Choosing the right food for a function is like deciding on a menu for a family, except that this family is filled with picky eaters who have dietary restrictions, passionate opinions about foie gras, and enough experience to know when they're being served the low-budget options. Today's meeting-goers are a tough crowd when it comes to cocktail hour.

The first rule when choosing the menu is simple: Take no risks. Think of what it was like back in the '70s when sushi first became part of the L.A. scene (Did you know that's when the California roll was born?). Some trendsetting planner holding a meeting in Santa Monica decided to give it a try as an hors d'oeuvre. Just as today, the attendees hungrily ambled into the ballroom, took a plate, then froze as they saw row after row of raw fish rolled in seaweed alongside an artfully arranged tentacle or two. While some brave souls probably took one, most everyone else sprinted toward the crudités over in the corner. As the wary glanced back at the brave sushi-eaters, they most likely saw the bulging eyeballs and flared nostrils of the rookies who had slathered their plates with that innocuous-looking green paste that we all now know as wasabi.

Today's new frontier is a little different and can be summed up in two words: dietary restrictions. Modern medicine has identified more and more of these categories—which is a good thing. But the daunting array of food no-nos can really limit your choices. By the time you're finished with the wheat, dairy, and nut allergies, along with religious and political sensitivities, you might be left with a glittering buffet of bottled water. (Of course, that would be stepping on some "green" toes.) The best option is to clearly label the buffet items with "May contain nuts, gluten, pork, beef, fish eyeballs … whatever."

One final concern that meeting planners must face is budget. Complicating the issue is the fact that people know a lot more about fine cuisine than they used to, thanks to cooking shows, department store demonstrations, and free samples handed out at supermarkets that throw mango into just about everything to make it seem more exotic. That means that your menu must be sprinkled with Panko-crusted tidbits and passion fruit glaze, without arousing the suspicions of the accounting folks who will want to know why you paid a buck per meatball. Getting the caterer to cut the goodies into small pieces is helpful—but be careful, people are going to notice if the serving tongs have been replaced by tweezers.

With all of these tips in mind, you'll plan the perfect array of hors d'oeuvres for your event, but you might want to pack a pair of EpiPens just in case.