Perhaps it is my love for FOOD AND BEVERAGE, but it remains one of my favorite parts of my job. Regardless of destination, venue, or budget, I have always had a passion for menu planning. Even after more than 1,500 F&B events, I am excited to share my strategies on ways to save while still delivering a superior experience.
Get Aggressive with Your Guarantees
Not everyone is an early riser! And certainly not everyone wants a huge feast for breakfast. Pay attention to your group demographics. Typically only 60–70% of attendees will take advantage of a traditional breakfast buffet—your guarantees should reflect that. For nontraditional attendees, have assorted KIND snack bars, whole fruit, hard boiled eggs, and protein packs available at your coffee station to grab and go. That will cut down on the costs incurred with serving a full breakfast to your group.
Leverage Your Breakfast Menu Items
The majority of breakfast buffets include an assortment of breakfast breads or pastries that often go untouched. Work with your venue to display a limited portion during breakfast and then refresh the remaining pastries for your morning break. Alternatively, if your budget is really tight, skip those items all together at breakfast and use them in place of a traditional morning break, essentially getting two food services for the price of one!
Keep It “In the Family”
For plated lunches, where there is a training component or guest speakers, opt for a preset, entrée-sized salad and offer family style proteins (think chicken, steak, and shrimp skewers) for attendees with a choice of salad “toppers” or accompaniments. Include a “small bite” dessert such as a preset chocolate mousse shot at each seat to avoid hefty charges associated with dessert stations or assorted platters tableside.
Market Style Boxed Lunch
There is so much waste associated with a traditional boxed lunch. Not every attendee appreciates having the sandwich—along with the side salad, and the whole fruit, and the cookie, and the chips, right?! So switch things up and offer a “build your own” boxed lunch. I suggest that you include your “entrée” and a side salad (e.g.: turkey sandwich, pasta salad, and condiments) in the bag or box, but allow attendees to select from a variety of items that are set up market style. This can be whole fruit, cookies, granola bars, chips, pretzels, and trail mix. Work with the hotel to modify the base pricing for your boxed lunch and determine à la carte, on-consumption pricing for the extras. Inevitably, it will result in savings to your bottom line because most attendees will only take one extra from the “accompaniments buffet.”
Feature a Specialty Bar In Lieu of Premium Cocktails
Work with your venue to create a signature cocktail or drink special that can be featured. Drinks such as mojitos, margaritas, or a bubbles bar can be a great cost-effective alternative to a full bar option without leaving your attendees feeling like they are missing something. Negotiate an affordable beer-wine package for the majority of your bars and offer one specialty bar with featured cocktails for your guests to enjoy.
A heavy reception can be a fun and interactive alternative to a traditional dinner buffet and help your bottom line along the way. You need to be selective about the stations you choose. Be mindful of per-person pricing, chef attendant fees, and serving size. Something like a raw bar, for instance, will not yield the same servings per person as a risotto or mashed potato bar. Choose wisely and guarantee smart! Selecting several different reception stations typically allows you to produce different guarantees per station. Go low on items such as salad or pasta and put your budget towards carving stations and specialty items like sushi. Additionally, look to offer tray-passed desserts instead of your standard dessert station. Passed cheesecake and cake pops at the end of the night can be a great alternative to a $15–20 per-person dessert buffet that often gets overlooked.
Surf & Turf with a Twist
When it comes to pleasing a large group at a plated dinner, the duet plate is often the best option. While a traditional surf and turf is generally well received, look for ways to think outside the box and save some money along the way. Think short ribs paired with lobster ravioli or a crab cake as a great, yet cost-effective way to give your guests a great dual plate option! Sometimes a twist on tradition is a welcome change for participants.
Just as fruit bouquets swept the nation in the last few years, the idea of an edible centerpiece is a great way to leverage menu items and save on your décor budget. Simple items, such as chips and salsa or breadsticks, can be displayed in way that allows you to forgo pricey florals. If budget allows, work with your venue on interesting vessels and display options. Feature menu items such as antipasto, a seafood tower, or cupcakes to highlight your table set in lieu of expensive centerpieces—all while working within the parameters of your F&B budget.
Get the Chef Involved
Regardless of client, venue or budget, do not hesitate to get the chef involved. I yet to meet a chef who wasn’t excited to partner with me on customized menus, even if it meant I had a stringent budget. By nature, chefs are creative and in my experience, they love to flex that creative muscle for a client. Provide the chef with your budget and ask for a custom menu suggestion. Or give them some inspiration by sharing menus from other venues that fit your budget or perhaps a lunch menu that you thought could be modified for your dinner event. We are all in the wonderful world of hospitality together and all have a common goal.
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