The way to your delegates' hearts is through the buffet
No matter how insightful your keynote speaker is known to be, or how informative your training notes are, the most memorable aspect of a conference for the majority of delegates is the catering. Provide mediocre coffee or a bad lunch and you might as well pack up early and leave. Here’s how to cater for all tastes.
Equip your army
If the saying, ‘an army marches on its stomach’ is true, then you need to get your battle strategy right from the start. Know how many people you are expecting and how many rounds of refreshments you will need to provide for them. Having a rough idea of timings is helpful too, so you can work out when to start heating up hot food or taking chilled food out of the fridge.
Many delegates come to conferences with specific dietary or cultural requirements. Vegetarians and vegans have been coming forward with their preferences for some time now. Then, there are those whose food allergies mean that they must seek out dairy- or wheat-free options if they are to manage the afternoon’s agenda without feeling ill. Other delegates may require halal or kosher meat or could need to adhere to other religious dietary restrictions, so check with everyone in advance.
Know your limits
Often, conference catering can fall flat for reasons of budget, but reduced resources needn’t result in a disappointing spread. Be honest and up-front with your venue or catering supplier from the start. Ask what they can provide for your allocated budget, and whether they can offer you any deals or cheaper alternative menu choices. Never go for bulk over taste, but opt for the best quality food and drink you can afford. Serving simple, but delicious biscuits with your break-time tea or coffee will go down far better than an attempt to present dozens of cheap cakes that fall short.
When your conference venue is located in an area known for a certain food, drink or style of cuisine, you might like to consider making the most of that with a themed conference buffet. Delegates will appreciate the effort and will enjoy trying some of the local fare. It will provide a talking point too and help cement the conference and its associated cuisine in people’s minds. We are moving inexorably towards favouring locally-sourced food in general, in a bid to encourage sustainable farming and food production. Go with the trend and watch your delegates’ mouths water.
Learn about logistics
Finally, make sure your venue has the right experience in catering for your expected numbers, and knows when each set of refreshments must be served. Keeping hungry delegates waiting is an absolute no-no and will cause both a figurative and a literal bad taste in many mouths. Ignore the temptation to press on with the agenda through lunch. People will appreciate a proper break far more than greasy papers and an afternoon of unpleasant indigestion. Take time to enjoy your meal and bon appetit!