You may have seen a few of our earlier blogs, Breaking Down your Food and Beverage Budget and Satisfying Your Delegates Appetite: Creating Your Conference Menu on a Limited Budget. This blog will expand on those ideas and focus on tips for creating the menu for your signature event.

As an event planner I know that developing the right menu for your signature event can make or break your attendees’ experience. Ensuring that they are well fed will help to maintain their energy and keep their focus on the experience, rather than being distracted by the grumbling in their stomachs. Below are a few tips for creating the menu for your signature event:

1. Understand the needs of your attendees. Every event is different and the expectations of your attendees will also differ. When creating your menu think about your typical attendee and what their expectations will be. For example, we plan an annual fundraising signature event where the majority of the attendees are men. The meal is always four courses and includes a large portion of beef, potatoes and vegetables. It is important that we always offer a hearty meal to satisfy their appetites, as hungry attendees are not as likely to be engaged.

2. Consider the schedule for the event. If you have a gala style signature event that starts at 6:00pm, you will likely have many attendees who will be coming straight from work. In this type of situation, you should consider serving appetizers. Especially if you have speeches to start off your evening, as your attendees might not be served their salad until 7:30pm. Another example of a schedule that will affect your menu could be if you are planning a three-day conference with a banquet dinner. Think about guaranteeing lower numbers for your breakfast the morning after the banquet as people are likely to skip breakfast. This may also mean increasing your morning break numbers and offering a heartier snack option. As you can see your event schedule needs to be considered before planning the menu.

3. Variety is the spice of life! Meal planning can become more complex when you are planning for a multiday conference. You really need to be strategic to make sure there is not a lot of repetition each day. Don’t be afraid to work with your venue and ask for substitutions if their current menu doesn’t meet your needs. Just keep in mind, that substitutions may affect the final price.

4. Custom menus. The venue you are working with will likely send you their generic menus. If nothing piques your interest, work with the venue to create a custom menu for your signature event. The chef will likely be excited to try some new ideas and your attendees will appreciate the unique solutions you present to them. If you aren’t sure where to start when planning a custom menu, start with the generic menu to get ideas and work from there. Keep in mind that creating custom menus can often increase the price of the meal, so be aware of this.

5. Trial meals. For larger scale conferences and signature events you should schedule a meal tasting with the venue. Only bring key decision makers to the tasting and those who can be constructive and offer positive suggestions for changes. Having a trial dinner is often a small cost, but is worth the effort and expense to help avoid potential disappointment.

6. Dietary restrictions. Dietary restrictions have become very common, with many people now following strict gluten free, vegan or vegetarian diets. Be sure that your menu includes these restrictions and that the venue properly labels buffets and that their staff is well informed. For example, when planning a cocktail reception as part of a signature event always include a vegetarian/vegan passed appetizer (venues often make this option gluten free too, so be sure to inquire). The goal should be to make eating for those with dietary restrictions easy!

7. The guarantee. Just like the taste buds of the attendees of each signature event you plan will be different, the quantity of food you order will also differ. When providing your venue with your final numbers, be sure to factor in staff, exhibitors, volunteers and anyone else who is consuming the meal. As a rule of thumb, l typically order for 80% of attendees.

Combining these tips with our budget related articles is sure to help you create a menu for your event that is both on budget and appealing to your guests!