Leave a Lasting Impression

Planning your next event? Here is a planner’s perspective on some essential event catering questions you should ask.

By: Aubrey Winston

As I work in a venue that hosts a catering company, I am exposed to a variety of menu options and ideas. Food can make the biggest impact on your event. It has the ability to leave a lasting impression on your guests. I see food service every day, and I often see the same guests. Sometimes I even see the same guests two or three times a day. With this being the case, the catering side of my brain wants to “wow” these individuals and show them new ideas rather than the same plate every visit.

But being the event manager and not the actual event planner, I urge clients to review menu ideas to see what is possible for their event. Think about your event and its purpose. Meetings and trainings are usually spent listening and exchanging ideas, while social events are mingling and a bit more casual. Meetings are very scheduled, so you don’t have time to pass appetizers and present action stations. On the other side, social events aren’t suitable for break snacks like chips and popcorn.

Consider the different types of social events. You could be hosting a formal fundraiser or a laidback holiday party. Each event could choose a buffet or seated meal. There is a huge difference in the feel of buffet versus seated meals. Buffet has a casual, “party” feel, and guests are up and mingling. Seated is more formal. Everything is brought to you, so you won’t see many people up and about. Seated also lends itself to a more elegant feel.

Secondly, think about cocktail hour. Have you considered having a cocktail hour for silent auction or networking? If so, have you thought about providing appetizers? There are so many different options for appetizers. You could provide passed coconut shrimp or have a beautifully displayed imported cheese tray.

Why not consult with your caterer to see what menu ideas you can develop together? Blend everyone’s ideas, and create a completely custom menu, or showcase a well-known item in a new and innovative presentation. Your caterer has years of experience and has seen many ideas and trends through the years. Consider the knowledge they have from years of food service and events.

Budget is one thing that can greatly affect the decisions about menu. Researching caterers can be difficult because you will see huge differences in the pricing. Look into the details and quality of what you will be purchasing. Ask a variety of questions to ensure you know what the caterer provides. Great questions would be:

• Is the menu customizable? Some clients come in with pictures of what they want. For example, I’ve been asked to recreate a grilled cheese appetizer served over a shot glass of tomato soup the bride found on Pinterest. We did, and it was fabulous!
• Who provides the place settings (i.e. plates, utensils, cups)? If the caterer does, is it chinaware or disposable?
• Does the caterer provide the bar service? Are bartenders provided?
• Will be the bar be cash or hosted? Consider hosting alcohol for your guests. I have many brides who host a certain amount of money. This way they know exactly what they are spending.
• Who will set up for the meal? Is banquet staff provided?
• Do you provide a personalized tasting of the chosen menu? Do you charge for this?

These are essential questions that will show you what you are paying for with each caterer. Also, seeing the many menu and beverage options they offer can help you see new ideas you never considered before.

My greatest suggestion to clients is to be open-minded. Coming in with ideas and pictures is great, but listening and considering the experience of these great chefs can only help your event. You may end up having the most original menu and becoming the talk of the water cooler for years. Like I said, food can leave a lasting impression. Happy eating!

Aubrey Winston is the marketing and event manager for Ovations Food Services at the Ortiz Center. Contact her at 361-879-0125 or aubrey.winston@ovationsfs.com to book your next event.

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