Successfully reported this slideshow.
A guide to F&B management at events
Judy L. Anderson
Event Management Simplified:
A Practical Approach to the
Complexities of Special Events
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 0
"I've learned there are two words that will always draw a crowd — free food."
Live and Learn and Pass It On, Volume VI
Rare is the event without a food or beverage element. Food is one of the major
motivators for people to attend events—unless, of course, it’s an event built around
beverages! Because of this, we want the food and/or beverage to make an impression
on our guests.
The food is often what people remember most about an event and is limited only by the
budget and your imagination. Look at food as an entertainment element and how it can
be incorporated into the theme. Add a new twist such as a chili cookoff or a barbecue
to an outdoor event.
Keep the audience in mind. Be realistic about the type of foods and beverages that
are served. Keep the demographics of the group in mind. Are they a meat and potatoes
crowd or do they appreciate more trendy foods like sushi? Just as it’s unrealistic to
plan a four-course gourmet dinner when the budget is $5 per person, you wouldn’t
want to serve champagne to a beer-drinking crowd.
Men of all ages seem to prefer more substantial foods, and young men tend to eat more
than anyone. Women like to eat lighter foods or more vegetables. Young adults are
more likely to choose beer or wine over hard liquor. Older people usually appreciate
foods that are less rich or spicy and are more easily chewed. Teenagers like to nibble
on finger-type foods, while children like simple foods that aren’t fussy to serve or eat.
With the movement toward a healthier diet, vegetarian options should always be
available regardless of the event or venue.
Use common sense in selecting the menu. Don’t serve alcohol or give bottles of wine
as gifts if the audience is recovering alcoholics. Don’t serve several meat courses at an
event where most of the guests are vegetarians or vegans. An entree of chicken with
wine sauce would probably go untouched if served to a group of children. You get the
Ethnic, religious or group considerations are also important. The last thing an
event manager wants is for the guests to be mortified over the menu. Some cultures or
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 1
religions don’t eat meat (or only select types) while most do eat fish. If the group is
predominantly from another culture, be sure to include dishes they will enjoy.
Adapt the food to the circumstances. Events held at indoor facilities offer more
variety in the way food can be served than outdoor venues do. Will people sit down for
the meal or will they be required to carry the food around with them? If it’s hot
weather, you’ll need to provide more water, soft drinks or juice. Beer sales at outdoor
events are always greater in hot weather than cool.
For events that last all day, you’ll need to offer more than one meal. If the event is on a
weekend, offering brunch may be more cost effective than serving breakfast and lunch.
Serving lunch entrees for dinner can lighten up a meal, though you may be charged for
the “dinner” price. Meals are also priced differently depending on the day of the week or
the time of day. Many places will charge a higher price after 3:00 p.m. for exactly the
same menu item.
Try to be health conscious about the menu. Greasy foods like French fries or
hamburgers are expected at fairs or festivals, not at more upscale events. Lighter fare
should always be served for luncheons so that guests remain alert. Food should be
pleasing to the eye and colorful, as well as taste good.
Don’t forget about food for volunteers! Events using volunteers should provide food
and beverage in some form to the volunteers. This can be accomplished by making food
available at a volunteer “headquarters” location or by giving volunteers “meal tickets”
that can be used at independent food vendors (e.g. outdoor festivals). Volunteers
appreciate the added benefit of a meal, even if it’s only a sandwich and a soft drink.
Start planning early. You’ll need to start planning for food and beverage at least three
months in advance, and more if possible. This will allow time for researching options,
choosing menus, taste testing, making decisions and knowing what supplies are
Make use of available resources. Talk to the chef or caterer. Look at menus from
other events or recipes in cookbooks. Better yet, invent your own menu using a
combination of methods.
Catering services are often available as a part of a facility rental package (in-house) or
you may need to hire an outside caterer. Either way, there are a number of points to
consider. Do-it-yourself catering is discussed at a later point in this chapter.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 2
! " # !$
Finding a suitable caterer works much like the venue selection process. You’ll start
with a larger group of possibilities, then screen them down to just a few.
Not all caterers are the same! Obtain information on catering companies through
friends, business associates, or do it the old-fashioned way by looking in the phone
book. If you attend a function where the food impresses you, get the business card of
the catering company. Make notations on the card about when and where you obtained
the caterer’s name, as well as remarks about the food, visual appearance or comments
made by other guests. It’s always helpful to have contact information for exceptional
caterers in the file even if you don’t use it immediately.
Full service caterers work with the event manager to prepare and serve the meal and
can provide other elements such as dishes, linens, decor, etc. Drop-off caterers prepare
the food in their own facility and deliver it to the event site (or it can be picked up at
their location) but do not provide service personnel or clean up. Partial caterers will
perform meal preparation at the event site but normally do not include shopping in
Develop a list of potential candidates. Make a list of potential caterers (no more than
ten) and conduct a preliminary screening. Call around and check on availability for the
dates of your event, the types of events they cater, etc. Based on this information,
narrow it down to three candidates.
Ask each of the three catering finalists if you can visit an upcoming event they
are catering. Regardless of whether it’s a plain or fancy affair, you’ll get a good idea
about the quality of food and service provided. It may also provide an opportunity to
speak with the host about their working relationship with the catering company.
At the very least, ask the caterer for references that you can call to gauge customer
satisfaction. Trust your instincts. If something seems amiss, hire someone else.
Menus and the budget. Most caterers operate from a “cost per person” perspective. To
calculate this for one-time meals such as dinners, divide the preliminary budget
allocated for the meal by the number of persons expected to attend. This gives you the
estimated “per person” amount.
Be sure to indicate whether or not the per person amount includes the gratuity and/or
tax. Most caterers will assume it does not unless you have specified this in advance.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 3
Keep in mind that the catering company must factor its costs for food, equipment and
staff into the budget you have given them.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Event managers have a right to know exactly what is
being provided for the price quoted.
Based on the per person cost, the event manager can choose from among standardized
menus or can ask the caterer to create a customized menu for the event. Given
adequate lead time, most catering companies appreciate an opportunity to create
Most caterers will allow a “tasting” of various food items on their menu prior to final
selection so that the client can make an educated choice. Just be aware that
sometimes the care they have taken in the presentation of the food at the tasting may
not be the way the food appears when served to a large group of people. Take a photo
at the time of tasting and compare it to how the food looks at the event. Let the caterer
know that you expect the item to look the same way it did at the tasting when it is
served to your guests.
Does the caterer offer other services? Events can often obtain “package deals”
through catering companies that include items such as table linens, decorations,
centerpieces, votive candles, party favors or other event needs. Since there is normally
a mark up by the caterer, you’ll want to compare whether it would be cheaper to obtain
these items separately through other sources. If the budget allows, the time saved in
shopping or carting supplies to the event may be well worth having the catering
company perform these functions.
Make the final selection based on a combination of menu and service. Contract
details should include information about the menu, beverages, guarantee dates,
number of wait staff, taxes, gratuities and payment schedule. Be sure to specify other
items to be provided by the caterer (e.g. linens, dishes, etc.). Do not sign the contract
until all details have been agreed upon.
Beware of hidden costs! When signing contracts with caterers, be sure to directly ask
them if all potential costs have been outlined. Some caterers do not list items such as
corkage, wait staff, or gratuity on the staff or other items as a way to increase their
earnings at the end. These things can be a budget bombshell if you are not expecting
them. Make it very clear to the caterer that you will not pay for charges that were not
included in the agreement, unless they have been separately discussed and agreed upon.
It is always a good idea to write this statement directly on the contract and initial it.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 4
Follow up. Contact the caterer no less than two weeks in advance to confirm
arrangements. You’ll be required to give an attendance guarantee anywhere from 72
hours to 30 days in advance depending on the venue. Just remember that when the
guarantee is given, it should be a few less than expected. You can always increase the
guarantee; you cannot decrease it.
# ! "
Most of the larger venues such as hotels or convention centers have their own in-house
catering services or they contract with authorized food service providers which an event
may be required to use. Event managers work with banquet or catering personnel at
these sites in regard to catering functions. Options for standard or customized menus
are also available.
The advantage of using in-house catering is that it can be included in the “package
deal” for the use of the facility. There is usually no need to bring in dishes, linens, and
the like because they are owned by the venue. Another way to look at is “one stop
For a busy event manager, the opportunity to combine facility use and catering services
at one location can save a great deal of time and coordination.
Most facilities with their own on-site catering stipulate that the catering be only
provided by their facility due to liability issues. If you wish to bring in outside chefs or
vary standard services, check with the venue.
The type of food service used at an event should be in keeping with the theme and the
desired atmosphere. Just as you choose the menu for an event, you can also select
from a number of standard serving styles—plated, preset, buffets, food stations,
cafeteria style, family style or receptions. Some events may use a combination of
several standard styles. More elegant affairs often use the higher level Russian or
French service styles. A description of various service styles follows.
Plated style. Normally used for seated dinners or conventions, plated service means
that food is assembled on the plate in the kitchen, then brought to the table by the
server and placed before the diner. An advantage of plated service is that it employs
portion control that may result in less cost per person than serve-yourself options.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 5
Preset style. This term is just as it implies. Either all or a portion (such as a salad) of
the food is placed on the table prior to guests being seated. Items such as salt, pepper,
water, bread, butter, cream and others are standard preset items.
Buffet style. In this type of service, guests proceed along a line of tables serving
themselves from a number of foods, thereby reducing the number of service personnel.
Potlucks are a form of buffet style. A partial pre-set (such as the bread, salad and
dessert) can do much to save time, especially if the group is large.
To reduce the amount of time it takes for large groups to go through a buffet line, it’s
always helpful if guests can serve themselves from either side of the buffet tables, or to
have a separate buffet service in another part of the room. A good rule of thumb is one
double-sided buffet service for every 100 people.
Drawbacks to buffet service are that since guests serve themselves, they may take
larger portions or have extra helpings that can result in higher food costs than those for
portion-controlled styles of service. If the crowd tends to be heavy eaters, you’ll need to
increase the quantity. People also tend to move slowly through a buffet line because
they are talking to others or are making decisions about which food to choose.
Food station style. This is a variation of buffet style service where food is placed on
smaller tables at various locations. Service personnel may stand at these stations to
directly prepare foods (e.g. omelets or meat carving) at the request of the guest. This
cuts down on the buffet lines and attendees are able to more freely socialize.
Cafeteria style. Cafeteria style is like a buffet line except the service staff dishes the
food onto the plate according to choices made by the guest. The guest then takes the
food to their table.
Family style. Seated guests serve themselves from common dishes that are placed on
the table by wait staff.
Receptions. Receptions (also known as “butler passed hors d’oeuvres”) are often
replacing traditional sit down dinners because they offer guests a chance to mingle and
carry on conversations while sampling a variety of foods. Hors d’oeuvres and
champagne are traditionally served in this manner.
Cocktail receptions generally refer to the serving of cocktails and light hors d’oeuvres.
Dinner receptions usually serve heavier hors d’oeuvres or slightly larger portions. Hors
d’oeuvres should be able to be eaten in two bites. Another option might be to have food
stations in conjunction with a reception.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 6
Russian style. More elegant sit-down dinners may use this form of service that
features diners helping themselves to food presented by wait staff. More room must be
allowed for wait staff to operate and this practice is often used by smaller specialty
French style. Small, exclusive restaurants or VIP dinners sometimes use this service
style in which the wait person places each food item on every diner’s plate.
Pick the style, or combination of styles, that best fits the event.
Industry standards for table seating are normally based on “rounds” (round tables)
seating from 2-12 people depending on size, or at “banquet tables” (rectangular shaped
6-8’ tables) providing seating on both sides and the ability to seat between 6-8 people.
Don’t try to squeeze too many people at a table. Add more tables rather than making
guests feel crowded.
Head table. The use of a head table is usually for the purpose of recognition. At an
event like a conference, the keynote speaker or VIPs are included in the seating. The
type of event and the food being served are also determining factors. If the event is a
simple affair, you can probably do without a head table.
Head tables are usually set on an elevated platform or stage so that those attending the
event are able to see the people seated there. If the event uses a head table, especially if
it is on a raised dais or stage, be sure the table is skirted for privacy’s sake.
Use of seating charts and floor plans. These are “mini” versions of a site plan that
serve a multitude of uses for food functions. Larger venues like hotels and convention
centers have computer software to generate seating charts indicating various ways
tables can be arranged in the room. This software has been pre-programmed to factor
requirements stipulated by the fire marshal or others in relation to aisleways, number
of persons at a table, etc.
If you don’t have the luxury of a computer program, you’ll need a scale drawing of the
room on which to plot the seating chart using graph paper. Keep in mind that
aisleways between tables need to be a minimum of 4’ wide (6’ is better because it allows
space for seated guests to push their chairs back a little and for servers to pass
through. At the table, a minimum of 2’ per person is required (3’ is better because it
allows for more “elbow room”).
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 7
Number the tables, especially for large groups. Seating assignments can then be made
by table number. Most event planning software includes this feature and allows
information to be changed or sorted in a number of ways. A limited version of an event
management database can be found in more recent releases of Microsoft Access.
On the flip side, if you have planned for a table of eight and six of them cancel at the
last minute, move the remaining two people to another table so they aren’t sitting by
themselves and have the empty table removed from the room.
An option for a nearly full table that is missing guests is to remove place settings and
the additional chairs from the table to allow more room (just be sure the missing guests
will not be arriving later!).
Event managers should be aware of the ratios of service personnel to guests. At a sit-
down meal, there should be at least one waiter for every 25 guests at breakfast, and one
for every 20 guests at lunch and dinner. For buffets, the desired ratio is 1-to-40 for
breakfast and 1-to-30 for lunch or dinner. If using a venue’s service personnel, clarify
that there will be no extra charge for these service ratios. Depending on the venue, they
may have an even better ratio than what is stated here.
) ' ( !
Since food is such an elemental part of events it should not only taste good, but look
good as well. Presentation is important because it shows guests that someone has not
only thought about the nutritional value of the food, but has taken the time to ensure
that it is pleasing to the eye.
Ask any chef about the importance of presentation and they will tell you it is critical to
the dining experience. The way the food looks affects the way it tastes. When dining, if
presented with a beautiful plate of food combining color, texture, artful arrangement
and perhaps a little garnish, don’t you immediately just know it’s going to taste
fantastic? That’s the ultimate.
Of course, presentation is a little harder to achieve at a banquet, but event managers
should always strive to showcase the food in the best manner possible. Even banquets
find creative ways to decorate tables or the food itself to enhance presentation.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 8
Table linens, dishes, flatware, glassware, decorations and other ambiance enhancers
should lend themselves to the presentation. Candlelight is flattering to food as well as
people. There’s no excuse for guests to have a boring dining experience when so much
can be done to enhance it with little effort.
When it comes to creating menus, the sky’s the limit. Just because a caterer or
banquet manager may present a standardized menu doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Base your food choices on the type of event, who will attend and the per-person cost.
This frees you to be creative in the menu selection.
# & )
There’s nothing wrong with using standardized menus for those who want a no-hassle
way to make a selection. The information is most often listed according to the per
person price based on various entrees and accompanying side dishes. You may be able
to mix and match the side dishes, change sauces and the like within the established
price structure for entrees. Desserts are normally priced separately.
Another method of menu development is to state the established per-person budget
with a few guidelines (e.g. “I’d like chicken, fish, pasta and a chocolate dessert”) and let
the caterer come up with the specifics. This allows the chef or caterer to be creative in
developing a specialized menu while operating within the parameters you have
established. You'll often get a more creative menu than the standardized one for the
same or less cost!
For entrees, a good rule of thumb is to plan on 5-7 ounce portions. This includes
boneless meat, poultry or fish as well as pasta or other meat substitutes. If serving
bone-in meats, you need to allow for two small cuts or one larger cut. Buffets require
smaller portions than sit-down meals.
Think about the entire meal when determining portion size. What is a reasonable
portion size for a menu of salad, bread, entree, side dishes and dessert? This provides
a good starting point.
Don’t overlook simple dishes in planning the menu. Everything doesn’t have to have a
fancy sauce or elaborate name. Simple dishes with beautiful presentation can often be
as just as impressive as those with a high price tag attached. Keep the clientele in
mind when considering this option.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 9
'! # !'
With today’s emphasis on a more healthy lifestyle, we need to pay attention to what
we’re asking our guests to eat. Event managers should attempt to provide health
conscious food choices regardless of the venue.
In the movie When Harry Met Sally, one of Sally’s mandatory dining rules was that
accompanying sauces, butter and so forth be served “on the side.” We can take a
lesson from this. To keep it light, we may want to offer our guests the option of adding
sauces, salad dressings or other accompaniments according to their own individual
choice. It’s even better if the sauces and dressings are low in fat and cholesterol, but
big on taste. Just make sure there is enough of whatever is offered "on the side" to
serve everyone at the table.
Keep lunch meals on the light side, especially at conferences or conventions. No
speaker wants their audience to go to sleep in the middle of their presentation due to
a heavy meal. Another way to lighten up the dinner meal is to serve luncheon-type
entrees because they are usually less heavy than dinner entrees.
Vegetarian and vegan options. A great number of folks these days are vegetarians or
vegans, and even people who aren’t may enjoy these menu options. In addition to
vegetables, some of the tastiest entrees can include such things as pasta, potatoes, rice,
tofu or fruit. Event managers should always include a vegetarian option in the menu.
Take care to ensure that what is claimed to be vegetarian actually is. Rice prepared with
chicken broth is not vegetarian. Dishes that include dairy products are not vegan. If in
doubt, request an ingredients list for the dish.
In selecting beverages, event managers need to keep in mind those that best fit the
event and the site. Some sites do not allow alcoholic beverages or require special
permits for alcohol service. A mix of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages is the
' !' & "
As a general rule, people drink more non-alcoholic than alcoholic beverages. At the
very least, water and other beverages such as coffee, tea or soft drinks should be
offered. If conducting beverage service outside a standard venue, don’t forget the ice!
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 10
If you are serving coffee, order it by the gallon rather than by the cup. It costs much
less that way. One pound of coffee grounds makes about 60 cups of brewed coffee. A
gallon of brewed coffee equals approximately 20 8-ounce cups. Cream and sugar
should also be made available, as well as milk and sugar substitute.
By ordering bottled beverages on consumption, you save money in paying only for what
is used as compared to the per-person price. Depending on the level of trust with the
venue, make sure to discuss with the staff how to account for how much has been
A gallon of prepared punch will serve about 24 people. You can purchase punch mix in
powdered or concentrate form, or mix your own concoction. Add sparkling soda, fruit
or ice cream for a different taste. Keep in mind that some people are allergic to
bananas, strawberries or other fruit if you opt to add them.
Bottle deposits. Some states charge deposits on bottles and cans for soft drinks and
some alcoholic beverages such as beer. If the event purchases a keg of beer, you will be
required to pay a deposit to ensure the safe return of the keg. Return clean bottles and
cans to recoup a little of the beverage expense.
' !' & "
The serving of alcoholic beverages at any event is serious business and your event may
be required to obtain a special event permit through the state alcohol jurisdiction.
Since alcoholic beverages are considered to be controlled substances, events must
conform to laws which basically state that those who provide alcoholic beverages may
be held liable for damages caused by intoxicated patrons. This applies whether the
event is a sit-down dinner or an outdoor festival.
The legal drinking age for most states in the U.S. is 21 years old. If minors are
attending the event, make sure that alcohol is monitored. Events held on college
campuses should be especially careful in this regard. For outdoor events, be sure that
adults aren’t purchasing alcohol and passing it off to minors.
These cautionary statements don’t mean that an event shouldn’t serve alcohol, as long
as other non-alcoholic beverages are available. Plan the event so that the alcoholic
beverages are not the sole focus or primary activity. Knowing your clientele and
understanding that people behave differently when drinking alcohol is important in
planning the event. The best bet is to use trained servers who know what to watch for
when serving guests.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 11
Wine. It used to be that serving wine with a meal was a real treat. Changing times
have caused a shift to more sophisticated tastes and wine is now considered an added
accompaniment to everyday life.
For events on a tight budget, even a relatively inexpensive wine can be a luxury item if
it needs to be purchased in large quantities. Serving a wine punch can stretch the
servings for a bottle of wine by adding juice, sparkling soda or other ingredients.
Matching wine with food is another consideration. While serving the proper wine with
the proper food is no longer so relevant (unless it’s a food and wine event), you should
plan to offer both white and red wine for a sit-down meal.
Wine stewards at wine shops or grocery outlets selling wine can offer excellent and cost-
effective selections. For large quantities of wine, work with a local wine distributor to
obtain the best price or a significant discount. If you want a specific brand of wine,
you’ll need to make inquiries about which local distributor handles that brand.
Wine comes in 750 ml bottles and often in magnums (1.5 liter bottles). A standard wine
pour is 5 ounces which equates to 4-5 glasses of wine per 750 ml bottle. A magnum
provides 8-10 glasses depending on the size of the pour.
Beer. The serving of beer lends itself extremely well to outdoor events, but is also a
good choice for indoor venues, especially those that are sports-related.
It’s cheaper to buy beer in kegs than in bottles but kegs are more difficult to handle
than bottled beer. Kegs are hard to maneuver if you’re trying to transport them
yourself. They’re bulky, they tend to roll, and, they are very heavy! Kegs are a good
choice if they can remain stationary on a table, barrel or other solid surface at the event
site. Many venues will not let you take what is left in the keg with you once the event is
over due to liquor laws.
Be sure to monitor guests if the keg setup is a serve-yourself affair. At the very least, a
trained volunteer should be stationed at the service area both to provide assistance and
to monitor alcohol consumption (think company picnics). For large groups of people,
you’ll need more than one keg to avoid long lines waiting to be served.
Keep the keg service on a “by-the-glass” basis. It is not a good practice to allow guests
to have pitchers of beer because they tend to over-consume at the event’s expense. The
by-the-glass approach also helps in monitoring guests and their behavior.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 12
A full keg of beer is 15 gallons (half-barrel). A quarter-barrel, or “pony keg,” is half that.
A standard pour of beer is 12 ounces. A full keg of beer would equal 160 glasses at 12
ounces each (15 gallons times 128 ounces per gallon divided by 12 ounces). Bottled
beer comes in 12-ounce bottles eliminating the need to measure.
Hard liquor. Also known as distilled spirits, most hard liquor is 80 proof or more in
potency. Proof is a measurement used in determining the strength of distilled spirits
based on a number that is twice the percent by volume of alcohol present. In other
words, a bottle of 90 proof liquor is actually 45% alcohol by volume. The higher the
proof, the more potent the liquor. By comparison, most beer and wine runs from 7-13%
in alcoholic content.
Unless the event has a hefty alcohol budget, no-host (cash) bars are recommended.
This simply means that guests pay for their own drinks. Hosted bars feature drinks
made at the customer’s request for which the event pays the tab. One way to control
liquor consumption for hosted bars is to provide each guest with a set number of “drink
tickets.” Once the allocated tickets have been used, guests must purchase their own
A standard pour of hard liquor is 1-1.5 ounces. Most distilled spirits come in bottles
called “fifths,” but some come in quarts. A fifth is 25.6 ounces while a quart is the
standard 32-ounce measurement. The number of pours in the bottle is determined by
the number of ounces used in the pour. It is a good idea to set a policy that only one
standard drink at a time will be served.
Most venues charge per drink. There should be cash register tapes or tickets to
account for the number of drinks served. This system provides an accounting and
avoids any questions or surprises when presented with the bill. .
" $ '
Mark ups. Hotels and other venues that provide alcohol service take a large mark up
on sales of these beverages. In fact, there is a far larger mark up on alcohol than on
food in any venue be it a restaurant, bar, hotel, convention center, etc.
Corkage fees. If an event opts to provide its own alcohol (bringing alcohol in from the
outside) as opposed to using the venue’s alcohol service, it may be charged a corkage
fee, ranging from $7-15 per bottle. What this means is that the venue will charge the
event a corkage fee (usually for wine, hence the name) on every bottle opened.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 13
When negotiating the contract with the venue, be sure to inquire about corkage fees or
you may get a very unpleasant surprise on the bill! The good news is that an event can
often negotiate a lesser (or waived) corkage fee in the price package, especially for non-
profit organizations when the product is donated.
Use trained servers! This greatly reduces the risk of persons over-indulging on the
alcohol because servers are trained to watch for potential problems.
Inebriated guests. Under no circumstances should an intoxicated guest be allowed to
drive. Send the guest home in a taxi, even if the event has to pay for it. In the long
run, it will cost far less less than a lawsuit filed against the event.
% ( *
Before signing a food and beverage contract, be sure that you understand what is or is
not included and the level of service that will be received.
Guarantees. Whether using in-house catering services at a venue, or an outside
caterer, you’ll be required to give a guarantee for the number of meals ordered. The
required timeframe may be anywhere from 48 hours to 30 days out. Keep in mind that
once the guarantee has been given, the event will be charged for the stated number of
meals. You will be allowed to increase the guarantee number, but not to decrease it.
When giving the guarantee, it’s often better to give a number slightly less than what you
expect (which you can later increase) than to be charged for meals that aren’t used
because you over-guaranteed. For events holding multi-meal functions, a guarantee is
required for each meal.
The purpose of guarantees is to give the caterer time to order food, schedule staff and
do advance preparation. If the event has selected a customized menu this advance
notice is doubly important because standard food preparation has been altered.
Overset. Most caterers and venues factor in an “overset” amount that is a percentage
of the guarantee number, but don’t expect this to be the case unless you have verified
this practice. Event planners need to keep this in mind when giving the guarantee.
The current average for overset is 3-5%. This means that if a guarantee of 100 meals is
given, the caterer will prepare 3-5 extra meals to cover unexpected guests. The event is
not charged for these meals unless they are used.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 14
Note: This is not always the case in regard to overset. There may be exceptions with
special orders or split menus since they are outside the standardized preparation.
If the meals go unused, this is obviously a financial loss to the caterer, so every attempt
should be made to accurately forecast the guarantee number. On the other hand, if the
guarantee is too low and more guests are present than the overset can cover, some
guests may have to dine on alternate courses or be left waiting for additional meals to
Attrition clauses. Most venues include attrition clauses in their contracts. This
means the venue pre-determines (based on your attendance estimate) the space and
meal requirements for the event. This may be tricky if you’re trying to a book venue a
year or more in advance since attendance figures are strictly estimates at that point.
Estimating attendance will be easier for events with a history than for those that are
Event managers should pay attention to—and negotiate terms for— attrition clauses
because the event is essentially agreeing to a guaranteed attendance long before the
event happens, and for which the event may be required to pay. Best advice: Be
realistic, but cautious, in providing projected attendance estimates!
The venue looks at the type and size of the functions planned for the event and puts a
price tag on each one. The numbers are then totalled and a factor of about 80-85% is
applied (allowing for less than estimated). The revised number indicates to the venue
the space requirements and amount of revenue anticipated to be generated by the
What this all boils down to is that the attrition clause is a projected amount on which a
hotel or other large venue can base their ability to accommodate other events in
addition to (or instead of) yours.
Gratuities. It used to be that gratuities (or tips) were given as a gift for good service.
These days, gratutities are automatically added to the bill (whether you receive good
service or not). When it comes time to pay the bill, in the event of poor service, the
gratuity charge should be re-negotiated.
At the current time most venues, caterers and restaurants are charging a gratuity rate
of plus or minus 20%. This means that at a 20% rate, for every $100 the event spends
on items subject to the gratuity, an additional charge of $20 will result.
Clarify which items in the contract are subject to a gratuity charge. Gratuities are
normally charged on food and beverage amounts, but be sure to ask about whether
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 15
room rental, parking, audio visual or other items are subject to the charge. Ask to have
gratuity charges itemized in the bill as well.
Food and beverage costs are normally one of the largest expenses in an event budget.
Food focused events typically spend 60-75% of their total budget on food and beverage
costs. In comparing this to minimal (or no) costs for events in which food and beverage
are not predominant factors, you can readily see the budget impact.
The average margin of profit for catered food functions is 30-40%. The good news is
that while occupying a large percentage of the event budget, food costs are often some
of the most flexible.
The average profit margin for beverage-only functions runs between 80-85%. This
explains why liquor sales generate such tremendous revenue. The profit margin on
beverages also applies to soft drinks, coffee, etc. Movie houses are a good example
because they make more money on soft drinks than on any other food item sold.
Here are a few ways to save money on food and beverage costs:
Provide smaller portions Less quantity, less expense
Serve cultural cuisine Many choices for inexpensive,
Substitute menu items Serve fish or chicken instead of
beef, pasta instead of meat
Beverage purchases Coffee by the gallon, liquor by
the opened bottle, sodas on
consumption using a soda
machine instead of by the bottle
Eliminate courses Soup or salad instead of soup
and salad or a similar course
Bar service No-host (cash) bars as opposed
to hosted bars
Keep it light Serve luncheon items for dinner
Accurate guarantees Develop the art of estimation
Sponsors Find a sponsor to cover the cost
These are but a few examples of ways to save money on catering costs. Examine your
event closely to come up with your own!
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 16
" ! ! ' $ &
Many of the considerations relating to food and beverage contracts have been discussed
elsewhere in this chapter. The best advice still remains—know what is involved, and
even more importantly, understand it before signing a catering sales agreement.
The catering contract/agreement is a legally binding document. If you have
questions, obtain clarification. Don’t hesitate to ask about any paragraph, sentence or
word that you don’t understand.
Negotiate. Then negotiate some more. Most caterers or facilities are willing to
negotiate for food and beverage functions, especially if large numbers are involved,
because it benefits them to do so. Event managers are often able to get the best deals
on functions involving liquor sales because the profit margin on liquor is greater than
than on food. The venue or caterer has more negotiating room.
Don’t sign a contract with a guaranteed minimum in revenue. Most venues or caterers
are willing to work with you to meet your budget depending on the level of flexibility.
Know how much you have to spend (including gratuity). Juggle the menu to include
less expensive options. If hotel rooms are involved, leverage that against food and
Be specific. Clarify the timeframe for guarantees as well as the percentage of overset.
Ask that the service ratio of wait staff to guests be spelled out and make it clear there is
to be no extra charge. Clarify on which items the gratuity will be charged. Are there
corkage fees or taxes? Specify whether liquor sales are to be conducted on a “bottle
basis” or “per drink” basis.
Cancellation. If the event is cancelled within a specific timeframe, try to negotiate a
“lost profit” as opposed to “lost revenue” scenario. Profit is defined as 30-40% of
anticipated food and beverage revenue. The venue is technically only losing the profit,
not the total revenue, because they didn’t have to pay out expenses for staff, food costs,
and the like to conduct the event. Another method is to use a “per person” basis to
calculate lost profit based on the food function (e.g. $5 per person for breakfast, $7.50
for lunch, etc.).
Miscellaneous items. Don’t assume that table linens, decor, votive candles, upgraded
china, centerpieces and the like are included as part of the deal. Ask what is included
in the package price and what isn’t. Based on the value of your event, you may be able
to negotiate some of these items into the contract for no additional charge.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 17
Banquet Event Orders. Hotels or large venues such as convention centers use
banquet event orders (BEOs) in addition to the original contract or agreement. Banquet
event orders are usually broken out by date and time and present a very detailed
schedule of what happens when, how many and other pertinent information. Event
managers are normally required to sign off on these documents because they are much
more detailed than the general contract. Examine each BEO carefully. You’ll
sometimes find mistakes or need to clarify items in these documents.
Not all events choose to use contracted catering services and many opt to do it
themselves. With this choice come various needs that may or may not be available at
the event site. Outdoor events are particularly subject to these variables and present
their own unique challenges.
It may seem like a superhuman effort to produce great volumes of food but if adequate
facilities and volunteers are available it may be extremely cost efficient. Working in the
kitchen or helping to serve the food are often jobs highly prized by volunteers. While it’s
most certainly a lot of hard work, they enjoy the camaraderie of working as a team with
fellow volunteers to meet the challenges that quantity cooking presents.
Check into legal requirements or permits. Doing it yourself may require obtaining
special permits from the local jurisdiction’s health department (especially for outdoor
events). It may also be necessary for those involved to hold current food and beverage
handler cards (verification they have trained through the health department).
Checking into food service requirements in advance may save much time and
frustration at a later date trying to obtain needed permits a few days (or less) in
advance. Information relating to local health regulations is readily available from the
! " " !+ $
Develop a menu. Determine the types of foods and/or courses to be served. Strive for
a balance of color, nutrition, and food groups. Don’t forget the vegetarians in the
Be creative in naming menu dishes but use understandable terms in describing them.
If it’s really meat and potatoes, don’t describe it in a way that no one will be able to
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 18
understand what the heck it is. If using fancy course titles, you may want to list the
main ingredients in parenthesis—Surf & Turf (sirloin steak and lobster).
Develop the recipes and ingredients lists. Keep it simple. Use recipes with as few
ingredients and steps for preparation as possible. Make sure they can be easily
understood by those responsible for their preparation. The object is for the food to look
and taste good with as little fuss as possible. Recipes for complicated sauces or
desserts may be more trouble than they are worth.
Avoid labor intensive foods. Keep in mind that some recipes do not lend themselves
well to quantity cooking because of the labor involved. “Stirring constantly” means
someone must devote their complete attention to the dish rather than being free to do
other tasks. Carving vegetables into fancy shapes may be desirable, but julienne or
diagonal cuts may look just as nice and take a fraction of the time.
Increasing quantities also increases cooking and preparation times. Bringing five
gallons of liquid to a boil in an institutional sized kettle takes up to five times longer
than boiling a gallon of liquid in a smaller pan at home. It takes more time and oven
space to bake a casserole dish for 50 people than a casserole dish for two. Frosting a
dozen cookies at home is much different than frosting a thousand. Cracking dozens of
eggs for omelettes for a hundred people takes far more time than the few it takes to feed
your family, let alone separating, scrambling or preparing them.
Time saving hints. Use convenience foods or prepared ingredients where possible.
These can save hours of preparation time and free up helping hands that are needed
elsewhere. Use frozen vegetables, commercial butter pats, pre-sliced meats, frozen pie
crusts or doughs, fresh or dried pasta, concentrates, etc.
Warehouse food suppliers often have many already prepared (and surprisingly tasty!)
foods than can be unthawed or warmed up with minimal effort.
Weigh the time, inconvenience and slightly lesser cost of having to do everything
yourself against the slightly higher cost for the convenience of using prepared foods.
Prepare or freeze as much of the food in advance as possible. Fresh foods should be
prepared the day before and kept in the refrigerator. Choose foods that will hold up
Label and package everything so when transported to the event site that it winds up in
its proper place and is easy to use. The more detailed the instructions on the label, the
better (e.g. chopped vegetables for beef stew recipe).
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 19
Check equipment needs. If the kitchen facilities at the site consist of a stove with two
working burners and one oven, don’t expect to prepare a four-course dinner for 100
people. Be sure that there is enough cooking equipment, counter space, refrigerator or
freezer capacity, sinks, small appliances, cooking utensils, dishes, glassware and other
needs to accommodate the food preparation and service. For large groups, you may
need to rent or borrow much of this equipment.
Identify jobs and schedules. Break the entire food preparation process into individual
areas such as menu development, shopping, kitchen management, service, clean up,
etc. Then break each of those areas into individual jobs to be performed.
For example, kitchen management could be divided into organization of supplies, hot or
cold food preparation, dishwashing or other functions that take place in the kitchen.
These functions would then be further refined into individual jobs and shifts within the
It also helps to think through the step-by-step process of food preparation and service.
For example, foods with longer preparation times need to be started first, followed in a
descending order of time required for other dishes.
Dinner tables can be set with dishes and condiments in advance of the time food is
served. How many wine glasses will be needed? How long will it take to reheat the
baked beans or grill the steaks? This planning is a lot like the process of preparing
dinner for the family, only on a much larger scale.
Shopping. If purchasing large quantities, don’t take a Volkswagen if you’ll need a
moving truck to haul the groceries! Don’t go alone to buy supplies to feed an army.
You’ll need all the help (not to mention extra hands and strong backs) you can get.
Buying supplies for a recipe that calls for 4 cups of flour, 4 eggs,
4 cups of sugar and 4 cups of milk takes on a whole new meaning when multiplied a
hundred-fold. Don’t forget about cleaning and other supplies such as paper towels,
dish soap, plastic products and the like which will probably need to be purchased in
High dollar amounts resulting from your purchases may be a concern for the business
where you make those purchases if you want to write a check or use a credit card.
Always ask about volume sale discounts or employ other means (such as going through
an affiliated sponsor or vendor) to save money.
Estimating amounts. Recipe amounts usually specify “serves XX number of people.”
You’ll need to divide the recipe by the number it serves to obtain a “per serving” amount
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 20
for each ingredient. The “per serving” amount can then be multiplied by the total
number of persons expected to consume the dish to come up with the total amount
needed of that particular ingredient.
Don’t forget about the need to use the ingredient in other capacities. For example, if
four of the recipes need salt, combine the totals for each of the recipes, plus the amount
needed for salt service on the guest tables, to come up with the amount to purchase.
Make all your calculations before going to the store. Don’t attempt to figure it out while
you’re shopping! Know how many, what size and so forth prior to making your
purchases. If ordering from a supplier, be very specific (and have them read it back) or
you may not wind up with what you thought you ordered!
$( ) !
Do as much of the preparation in advance as possible. Maintain order in transporting
foods/ingredients and assembling them at the event site. Keep things together that
belong together. Label ingredients, dishes or pans so they don’t get used for something
Use an assembly line approach if possible to avoid congestion in the kitchen. Bring
itemized lists for each recipe being prepared (ingredients, how to, who is preparing,
cooking time, etc.)
Prepare each food and conduct a taste testing before the day of the event.
Determine how complicated it is or how much time it takes to prepare one dish; then
consider the number of times it will need to be multiplied. Is there a simpler or
healthier way to prepare the dish? Does it taste good? Is it too sweet or too salty?
These questions and more should be answered well in advance.
Post numerous copies of schedules, floor plans or seating charts. Schedules help
everyone to know in what order and at what time things happen. Floor plans help to
identify traffic flow and locations of other importance (bars, buffet tables, stage, etc.)
Seating charts help to identify table numbers/who sits where, but can also be color-
coded to identify “special attention” tables such as sponsors.
Leftovers. You’ll want to be careful in packaging up leftover foods. Some events like to
send extra food to nursing homes or to organizations that feed the homeless.
Determine in advance what will be done with any leftover food and ask about how it
should be packaged for delivery.
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 21
Health concerns should also be a consideration. Be sure that foods needing
refrigeration are kept cold and that hot food doesn’t sit around in containers for long
periods of time because bacteria will grow in foods that are not properly handled. The
local health department provides guidelines regarding food storage and proper
temperatures for safety.
Clean as you go. If possible, clean to whatever degree possible during food preparation
and service time. This provides for clean dishes or work space if needed and saves a
considerable amount of time at the end of the event when everyone is tired and wants to
If doing your own cleanup, be sure to leave the venue in the same (or better) condition
than you found it—clean kitchen, floors mopped or swept, trash removed, restrooms
clean, etc. Not only will those involved feel good about the job they have done, the
venue will have no trouble allowing you to use the facilities in the future.
√ Determine the type of catering desired
√ Match the budget to the menu
√ Develop a list of potential caterers
√ Narrow the choices down to three
√ Make a final selection based on price, quality and service
√ Designate the style of service
√ Choose a menu based on the audience
√ Select the beverages
√ Negotiate a contract
√ Check into permits required for self-catered events
√ Develop a menu, recipes and ingredients lists
√ Check equipment needs
√ Identify volunteer jobs and schedules
√ Recruit enough help
√ Do the shopping
√ Prepare the food
√ Design a floor plan and/or seating chart
Use the information in this document to aid in making food and beverage decisions for
Excerpt from Event Management Simplified - Copyright © 2002 by Judy L. Anderson 22