This is a guide to help you decide on your menu for your catered event. It is not a definitive list, however it contains some basic ideas to consider as well as hopefully some inspiration; you should see the guide as a sort of checklist of things to think about when choosing your menu. There are no food suggestions (as these are your personal choice), instead we will be giving you tips and advising on best practice when thinking about your menu. If it’s a wedding menu you’re after, then take a look at our wedding menu guide, as this guide is more tailored to general events (such as corporate functions) and not weddings which have their own considerations.
Obviously you may be limited by the suggestions of the catering company you choose for your event. Many catering companies will have a limited number of menus and specialities that they can offer, and these will be no bad choice as they will be the best food that the catering company is able to make, as well as being tailored to work well at events (for example, by being easy to make). However, plenty of caterers will also be willing to try their hand at alternative menus to win your custom, and there may be such a range of menus on offer that you still need to think about the important ingredients that go into a menu.
This is one of the most important things to think about – have you taken into account the dietary, religious and age profile of the guests attending your catered event? For example, guests who are anxious over their health would be happier with healthy food, vegetables and seafood offerings. The average age of the guests is also crucial, as although not always the case, younger guests may prefer more exotic and spicy foods, whilst older guests may be happier with more traditional fare. Equally, if the event is professional or corporate in style, then you ned to think of the professional status of the guests – more senior guests will require better food in most cases. Finally, how many similar events have the guests been to? If they have been to many similar functions recently, then you could consider more unusual and exotic foods, as they may be bored of the more standard menus.
Although Companies Catering would advise you to always keep things simple and not choose lots of different menus (primarily to make things easier for the caterer and to make sure they can focus on a few quality dishes), you will obviously need to have a number of menus available so everyone can find something they like. Things you can work on are multiple starters and different deserts, some healthy and some richer.
If you know that you will have long talks and speeches, breaks for networking or other ‘pauses’ in the flow of the function, or of you know that it needs to be a short event, then you need to think carefully about your food choices. Snacks and buffet style food are better if you are time short, as the guests serve themselves and there is no need for wait staff to deliver the food. Similarly, if the event is taking place over a long period of time, like a full evening, then it is better to have a sit down meal and hire wait staff to deliver the food (and if you do this, choose food that will stay warm or at least not be adversely affected by getting slightly cold as serving food in this way takes far longer). If the event is to be held in the morning, then you should probably go for lighter breakfast foods (like cereal, fruit and croissants) as well as plenty of coffee!
Companies Catering would always suggest you use fresh, local and seasonal food where possible, primary because it tastes better. You can also incorporate features into the menu that reflect the time of year, for example mulled wine and richer foods in winter, or lighter foods with more vegetables and fresh fruit in summer. Also, if the event is being held abroad or in a regional part of your country, then why not choose foods that are unique to that area? As a side note, depending on the guests, you could choose a menu that is based on a particular culture – great options are Japanese, Middle Eastern or various European dishes. Menus that stand out and are unique are always popular, and certainly beat the usual chicken and fish dishes, so shop around for a catering company that can do something different. There are a huge variety of catering companies out there, and an even larger range of dishes and flavours, so be imaginative!
Choosing your menu is not limited just to how the food will taste; you can also think about how it fits together on the plates, and even if the colours of the food are complementary and vibrant. Moreover, food that smells delicious will have guests looking forward to the meal before it even arrives!
If the food is to be the central focus of your event, then you could always try to find caterers that can offer chef stations. These are where the caterers make the food in front of the guests, usually at small stations dotted around the venue. This works very well with foods like sushi, and allows guests to talk with the caters as well as seeing and smelling the quality of food being prepared.
Food transport is something that can significantly influence your menu. The caterers will probably be unable to make all the dishes at your venue site (as there will not be enough space or equipment like ovens), so will need to prepare some food in advance and transport it to the venue. Thus, decide on some food that can be prepared in advance, and some that can be made on the day. Your catering company will be able to help you with all this, as and if you insist on freshly made dishes then you need to think carefully about the catering company you employ.
Obviously, the type of food you select will influence the costs – expensive ingredients mean an expensive bill! Again, choosing seasonal food can help cut costs in some cases, as the food should be more abundant and thus cheaper.