KNOW YOUR GROUP

If you want your meeting or incentive menus to work, your catering director needs key information about your event and your group. First, what are the goals of the meal and where does it fit in your schedule? For example, do you need a relatively fast lunch that allows attendees to make their afternoon tee-times, or is there a recognition portion of the luncheon agenda that deserves a delicious dessert to linger over? Tell the chef what has worked and what has not at past events, and give him a rundown of your demographics — including attendees' ages and roles at the company, and the percentage of men versus women.

CATER TO THE CATERER

Be open to your caterer's ideas. If you want them to own the event, find our what gets them excited and what are their signature dishes. Use their expertise to find out what's in season, what's a good value, and how your group can experience the local specialties.

CHEMISTRY 101

Menu choices can affect the chemistry of your group — literally. High protein foods such as chicken and seafood will keep attendees more alert than carbohydrates such as pasta and bread, which tend to relax people. Fatty foods, which sit in the stomach longer and take longer to digest, can weigh people down, while foods high in tryptophan, such as turkey, milk, and milk products, make people feel sleepy. The simple sugars in a frosted chocolate brownie, for example, will provide a quick high, but some attendees will come down hard, responding with an extreme dip in blood sugar.

SPECIAL REQUESTS

Menus should take into account attendees' special needs, whether the requests stem from religious or medical needs (food allergies, diabetes, kosher) or personal choice (vegetarians, vegans, low-fat, low-salt). The options can cost more than the regular menu, but it's basic hospitality to provide for the people you've invited to a meeting or incentive program.

FOOD BEFORE ROOM

Consider your menus before you book your property. You might get a terrific room rate and great meeting space, but food and beverage prices, taxes, and gratuities can make or break a budget. Since F&B is often about 25 percent of a meeting budget and 50 percent or more of a special event, it pays to have a meeting with a catering manager before committing to a venue. Menu prices are often not set until six months out, but you may be able to negotiate a specific percentage over current prices.

Sources: Special Events magazine, www.specialevents.com; Executive Communications Group, http://ecgling.com; Professional Convention Management Association, www.pcma.org; Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, www.m-w.com

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