One of the most important thoughts to keep in mind when planning a meal is that there needs to be enough time for people to eat leisurely, network and enjoy the presentation if there is one. Generally allow 30 to 40 minutes for continental breakfast, 45 to 60 minutes for full breakfast, 45 to 60 minutes for lunch, and 20 minutes per course for dinner. For refreshment breaks, allow a minimum of 15 minutes for up to 100 people, 30 minutes for up to 1,000 people and 30 to 45 minutes for groups larger than 1,000.
Make sure you ask all attendees for special needs/dietary requirements or restrictions. If you have purchased a complete meeting package (CMP), coffee breaks and meals are included. If you are purchasing your meeting on an à la carte basis, plan for the following: two cups of coffee or tea per person for a morning break and one cup of coffee/tea or one soda per person during an afternoon break.
Consider a luncheon buffet for small group working sessions. Buffets offer variety and faster service. Some properties have minimum requirements for buffets, so ask in advance about buffet minimums and additional fees.
For more formal meals and/or VIP tables, consider requesting one server for each table. Allow one server for every two tables for standard, three- or four course dinners and one server per three tables for lunches. Check with the facility to determine if there will be additional labor charges for the extra servers.
Consider pre-setting desserts or salads to speed service to accommodate programs.
Consider wine service with dinner as an alternative to a full bar service to control costs and provide a more elegant atmosphere for dinners. Depending on the size of the wine glass, you will typically get 4-5 glasses of wine per bottle and should allow 1-2 glasses per person for dinner service.
Ask if there are extra charges for gratuities, service charges, setup fees, carving person, bartender, etc.
Check with facility about estimated time for meal service to determine proper scheduling for speakers, awards, etc.
Always plan to serve a variety of foods during cocktail receptions that are healthy, current with trends and offer visual appeal. Provide for one bartender for every 75-100 people, if you have bars. For fewer than 100 people, pay for liquor by the drink. Offer festive, nonalcoholic beverages in addition to beer, wine and premium brands of liquor. Consider offering hosted liquor for a limited time frame or limited number of drinks per person to control liquor costs.
Décor makes an event. Before yours, ask about linen, centerpiece and buffet décor that is available through the host facility. All types of décor are available from vendors for rent for special events and can greatly enhance the atmosphere. Ask for referrals from catering or conference service managers. Think "outside the box" for meal centerpieces. Things like your client’s product or merchandise can be a great alternative to flowers.