Catering 101: Working Out The Details Of The Perfect Menu

Last Updated on October 7, 2021

Catering is as much a part of event management as sound design, tech, or marketing.  Making the wrong choice where food’s concerned can be just as bad as selecting the wrong keynote speakers; it could completely ruin the look and feel of an event.

That said, it’s not terribly likely that you’ll be designing your menu by yourself (you can, but I’d not recommend it). You’re going to be hiring on a caterer to handle the details involved in keeping your attendees fed and watered. Thing is…that caterer can’t do their job if they don’t know what you expect. For that reason, your role in building the perfect menu for your event is simply to know what will work (and what won’t). 

In order to help your caterer put together a selection that’s right for you (and to ensure they don’t drop a small fortune on headache medication on your account), there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind when considering what food you’ll serve:

The Feel Of Your Event

First and foremost, what sort of event are you running? A large trade show where all the top dogs in an industry are in attendance is definitely going to feel different than a casual staff Christmas party, and neither event will feel anything like a charity raffle. The feel you’re going for – professional or casual, large or personal – will directly impact both what sort of food you’re going to be serving and what sort of seating arrangements you’ll be setting up. Be sure you consider both.

Your Audience

Alongside how your event’s going to feel, you also need to take into account who will be attending. What sort of audience does your event cater to? Different types of people will enjoy different types of food, after all. You probably won’t, for example, offer bar service at an all-ages event, nor will you offer anything terribly fattening if your attendees are likely to be fitness buffs. As such, you need to know who’s going to be at your event so you can tailor the menu to their specific taste. Remember also to include special diets such as gluten free and vegan. 

Your Venue

Believe it or not, where you’re hosting your event could have some impact on what sort of food will be available. Certain foods might be more readily accessible (and advisable to serve) on the coast, while others might only be available if you’re closer to the mainland. What’s more, the appearance and general layout of your venue impacts what you’ll be serving and how; an outdoor venue or an event which serves food in a venue separate from the main conference hall will both present their own set of unique challenges.

Your Budget

Of course, the most important thing to consider is how much money you’ve got available to you, and how much you’re willing to spend. This will have an impact on what sort of food is available to you, I can more or less guarantee it. It should go without saying, then, that you want to plan out your budget ahead of time.

In Closing

You’re probably not going to design your entire menu yourself (unless you’re really that much of a control freak). You’re going to figure out what you want to get out of the food you’re serving (or what your client desires), and then let your catering crew do the rest. Knowing ahead of time what you want – and what caterer can deliver –is imperative. Failure on either count could very easily lead to disaster.