Working with Chefs to Develop a Menu
Designing the menu for an event can be the most enjoyable and creative detail for your client, especially if there is a menu tasting involved. Of course, not all events require a menu tasting, in which case the client will rely on your expertise and colorful language to describe the food options.
The recent popularity of gourmet cooking has brought with it a backlash against banquet-style cuisine. At functions across the country, savvy guests are left to wonder how a kitchen can simultaneously serve three hundred chickens at a fundraiser without compromising the quality of the food. At breakfast business meetings, gourmands and foodie guests alike remark as to whether the béarnaise sauce used on the poached eggs is traditional or from a box. And banquet servers are being asked if the salmon is farm-raised or wild, and if the beef is organic or grain-fed.
The public's awareness of the ingredients on their plates is inevitably raising the level of quality of cuisine. As a result, event planners have had to follow suit. The competition among event planners to serve gourmet meals has become a challenge handed down to banquet and private dining chefs.
The most important idea to remember when designing a menu with the chef is execution. A beautifully written menu means nothing if it cannot be executed. If the chef is preparing a new menu item, ask to be part of the tasting. You can disguise your apprehension about the dish by explaining to the chef your need to describe all the menu items to clients. Troubleshoot with the chef if possible by asking if the new dish can be served to a large group of people or retain heat if not served right away.
Many event planners hired from event-planning companies will send a client an all-inclusive invoice. This invoice will not include an itemized breakdown of the costs associated with the event. In this case the client is unaware of the facility fees, and as the facility planner you may be asked not to discuss the venue prices during the site visit.
Budgeting the Menu
Budgeting a menu takes a lot of practice. In the beginning of your career, you will need to work with the chef quite a bit to solve the mystery of pricing out a menu. To a chef, budgeting a menu is second nature since she places the order and then compares the order to the invoice. A chef will also have a better understanding of labor costs and food waste. A menu budget factors in the ingredients, labor, overhead, waste, and profit.
Chefs, by reputation, are notoriously willful and may not take criticism well. When making suggestions, carefully choose your language. Using harsh remarks may offend some chefs and lead to a negative working environment.
Chefs use different formulas to price out a menu, so ask your chef for his formula to better understand the process of budgeting the menu. Prior to submitting a menu proposal to a client, consult with your chef so he may review the cost and approve the menu. Any changes should be made internally before your client makes her decision regarding the cuisine.
In your follow-up meetings with your chef or caterer, it is a good idea to run down the budget from recent events. Also request participation in budget meetings for your company. The result will give you a better understanding of the budget formula.
The menu budget also needs to include the bar or beverage service. There are a few options for clients when budgeting for beverages. The first is to have an open bar and not restrict the consumption of beverages from the bar. For open bars, beverage costs are usually based upon guest consumption. In some cases, venues charge a set amount for an open bar. The price is typically very high. In fact, it is not unusual for a price tag of $10,000 or more to accompany an open bar for a large event.
The second option for bar service is to offer a cash-and-carry bar, which means each guest is responsible for paying for his or her own beverage. Cash and carry is not well received among guests and usually causes a traffic jam as servers have to handle cash transactions. To enhance the guest experience, a client may choose to host beer and wine. The client will ultimately spend less money and the guests will appreciate the gesture. A popular option these days is to offer a punch bowl or a signature cocktail in addition to beer and wine. The trendy cocktail will pair nicely with a classic wine selection, offering a bit of variety and creativity to your event.
A client looking to save money may request that wine purchased from an outside source be served at his event. Most venues restrict outside beverages being served. No alcoholic beverages equals lost revenue. In some cases, venues will allow wine to be brought in but will charge a corkage fee. A standard corkage fee to open wine is $10 to $20 per bottle.
A venue package is an all-inclusive price for an event. Some venues offer packages to simplify the planning process. For example, a banquet facility may include all vendor services in one package to avoid a client having to shop for her own vendors. A venue package may include any combination of the following:
The bar service
Table settings and accessories
A cake or extravagant dessert
Parking or valet service for your guests
A house photographer
When a client is considering a venue package, inquire about upgrades on certain services. Some venues will price an upgrade to a standard package particularly high to make a higher-priced package seem more reasonable. Venue packages also leave little room for your client's ideas and creativity. Be sure to price out a few other venues for your client. A venue package may be less of a deal than your client originally thought.