Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Should I order a plated lunch or a buffet for my meeting?

Believe it or not, this is a question even seasoned planners ask themselves on a regular basis. The answer is dependent on factors such as number of diners, budgetary limits, and amount of time available in the schedule for lunch. Let’s take a look at when you might prefer to use one rather than the other…

Plated lunches are often cheaper than buffets, which is one reason why you might choose this type of lunch. Why are they usually cheaper? Basically, it comes down to number of options and portion control. There is more variety in a buffet than with plated meals. A plated meal will have an entrée, and one or two side dishes while a buffet typically has 2-3 entrée options and 2-4 side dishes to choose from. With a plated lunch, the kitchen can control how much food is served to each diner, allowing them to know with some certainty exactly how much each person eating will cost them in terms of ingredients and labor for your chosen meal. Buffets have little to no portion control. Each diner can take as much or as little as they want. These two factors mean that the kitchen has to prepare more food overall than if the meal is plated. After all, you (and they) do not want an entrée choice or a side dish to run out before everyone has had a chance to get some!

Buffet menus, as mentioned above, typically offer more variety to your diners than plated meals. This is particularly valuable if you are working with a group whose dietary restrictions and preferences are unknown to you. With a buffet, you can accommodate most dietary preferences with ease. Accommodating various diets with a plated lunch simply requires special meals to be prepared by the kitchen. This is not difficult but it is one more thing that you, as the planner, need to be aware of and plan for.

Other factors can also come into play in determining which type of meal, plated or buffet, you choose to serve. Time and number of diners are the two biggest ones that come to mind. Buffets work great when you have a lot of time and not a lot of diners. When you have a lot of diners and very little time to feed everyone, plated meals are almost always best.

I have had some people tell me that plated is always better or that buffet is always the one I should choose but the truth is: the better choice is the one that is right for each particular group and to never consider both options is to remove an effective tool from your meeting planning toolkit. Remember, no matter which type of service you choose, the goal is the same: to efficiently serve your guests so that they get a good dining experience that fits your meeting or conference.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises