Building a Menu for an Event

It’s a lot of fun to brainstorm what to serve your guests at an event. However, it’s quite another thing to pull it off. Putting together the right meal for the right occasion takes a lot more than fancy side dishes and a signature cocktail. Menu engineers spend a lot of time working out what is necessary and what is doable. It’s a serious business. Below are some great tips in order to make your event’s meal both appropriate and memorable.

Who is coming?

Different people expect different things. Business people, for example, may go to many such events in a year. You don’t want yours to fall into the “rubber chicken circuit,” a common put down in fundraising, political and business circuits. You need to attend to the professional level of the guests. How often do they go to similar events? Where do they hail from? What are their ethnic backgrounds?

When considering menu options, you need to cater directly to the guest demographic. For example, older crowds generally prefer a more tempered selection, while younger attendees are more impressed with spicy splashes or adventurous choices. Additionally, you want to pay attention to how health conscious visitors are. You don’t want to be serving butter-rich Eggs Benedict or Kobe beef to a group of yoga enthusiasts.

Modern menu making is all about anticipating special needs. These include nut or shellfish allergies, lactose intolerance and sensitivity to gluten. People these days are becoming more decisive with their diets. According to GlobalData, there was a 600% rise in people identifying as vegans in the US just three years after 2014. Be aware of trends. Many people may also have religious requirements. Prepare your options accordingly and always have risk-free dishes available. Nothing ruins an upbeat gala like a dressed-to-the-nines delegate being rushed off to the hospital.

charcuterie board

A charcuterie board on Walker’s Exchange buffet.

What is the event?

Choosing what to eat should always be in tandem with the goal of the event. Will it be elegant or comfortable? Is there a theme? How much money is being poured into the night? You can get a good idea of the expectations of the guests by the price they are willing to pay for it. Additionally, certain types of food are necessary for certain types of occasions. A wedding, for example, involves cake and champagne. A working breakfast or lunch, on the other hand, is more practical.

Knowing your schedule is key in delivering the perfect meal. How long will meals be served? Is dinner part of a presentation or a break from the festivities? Given the estimated length of the event, a completely different style of serving will be expected. Short meals under thirty minutes can only realistically be done with a boxed lunch, while plated meals usually require an hour and a half. If you have a large crowd and only an hour to pull off dinner, a buffet-style setup may be your best bet, like the new buffet room set up in Walker’s Exchange. Additionally, any cocktail reception usually requires an hour or so before dinner commences. Planning is key.

Additionally, food is not all about calories and ingredients. Presentation of the food at any event is almost as important as the food itself. Larger plates and well-placed conservative portions can make a meal seem more precious and tastier. Napkins and cutlery also play a huge part in creating ambiance for the meal. 

The actual menu

While more options may seem like a good plan, event goers generally do not want to spend time pouring over a list. It’s best to be conservative with three entrée dishes – usually one meat, one poultry and one vegetarian. Sides dishes can be various, but they should always include healthy options along with comfort foods. Two types of desserts are enough, with a healthy option available. Of course, these figures are only for those playing it safe. Different events require different setups. 

However, finger food should always be balanced with contrasts in temperature, tastes and textures. For example, cheese fingers should sit next to vegetables and dip, and spicy quesadillas next to a calm crab salad. In this arena, options are exactly what people are looking for – and it’s perhaps the best place to try on those off-beat dishes you’ve been dreaming about.

Geography is important when planning your dishes. Seasonal items may or may not be available at certain times. The ability to get your hands on, for example, locally sourced pumpkins in springtime, might not be in the cards. Different areas may also have limited access to certain foods all year round. Investigate your supply chain. Additionally, consider local tastes. Some dishes are very celebrated in some areas and frowned upon in others. A gourmet Italian pizza may come across as elegant to New Yorkers, but cheap to Texans. 

Pay attention to current trends in food. A serious caterer should always be aware of the next big thing and plan accordingly. According to a recent comprehensive study by Upserve, the restaurant world saw a 149% increase in fermented foods on menus last year, followed shortly behind by cannabis-infused food and drink in states where it is legal, and the use of jackfruit. These types of additions to your menu can make you seem ahead of the curve and edgy. King oyster mushrooms, on the other hand, were down a shocking 92%. You might want to give them a hard pass.

All in all, a good menu will give everyone what they want. Whether it’s a packaged meal or a three-course marvel, guests should feel as though you’ve put in the effort and given them something to talk about at home and a reason to come back for their next event. For more information about booking your event at Walker’s Exchange visit this link.


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