Are We Having Chicken…Again?

Years ago I was listening to a tape of Lewis Grizzard (a southern humorist for you younger folks) and he was talking about how many hotel banquet meals he had eaten over his career. Because so many of them were boneless chicken breasts, he wanted to know how Marriott grew chickens with boneless breasts and did they look funny trying to run around the chicken coop without those bones!

Goofy, I know, but the reality is many meeting planners miss the opportunity to make a positive impression on their attendees by paying attention to the food service during their event. If you’re spending money on food service, here are some tips to help you get the most bang for your bucks.

  • At any event offering food and beverage service, be sure to allow enough time for guests to eat leisurely and to network or socialize with colleagues and friends.
  • As a general rule allow 30-40 minutes for breakfast, 45-60 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes/course for dinner. For breaks, give yourself at least 15 minutes for up to 100 people, 30 minutes for up to 1,000 and 30-45 minutes for more than 1,000.
  • In spite of Grizzard’s joke about boneless chicken breast, there’s certainly nothing wrong with using a chicken breast as your main dinner offering. However, make sure the preparation and presentation are not plain jane. Ask your host facility if they have a special way of preparing a boneless chicken breast. Chances are it’ll be excellent. I know it is at Ridgecrest!
  • Consider offering a lunch buffet or deli bar for small group working sessions. You can offer more variety and the service is faster, giving the group more time to work.
  • Always plan to serve a variety of food during a reception. The food should be healthy, appetizing and visually well presented.
  • Most facilities allow one staff person for every two tables for a standard 3-4 course meal. You may want to consider requesting one server for the head table and/or VIP tables. Be sure to check with the facility to determine if there would be any additional labor charges for the additional servers.

Bon appetite!

A Pot Of Coffee Is How Much?

When it comes to catering prices at most hotels and conference centers, sticker shock is not an uncommon reaction among Christian meeting planners. This is especially true for first time planners, or those who are looking to move an event from the church to an off-site location. The cost of an urn of coffee at the hotel down the street is just a tad more than what it costs to brew one in the church’s kitchen!

While there are legitimate reasons (cost of labor, meeting space, banquet equipment, food cost, etc.), one of the primary reasons behind the higher costs is that they can. Once you’ve selected a hotel or conference center for your event, price competition is out the window and you become a captive audience. (A way to avoid this is to include catering pricing in your RFP. This way you can factor catering costs into your overall selection process.)

Since very few, if any hotels/conference centers, will allow you to bring in food or beverages, your only real option in controlling your catering costs is to make good, cost-effective choices. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for things you can watch out for to help keep your catering costs down.

  • Depending on the size of your group, compare the costs and time savings for eating a meal in a private section of the dining room versus having a catered meal.
  • Focus on getting your guarantees as accurate as possible. Typically guarantees are due 48-72 hours prior to the beginning of the event. Be sure to get your guarantee dates in writing so there’s no confusion.
  • Specify the “overset” (the # of people beyond the guarantee # for which the facility will set tables and chairs. Usually varies from 0-5%, with 3% the industry average) in your contract. The higher your “overset” is, the more conservative you can be with your guarantee.
  • Typically you will be billed for the guaranteed number or the number actually served, whichever is greater.
  • Be sure to have a good understanding of the service charges and taxes that will be added to the price of the meal/catering. In most locations, these costs will add 25% or more to the cost of the meal. (Note – Due to our religious non-profit status, neither Ridgecrest of Glorieta add tax or service charges to the cost of our catering.)
  • Don’t compromise on quality due to budget constraints. Instead, consider reducing the number of catered functions for your event.

No doubt there are other things you can do to help control catering costs. Please feel free to share steps you have implemented to help keep your catering costs down.