Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why would you serve dessert at an afternoon break?

It is such a simple idea, serving the dessert from lunch at an afternoon break, yet it is a strategy that is often overlooked by novice planners. Indeed, most planners I work with when they are new to the field tend to treat each meal function as a separate event, unconnected to any other on the schedule. Although this is true to some extent, when it comes to lunch and the afternoon break, you have a golden opportunity to save some money while providing timely snacks for your group.

A typical draft agenda schedules lunch from 12:30 – 1:30, with a break (that usually includes more food!) set to occur somewhere around 2:30 or 3pm. Now, I love to eat, especially when someone else is paying for it, but this ends up being a lot of food in a fairly short amount of time. Your attendees will have just had a (hopefully) filling lunch, including dessert, and you are now offering them more food – which is likely to be just as sugary and as high in calories as dessert…

Some people believe that, in a situation like this, people will self-regulate and eat less at the break than they would if the break were served later. From my observations over 17 years, though, that does not seem to generally be the case. People still pile up their plates with cookies (or whatever else is served). They then snack on the pile for a while and end up leaving most of the plate sitting on a table somewhere – uneaten! Not only have we failed to have people take less food but we have also generated a lot of wasted food – and spent a fair amount of money to do so.

The two primary solutions I offer to clients are (1) to change the time of the afternoon break and/or (2) to serve the dessert from lunch at the afternoon break. If they also need to rein in their budget, then I really will push for option #2. In fact, I will often recommend serving dessert at the PM break even if the break already is, or can be, scheduled for a later time.

Pushing the break back a bit in the schedule lets folks have a bit more time to digest lunch (and possibly dessert) before they are presented with more food. However, serving dessert at the afternoon break, in conjunction with a time shift or not, does more than just spread out the calorie intake.

People do eat a bit less at lunch (simply because you are providing less) and their stomachs will not be as full if you omit dessert from lunch. With less calories consumed at lunch, you attendees will more likely be ready for dessert when you serve it later in the afternoon. And, since dessert is typically included in the price of the lunch you provided, you are not spending more to have it brought out at the break. [So long as this option is arranged ahead of time, most hotels are quite willing to work with you on it and do not charge extra for serving dessert separately.] So… not only have we saved some money by not serving a whole new set of snacks but we will also, hopefully, find ourselves with less food left over both after lunch and after the break.

While this solution does not work for all groups in all situations, it is one more option to be aware of that you can use to trim your food costs while still providing your event’s participants with an enjoyable conference food experience – and I frequently recommend it to my clients.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises