of wine, a napkin and hors d’oeuvres at the same time – so the smaller the better (within reason). I would also suggest avoiding dips. Some thicker dips are ok, but all are usually messy and a bit awkward at events. A small intimate dinner party with friends allows for more appetizer flexibility (i.e. dips, larger servings that require a small plate, etc.) but at any stand up function, keep the bites small and tidy. Similar rules apply for other types of events and obviously sit down dinners are a whole other set of rules. A few general rules for sit down dinner parties can be found here: Tips on How to Plan a Formal Dinner Party. And although I don’t agree with everything she says, Martha Stewart is certainly a well-known expert so I’ll also include Martha’s tips for planning a dinner party: The Best Laid (Dinner) Plans.
3.) Food Tasting: Once you have your short list of caters, arrange to do food tastings. Most caterers these days are very open to this. Some may ask for a deposit, but in most cases it’s understood that in order to confirm the right caterer one needs to ensure food quality satisfaction. Food tastings are a great way to test the standards of the catering company and allow a greater understanding of likes and dislikes (what you like and dislike may very well be what your guests think as well!). Ask lots of questions at the tastings – you’re the customer!
4.) Waste Management: Ask your caterer about their waste management and average event food quantities. It’s important to have a bit more food than you think you need (running out of food is one of the worst event faux pas), but, you also don’t want to end up with too many leftovers (that you end up being charged for!). This is unfortunate for two reasons – one, you just paid more than you needed to, and two, it’s a waste. Ask your caterer for average food quantities from some of their past events – this should give you a good idea to confirm your numbers by. Good caterers will also be able to provide you with great advice for how much to serve for your guest numbers. Also, ask your caterer how they manage food waste. Will they allow you to keep non-perishables for your corporate lunch meeting the next day? Can leftovers be composted? This will save you money and help the environment!
Once you’ve finished your tastings and have confirmed your caterer, you will next want to discuss food service and presentation (i.e. what trays to use for serving and how many appetizers per tray – tip: don’t have too many per tray). For this blog entry I’m not going to get into the details of these steps but check back as I’ll be writing about this in future!
It’s also important to send thank you notes to all the caterers you did tastings with to thank them for their time and effort.