Business networking events are an important strategic marketing opportunity for all companies, including small enterprises. But in an effort to impress important clients and valuable industry contacts, the temptation to overspend on hospitality and catering is huge. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are 8 insider tips to make sure your guests don’t go hungry and your event catering doesn’t eat up too much budget.
- Select an informal event format
A formal three-course dinner may be the gold standard when it comes to corporate hospitality, but there are other, more budget-friendly ways to incorporate food and drink into your event. Who needs an expensive sit-down dinner when a casual drinks reception with canapes or food stations is much more conducive to meeting and greeting?
Mouthwateringly presented finger foods served on pedestal tables will enable your guests to network and nibble, munch and mingle – a far better solution for making business contacts than being stuck seated at the table.
- Choose self-service buffet options
Staffing is a big expense for catering companies, and it’s a cost that will be passed on to the end client, inflating corporate budgets. Perhaps you could do without hiring serving staff and opt instead for self-service catering?
Ask your commercial catering company about providing imaginative finger foods that can be cut into portions and plated up, ready to serve. Avoid messy foods such as soups or pasta dishes that could easily get spilt, and ask for advice on food presentation so that your event buffet looks like a million dollar option.
- Go for honest, hearty fare
Event catering doesn’t have to mean ‘nouvelle cuisine’ style delicate portions and elaborate presentation. Traditional, hearty menus are making a come-back and they can be surprisingly economical to produce.
From homely stews cooked with local, seasonal ingredients, to exotic curries and rice dishes from far-flung places, it may be helpful to unite your menu under a chosen theme, such as ‘a taste of the Orient’, ‘Indian street foods’ or ‘best of British’.
- Have a dessert table
Whether or not you opt for a sit-down meal, a beautifully presented dessert table offers plenty of visual appeal and a greater choice of sweet treats than would be economically feasible if you chose plated desserts. Serve a selection of cakes, cupcakes and cookies that guests can eat easily using fingers while mingling standing up.
“Corporate cakes can be designed to reproduce your company logo or to represent an idea or theme associated with your business,” explains London cake designer Robin Green. “They’re an increasingly popular way to celebrate certain milestones or achievements within a company.”
- Encourage portion control
Something as simple as using smaller sized plates will limit the amount of food consumed, whether you serve smaller portions ready plated, or prevent guests from overloading their plates at the self-service buffet.
Make a feature of daintily presented smaller portions that look high-end and exclusive, beautifully conceived and supremely appetising. Tantalise the tastebuds with bite-sized delicacies rather than giving the impression of mean portion sizes.
- Bring your own wine
Alcoholic drinks can make a substantial dent in your catering budget, but you cannot have your guests go thirsty! One option is to ask your caterer or venue whether you can supply your own wine, beer and other drinks for the event, which would result in substantial savings, even if you are required to pay corkage.
Choose a wine merchant with a ‘sale or return’ policy, so that you can return any unopened bottles for a full refund. Have a goodly supply of still and sparkling water available during the event so people can voluntarily reduce their alcohol intake, and inadvertently lower your drinks costs.
- Offer a coffee & tea bar
Where required, hot refreshments during breakouts or at the end of a meal can be made available at the event venue’s bar, which will already be set up for serving tea and coffee. This will be cheaper than a hired tea lady and will give your guests the opportunity to stretch their legs and chat with fellow attendees.
Think about whether teas and coffees are really necessary. Younger people are less likely to expect a hot post-meal drink than the older generation, so depending on your audience you may be able to get away with no coffees without anyone noticing.
- Uses your knowledge from past events wisely
One of the key ways to work out where you can make savings is by knowing your audience and applying the catering data collated from past events to future catering choices. Perhaps people never eat the biscuit served with a hot drink? Have Vegetarian finger foods been more popular than seafood snacks?
Scrutinise the available data for valuable insights into typical quantities consumed, menu preferences and timings, and much more. All the steps you can take to cater to your exact audience will minimise food waste, thus reducing your catering bill and make your event more sustainable too.
By Dakota Murphey