A big day is coming, full of high-level meetings and presentations. When you have an executive event on the calendar, you can also bet on big appetites. Whether you offer a full day of catered meals or just breakfast or lunch, here’s how to successfully plan and execute the catering required for your executive event.
Plan around the schedule and agenda
A full-day executive event usually comes with a set schedule and agenda and you’ll want all your food and beverage options to work within those times. Share the schedule with your catering partner in advance so they can plan setup, service, and cleanup (whether you’re responsible for these tasks or they are), without disturbing your event flow. If possible, start on the headcount, agenda, and budget at least six months out from the day of your executive event.
When you plan snacks and meals in conjunction with the main schedule, employees and visitors can easily grab a productivity-enhancing snack or beverage between sessions and still make it to their next meeting on time. You and your caterer can also help keep meals to a timeframe that fits the day’s activities. Planning around the event’s agenda helps keep attendees on schedule and gives people a way to refuel and recharge during or between sessions.
(Over)estimate your headcount
When talking with your executive event caterer, one of the first things they’ll need to know is how many people will attend. A solid headcount helps the caterer know what food options to recommend.
Experienced, savvy caterers understand that headcounts can change, especially at the last minute. Do your best to keep the caterer up to date with the current headcount. It’ll help the caterer prepare and help your organization get the most out of your budget for the event.
A good rule of thumb? Estimate high, not low. Don’t lowball headcount to try to save money. Underestimating could leave your caterer scrambling to serve extra guests—and stick your company with a higher bill.
Create a budget
What is a realistic budget your organization can set for the event? Combined with your headcount, your event budget will help your caterer determine what options best fit the event. Here are some factors to keep in mind.
- Event organizers, management, and stakeholders should all be on the same page about the event’s budget and their expectations.
- It’s a good idea to ensure the catering budget allows you to match the food and beverage to the tone and atmosphere of the event.
- Food and drink aren’t the only catering expenses. You may need to budget for other event catering costs too, such as linens, table rentals, and venue.
- Booking your caterer at least six months ahead of the event can make it easier to stick to a budget as pricing goes up closer to the event time.
Caterers and venues often require a minimum, sometimes this is a set number of meals or a headcount spend, that your organization will pay for. The caterer will also have an overset number, which is the extra number of meals they will provide based on the guarantee.
Team up with a caterer or a catering service
An important executive event needs an experienced, reliable, responsive catering partner. These are the two main approaches.
Choose and work directly with a caterer
This is especially effective if your organization has an established relationship with a trusted caterer or your venue has a preferred partner or inhouse service.
Partner with an event catering service, such as ZeroCater
A catering service vets local restaurants and caterers and has a trusted network. This gives you confidence in the execution, as well as the flexibility to match the right caterer to each individual event. Not to mention you’ll be supporting local businesses.
There’s no right or wrong answer. There’s only what best matches your company’s priorities, resources, and expectations.
As you get to know prospective caterers, discuss previous events they’ve catered and their approach to matching the right food to an event. If there’s an option, set up a time for a tasting so you can try their food and have an in-depth discussion about menu and budget.
You’ll also want to discuss setup and cleanup. Depending on the venue, catering staff may oversee all setup and cleanup tasks, or venue staff may carry out some of these functions. If you hold the event at your office, you may decide to assign some of your team members with these tasks or consider hiring setup and cleaning crews if your caterer does not include them.
Set the day, time, and menu
Setting the day and the timeframe for the event will help dictate the menu and how to best allocate your catering resources.
Decide if you’ll serve plated meals or a buffet
Choosing wait staff for plated meals or a buffet service isn’t always a clear-cut decision. Talk to your caterer to decide which option best fits your needs based on how formal the event is, how much time you have, and what your main goals are.
Provide additional wait staff as necessary
Your caterer will know how many staff they need on site for your event based on your headcount, menu, and event type. A good rule of thumb is to expect at least one server per 32 attendees (regardless of any other factors). However, sometimes you may need additional wait staff, depending on the event’s size and offerings.
For example, if you plan to serve hors d’oeuvres at an evening reception, there may need to be some additional staff to circulate trays throughout the event space.
If your event will include bar service, a good rule of thumb is to have one bartender and bar per 75 to 100 attendees.
Accommodate food allergies, intolerances, and other diet restrictions
Caterers know that functions often require options for people with various diet restrictions, from specific diet choices to allergies and intolerances.
Check-in with guests to see which diet restrictions (if any) your caterer will need to work with. That way, the caterer can provide safe foods for everyone attending. As long as your caterer has sufficient notice they can generally accommodate any dietary needs.
Some common sensitivities, restrictions, allergies, or diet choices might include:
- Faith-based requirements, such as halal or kosher
- Allergies to dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, shellfish, etc.
- Low carb
- Celiac disease or gluten intolerance
Don’t forget the beverages
Arrange to have a variety of beverages available throughout the day. Not only do people often enjoy having a hot or cold drink to sip on, but you also want people to stay hydrated and focused on the business at hand.
If your attendees have specific drink preferences, be sure to tell your caterer as far in advance as possible (unless you’ll handle drinks yourself). That way, your caterer can make any necessary arrangements.
The way you provide beverages can vary to fit the event. You may set up stations in meeting rooms or common areas with grab-and-go beverages available throughout the day (and restocked by catering staff as necessary). Sit-down meals can offer beverages to order.
Here are some ideas for beverages you may want to have on the menu.
- Bottled water (still, mineral, or sparkling)
- Flavored waters
- Energy drinks
- Alcoholic beverages (depending on the type of event): wine, beer, spirits, and/or cocktails
- Assorted regular and diet soft drinks
- Assorted bottled juices
- Coffee (regular and decaf)
- Iced tea
- Hot water for tea and/or cocoa
Caterers usually provide juices or hot beverages by the gallon and charge accordingly. Pre-packaged beverages will typically be charged based on consumption, not just what’s provided. Make sure you discuss these details with your caterer.
To snack or not to snack
On one hand, providing snacks can prevent people from getting hangry. On the other hand, snacks can be a distraction and an additional cost. Are they necessary?
Whether or not you provide snacks depends on what other foods you offer at the event, how long the event lasts, and how much time you schedule for each meeting and presentation. Having a few simple, non-distracting snacks (items that aren’t too crunchy or greasy and don’t require loud packaging), can be useful to help people stay focused.
Instead of providing dedicated snacks, offering fruit or pastries at breakfast or lunch services can also give people a little something to take with them for later. That way, you provide options along with meals and people can use their own judgment to take a snack if they think they’ll need one.
The right catering can make your full-day event a success
An executive event can be a real success when you provide the right food and drink options. Whether working with your own caterer or one of ZeroCater’s trusted partners, you’ll be on your way to hosting an event that’s not only beneficial for the bottom line, but worthy of everyone’s tastes and appetites.