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Madison ShepherdMay 15, 2024 5:01:41 PM11 min read

8 Tips for Customizing Your Food & Beverage Event Menu

Wondering how to make your corporate event's food and beverage offerings stand out? 

Crafting a customized menu is key. Your attendees don’t want to travel hundreds of miles for an event that serves rubbery chicken or bland salads. 

If you’re spending anywhere from 30-40% of your event budget on food & beverage, it’s smart to have a strategy behind what you’re serving.

But where do you start?

In this article, we’ll explore practical tips for customizing your F&B menu to elevate your event and satisfy your attendees. 

The Significance of Food & Beverage in Creating Connections

Food and beverage (F&B) is a key element in crafting memorable corporate event experiences. It serves as a conversation starter, bringing people together and creating shared moments to connect. 

In contrast to general sessions or breakouts, the settings where your attendees encounter F&B are typically more casual and provide a great environment for attendees to interact.

More than just satisfying hunger, F&B also offers an opportunity for event attendees to experience the unique culture of where they are visiting. 

The Impact of Food & Beverage on Event Experiences

Happy guests are often those who are well-fed and hydrated. Experience has taught us that hangry guests can dampen the event atmosphere.

Additionally, F&B plays an important role in productivity; caffeine and food are a must for keeping your event attendees focused and energized. 

Hungry guests are prone to distraction and fatigue, hindering their ability to fully engage with your event content. F&B can contribute to your attendees' ability to stay attentive, ensuring your message is conveyed clearly and without distraction.

8 Tips For Customizing Your F&B Menu

After interviewing our project management team, we've compiled a list of 8 tips to help you tailor your F&B menu for your event.

table of corporate event food at a buffet

1. Incorporating Company Values: Aligning with Audience and Event Theme

You can host an incredible event and put a lot of time and effort into the logistics, planning, and execution, but some of your guests will only remember the food. 

This is why it’s important to understand your attendees’ preferences and what they want out of your event’s food and beverage experience. 

What Are Your Attendee Preferences?

Are your event attendees health-conscious? With the rising trend of locally sourced meals and farm-to-table practices, offering GMO-free options may align with their preferences. 

Are they more hesitant to try new things? Maybe stick to a more traditional menu.

Do they come from particular cultures where certain foods are common and others are not?

You should also think about how you can tie elements of your event theme and company values into your F&B offerings for a more cohesive event experience. 

What's Your Event Theme?

Think about weaving elements of your theme into your F&B offerings. 

For instance, at past events, we've infused a touch of Western flair by serving cowboy caviar and baby back ribs, while beachside incentive trips have featured mango shrimp salad to complement the setting.

What Are Your Company Values?

Your F&B preferences can be influenced by your company's values. 

For instance, if environmental sustainability is a key focus of your products and company mission, incorporating healthy, eco-friendly F&B options may align better with your attendees' expectations.

chef preparing food for a corporate event

2. Collaborate with Your Catering Team

Get the most out of your catering team by asking about their favorite menu items, including personal preferences and crowd-pleasing dishes. 

It's critical to work with your supplier and lean into their expertise in their area of the world or country. For example, you don't want to have a hotel that has no experience in preparing authentic Indian food trying to execute an authentic Indian menu.

Can I Customize My Event Menu?

Often, customization can be done at no additional cost but make sure your expectations are realistic. For example, you are not going to be able to change out or add proteins such as beef without some type of cost increase.

Customer-centric venues generally create their in-house menus as starting points from which you can build on. The menus are there to give you an idea of pricing and available products.  

One thing to remember about customized menus is that planning needs to be done in advance.  The venue, chefs, procurement, etc. all need time to properly source and prepare items that are not on their menus. 

The closer you are to the execution of your event, generally the less flexibility the venue will have to make changes.

dishes of healthy corporate event food ready to be served

3. Embrace Holidays and Seasonality

When planning your event, consider the impact of holidays, such as Passover in the Jewish community or Ramadan for those following a Halal diet. You want to be inclusive of diverse cultures and regions, particularly when events bring together attendees from various parts of the country or globe.

Additionally, take note of the weather during certain times of the year. For instance, during the summer, opt for light and refreshing meals rather than serving heavy dishes like lasagna or chicken pot pies.

If your event is in California and attendees are traveling from various parts of the U.S., highlight fresh produce from the state, such as strawberries or avocados, offering attendees a taste of foods they may not have access to year-round.

table of corporate event food

4. Offer Variety and Flexibility

Offering a variety of customizable food and beverage options at your event allows you to accommodate the dietary restrictions, allergies, and individual food preferences of your event guests. 

The goal is for everyone to leave your event well-fed and satisfied, so here are some questions to consider as you plan your event menu: 

Do Your Guests Have Any Allergies?

Some common food allergies observed at events include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, fish, and soy, as well as celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

Ask your guests in advance about any food allergies or dietary restrictions to make sure you’re prepared to serve food they can enjoy. 

During the event, utilize display cards on menus to let guests know what they can and cannot eat at events. For example, you can simply note (GF, VG, and V) in the corner of each card for gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options to signal to guests what they can choose from. You can also notate common allergies to give your guests peace of mind. Make sure the staff is also trained on what’s in each dish so they can easily answer any questions.

Do Your Guests Have Dietary Restrictions?

Dietary restrictions have become increasingly popular in recent years, with the most popular choices we’ve seen at events being vegan and gluten-free options.

These diets have become parts of individuals' identities, whether they follow a vegan, vegetarian, or keto diet, and should be kept in mind when creating your event menu. 

Do Your Guests Have Dietary Preferences?

It's important to cater to a variety of F&B preferences, not just allergies. For example, some guests may not be lactose intolerant but prefer almond or oat milk in their coffee. Try to accommodate these preferences not just during main meal times, but also during breaks.

Balancing is key. Often the addition of other milk substitutes can impact your overall budget so it's important to look at the costs from the venue. If these additions substantially impact costs, it's wise to keep a close eye on actual consumption.

Have You Heard of “Duet Plates"?

At events, "duet plates" are a serving style where two different dishes are plated together. Instead of assuming every guest prefers one particular dish (chicken or steak), this approach serves smaller portions of both options on one plate.

However, for larger events, we recommend buffets as they provide a wider variety and higher quality for your guests compared to duet plates.

If you are hosting a smaller group and looking to provide a diverse range of main dish options, this could be a great choice. Just keep in mind the additional challenges this may entail:

  • Increased overall pricing from the venue (it's much more difficult and expensive for the venue to pull this off well).
  • You will need to manage menu choices in advance.
  • You might have to put a buffer into your guarantee to accommodate those who either don't respond or who change their mind at the last minute.
  • Or you issue meal cards to attendees (which depending upon the event may or may not work).

In general, most venues do not like doing multiple entree offerings because of the extra level of complexity this brings to events.

However, if the venue is open and experienced in handling this type of function, if your program can adjust to the extra time needed if your budget can cover the additional costs, and if you can oversee it on your end – this could be a good premium option to consider.

event attendees choosing food from a buffet

5. Event Food Service: Matching Your Agenda and Meeting Style

Consider how the timing and format of your meeting agenda will influence your meal service. 

How do your attendees actually go to breakfast? Are they early risers who savor the meal or last-minute rushers?

Consider setting up to-go coffee stations and including breakfast sandwiches on the buffet to cater to both preferences. With advance notice, the venue team can also provide grab-and-go protein options for guests in a hurry.

Each type of food service has its pros and cons, so you have to determine which best suits your event.

Do You Prefer Your Attendees to Walk Around or Sit Down?

Plated meals limit conversation but offer the advantage of assigning seats, and targeting interactions among guests. However, in today's corporate event landscape, they've become less common, occurring around less than 5% of the time. 

Serving appetizers encourages networking as guests move around. If you want your attendees to walk around and talk with one another, this could be a great option for creating opportunities for connections. 

Is There a Cost-Effective Food Service Option?

Passed hors d'oeuvres can often be the most cost-effective option since you order them by quantity, allowing both you and the venue to regulate their distribution. 

However, it's crucial to ensure that if guests are expecting a meal, you provide enough food for that experience.

Therefore, this approach should be used strategically and with careful planning.

Tailoring Lunch Service to Agenda Flow

Consider the type of lunch service needed based on your agenda flow. 

For example, if everyone is taking a break from a general session, you might offer lunch within their meeting or provide grab-and-go options.

Family-Style Service

Family-style service is a trend we’ve been seeing recently, with food served and passed around at a communal table. This approach offers a casual and intimate atmosphere for attendees to serve themselves without having to leave their seats.

If you choose this option, make sure that the menu doesn't include messy or difficult-to-serve items. For instance, avoid dishes like spaghetti with marinara sauce, which can be challenging for guests to serve themselves. 

Additionally, ensure that there's enough space at the tables for guests to maneuver comfortably. Ask the venue if they can provide lazy Susans, as they can help facilitate self-service.

tray of brownies with raspberries on top at a corporate event buffet table

6. Don’t Skip on the Dessert

Don't underestimate the power of dessert in your meal planning. Often, dessert becomes the most memorable part of the entire meal.

We've had guests rave about favorite desserts from past events, even asking about the chocolate mousse they remember having from the previous year!

Desserts are often saved for special occasions for attendees, making them a highlight at events. It’s a great way to encourage your guests to celebrate a special occasion.

tray of alcoholic drinks being served at a corporate event

7. Bar Service

Are you leaning toward drink tickets, an open bar, or another option for your event guests? 

When choosing the right bar service for your event, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

One option could be providing a certain number of complimentary drink tickets per person and then offering additional beverages for purchase.

Budgeting for an open bar can be challenging due to varying consumption levels. Typically at events, the average person will have about 3-4 drinks. So if one person at your company has only one alcoholic drink, and another has six, it may be difficult to gauge if your group will consume more or less than the standard average. 

Also, consider your company’s culture. If most attendees consume less than 2-3 drinks each, an open bar might not be worth your budget. 

What is the Difference Between Open Bars / Consumption Bar vs. Package Bars?

The costs for an open/consumption bar are determined by what is actually consumed.

A package bar costs a fixed price for a predetermined amount of time and a set number of guests. Opting for a package bar means you're banking on your guests consuming more than the venue has budgeted for. 

However, if your group typically doesn't drink heavily, a consumption bar might be more cost-effective over time. 

Alternatively, consider limiting offerings to beer, wine, and a signature cocktail to better suit your attendees' preferences.

event attendee filling up his water bottle at station

8. Water

Don't forget to include water! Provide water stations throughout your event venue to keep your guests hydrated and comfortable. 

Also, consider offering electrolyte packages or flavored water for a healthy boost after that late-night bar.

Especially if you're giving out water bottles in your swag bags, make it easy for your guests to refill their bottles throughout the program. 

Plan Your Next Corporate Event with GoGather

Need help planning your food and beverage menu for your next corporate event? Let’s chat about how GoGather can help you plan your best event yet. 

let's plan your best event yet

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Madison Shepherd

Madison Shepherd is a Marketing Specialist at GoGather. When she's not writing blogs or sending out social media posts, she enjoys hiking, traveling, or reading at one of the many beautiful beaches in San Diego.

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