Catering Preparation

1. Banquets

From weddings to award ceremonies and charity events, the banquet layout is a popular seating style for event planners and attendees. Usually meant for sit-down meals, this is your classic setup comprised of multiple individual tables with a group of people at each.

For caterers, this type of sit-down meal usually means having servers. You might be able to get away with not having servers by opting for a buffet, but you have to keep in mind that there are a lot of negatives to buffets that other serving styles don’t encounter — from portion control to chaotic buffet lines. When you have banquet style seating with a sit down serving style, it’s usually much more efficient.

Pro Tip: Map out who’ll be sitting where, identifying seats that might have special directions for meals or dietary restrictions. If you have a solution you use to store files online for events, you can easily pull past templates and adapt them for gatherings in the same venue.

2. Conferences

Conferences come in all sizes when it comes to the volume of attendees. The seating is generally arranged with the goal of having the middle and front of the room as focal points. Double rectangle layouts or the typical classroom layout are how conference seating is traditionally arranged. But in recent years, the push from attendees to plan more experiential meetings and events has made it so that you can’t bank on these classic seating styles — which makes it all the more important to map it out beforehand.

Usually with conferences, people won’t eat while the event is going on. They’ll eat before, after, or during a break in the event. Since everyone is eating at once, it’s important you design a serving style that doesn’t get to crowded. If guests aren’t eating until after the conference you’ll most likely see a mad dash to your food. One way to combat this in your catering preparation is to consider having multiple stations so that you can split the crowd up.

Pro Tip: According to an IACC survey, many planners are beginning to opt for continuous service throughout the day instead of set dining times. This is a great upsell opportunity for caterers, and actually makes the job easier as it eliminates the chaos of the traditional lunch rush.

3. Outdoor Events

Outdoor events always present a unique opportunity for caterers. They’re usually high-volume events that take place in venues like parks, beaches, or amusement parks, and oftentimes don’t have set seating. That means the head-count can fluctuate between what’s expected and who actually comes.

If you’re catering an outdoor-only space, you’ll first want to make sure your operation is in a shady place. You don’t want your food spoiling before the event is over. You’ll also want to consider where to set your catering operation up in relation to the main attractions of the event. And if the event features other food suppliers, you’ll want to position yourself to catch a majority of the attention.

Pro Tip: Outdoor events are usually standing-only, so they can easily get very crowded. Plus, people get the most fatigued when they’re outside all day, so you’ll want to set up in an easily reachable location.

4. Nontraditional Events

Nontraditional venues and events are more and more common these days. In fact, it’s one of the event trends to keep an eye on in the year ahead, as the AMEX Global Meetings Forecast predicts a 3.8% uptick in demand for nontraditional venues. People are having their events in aquariums, warehouses, parking lots, airports, and other surprising venues, and with these unconventional types of venues come unconventional room layouts.

Plus, the unique seating arrangement and general layout tend to present their own unique challenges. Make sure to include all of these challenges — from obstacles to unorthodox entrances — in your event diagram and share it with staff as part of your catering preparation for the big day.

Pro Tip: It’s extremely important that you get a walkthrough of unique spaces before the event to properly prepare. Nontraditional spaces are usually unequipped for food preparation or service, so they may require you to bring additional materials.

Many planners are opting for continuous service instead of set dining times.

As a caterer, planning for the room layout should always be part of your preparation process. It can affect your staff, your overall bottom line, and the happiness of your clients. Each different type of seating layout you and your team encounter should have its own set of procedures as to how you operate. By mapping these specific nuances out in advance, you’ll be ready to take on just about any event.

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