Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How do I make sure that people who come late to my reception still get something to eat?

This can certainly be a problem with some groups. I used to work with one group (no names!) where, if all of their food was put out at the beginning of a two-hour reception, it would all be gone in the first 15 minutes. When you do not have the budget to simply add more food, this can be a serious problem. Here are a couple of ideas for dealing with that…

My favorite tactic is to distribute the food service throughout the evening. Instead of having the hotel put all of my reception items out at the start of the reception, I will have them put out one half or even one third of the total out at the beginning. Then, at previously determined intervals, the banquet staff brings out more food. This gives the illusion that you have added more food and forces people to slow down a bit in their consumption, allowing the latecomers to have a chance to try all of the wonderful items the hotel has prepared. You, as the meeting planner, do have to monitor this process closely as you may need to adjust the timing and/or amounts of food that are brought out each time.

Another solution is to have servers circulate through the room with your hors d’oeuvres on platters. This approach also has its advantages over the “put everything out at once” method. You can control how often the servers make their rounds of the room and you can have them make sure that they get to everyone. Another benefit is that people tend to take less from a server’s tray than when they can simply walk up to a table and load up a plate. This is partially due to the fact that there is an “observer”, which makes people more conscious of how much they take, but is mostly due to the fact that the attendee typically does not have a plate, so they are forced to eat items as they pick them up. By the time they have eaten the items they have selected, the server has moved on to other guests. As an added bonus, your guests have the treat of having someone serve them, which always makes a good impression for your event.

Notice that, in both cases, we did not order more food. We can ensure that more people get to sample the food provided…without spending more money on the reception. And our clients’ guests still experience an enjoyable reception. However, these tactics do not work 100% of the time. There are times when we are still stuck with either purchasing more food for the reception or telling people there is no more food to be had. In spite of this, we have used both approaches successfully on many occasions and they remain strong tools in our toolbox. Do not leave them out of yours!

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director