To find the perfect solution to your catering needs, you'll need to first consider your business as a whole, your entertainment budget, and how regularly you want to plan events. If you’re a smaller business, or a smaller department within a larger organization, you may have a modest budget and plans to throw one or two events a year, like an end of year Christmas Party or an annual meeting. Conversely, medium and large businesses often have mammoth budgets for entertainment and seek to have quarterly events, holiday parties, and 1000+ person annual meetings.
Some even offer free lunches. Obviously, the needs of both differ dramatically; therefore, the capabilities and affordability of their caterer or third-party event planners will also be considerably different. Naturally, you must first choose the one that best matches your business size and needs. Beyond that, below are five keys to ensuring you choose wisely for your next company function.

1) Try Before You Buy

Although we’re big fans of lasting partnerships, try out several different companies before committing to a long-term catering or event partner. Although it may be easiest to schedule all 6 of your events with a single firm right out of the gate, don’t be surprised when your company gets the same ambiance and the same white linen on a round table experience for each event. You’re trying to get your people out of the office, entertain them, and make them happier -- do this by keeping events fresh and unique. Additionally, hit the review sites to ensure you select firms that have reputations for top customer service and execution. Start with Google and create a list of companies that you think will meet your needs.

2) Know Your Peeps

Getting a headcount will be the critical data point that dictates all catering pricing and estimates, so definitely make this a priority and ensure you have included contingency and margin of error for no shows or late attendees. After accounting for your monetary and other constraints, your goal should be to design the event to employee needs. Therefore, reach out to those people you know are attending for feedback on ideas and get their buy-in. Of course, don’t leave out management. If the big wigs are attending and are engaged, keep them apprised of your plans and reactions from other employees. Remember, ALL employees attending are your customers.

3) Food Quality Matters

We get it. Sometimes the budget is too small for the event, so you have no choice but to cut corners. Well, don’t do it on the food. All too often there’s a quantity versus quality trade-off, so be sure to carefully inspect menus, go to tastings, and read reviews. We’ve all been to the events where the chicken is so dry that the following day you have to visit your ENT doctor. Ugh! Trends towards quality, sustainable, and locally-sourced food are on the rise; therefore, ensuring you have the best food possible will delight your diners and make them look forward to future events…plus you don’t want bad food to reflect on your planning skills. Finally, you must consider employee allergies and have variety of food that accounts for various dietary restrictions -- have vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options available.

4) Time is of the Essence

It is paramount that you have a caterer or planner who knows how to schedule effectively. Traditional events have a combination of speakers, presentations, and/or activities with food service in between. It’s critical that cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, main courses, and dessert are started on time, as any lapses can throw off the entire timeline. The last thing you want to do is put your CEO on ice for his big speech because dinner ran late. To make life easier on everyone, get the company-specific itinerary pinned down first, then bring in your caterer -- you will need their input to coordinate meals and generate the final itinerary. Lastly, to avoid any surprises and to reinforce accountability, be sure to communicate the plan by printing and distributing (and/or emailing) this itinerary to all involved stakeholders.

5) Grace The Space

If you have the space available, often the cheapest and most flexible option is to host onsite at your office or headquarters. Of course, for those businesses that are seeking offsite accommodations, choosing the right venue is critical. In either scenario, you should consider the following:

Layout: consider seating areas for meals, room for buffets, projector space, electrical outlets.

Ambiance: try to find local or trendy spots that capture the city or neighborhood where the event is taking place.

Decorations: decorate to match the company culture by choosing company colors or by putting up team photos.

Parking and Access: often overlooked, but critical, is ensuring that there is ample parking and ample access to the event to avoid excessive walking and traffic jams, both which can make people late to the event. A couple of solutions are to prepay for parking at or near the event, or hire private bus transportation to alleviate any parking constraints.

Alcohol: determine if the venue offers bar service or if alcohol is allowed on premises. (Here are a few more things to consider about alcohol at corporate events).

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