Seven (almost) deadly sins of not catering for your guests – whatever the occasion
I don’t believe anybody starts out planning their event catering not wanting their guest to enjoy the event. But with so many things to consider and prepare when hosting an event it never ceases to amaze me how it’s the small details that can make or break the occasion.
I was a guest at a dinner in London recently and obviously being in the catering business I not only like to enjoy a night off sitting at the other side of the dining table, but I also love watching how the catering team prepare and care for the guests.
This one evening at quite a prestigious and historic venue, I was sat on a table of ten not knowing anyone at my table, but ended the evening with a list of things we all discussed as “bad experiences” that had happened to us all at weddings, corporate events and parties. And this started from the moment we sat down and were offered some bread rolls, but with no plate to put our bread on. So like any savvy food blogger would do, I made a list and here we have our seven (almost) deadly sins of not catering for your guests.
1. Minimise the social awkwardness for your guests
Even before I get to the missing plate for my bread roll, I noticed a social tension at my table as we all approached unsure of where we were meant to sit. We all knew we were table number four, but it took a couple of minutes for the group to decide where to sit and figure out who might be the most interesting person to sit next to!
Having place name cards at the table is a real easy way to take away this awkwardness and helps your guests introduce each other and best of all serves as a helpful reminder when you forget the person’s name they’re talking to.
2. Make sure your guests have what they need
This brings me to the mystery of the missing plate. My simple, but perfect example here is that no less than two minutes after sitting at our dinner table ready to enjoy the evening, the waiting staff came with a bread basket for us to select the bread roll of our choice (I always go for a nice granary roll myself). I chose my roll, but then didn’t have a plate to put it on. The rest of the table found themselves in the same confused situation of not knowing where to put our bread. This then proceeded to be quite funny as we began slicing, buttering and ‘crumbing’ (technical term) on the table.
Whilst this isn’t a huge faux pas, it did get us talking about the negative things, which is never a great place to start. Plus the fact that we’d made a bit of a mess of our table even before we’d started on the main food. To me this was a great example of needed to mentally walk through the meal and understand exactly what was needed for the guests to enjoy their meal. One way we get around this is by providing menu tastings for our clients and so we can go through the menu step-by-step and ensure we have everything we need working out the finer details at every stage of the meal.
3. Don’t let your guests go thirsty
Straight after the bread fiasco we were offered water and a glass of wine to which I said yes to both and was quite looking forward to a nice glass of Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, however, the catering team didn’t quite get around the table in time before the speeches and they were all instructed to stand-back whilst the room was addressed.
This was all fine and we enjoyed a nice welcome, but when asked to get involved in the toast, a number of us where left toasting with an empty hand, which again was rather awkward, if not a little entertaining to giving a knowing nod to my empty-handed table friends!
After eventually getting my glass of water and Pinot Noir, we weren’t left with anything to drink on our table and instead had to keep calling the catering team over to serve us. Understandably our hosts probably wanted to have some control on how much wine was consumed, but it would’ve been a helpful touch to at least have a jug or bottle of water on the table that we could help ourselves to when needed.
Sometimes this can be about staffing numbers and not having enough staff checking wine glasses and waters. We always aim to never have an empty glass (unless the guest has said so) and, when done well, guests won’t even notice and can have a much more enjoyable experience when they’re not having to break away from conversation in order to grab the attention of the serving team.
4. Let your guests know what they’re eating
I’m only halfway through the drama and so we get to the menu. This isn’t to say that the food wasn’t lovely, because it was and we all enjoyed it, but the problem came when we weren’t sure what we were eating. To some extent even the least food educated of us can spot a chicken breast and most of our vegetables, but when it comes to pastry based dishes, or meat alternatives then some of my fellow guests were left guessing.
Having a nicely presented menu on the table is not only informative, but can also be a nice ice-breaker for guests to start talking about what they’re about to enjoy. It’s also a good opportunity to say something in the menu about the occasion and can be helpful for guests so they can see what the running order of the evening is. Which brings me to point number five!
5. Let your guests know the format of your catering
At the end of the main course our appetites where moving towards the sweet side of our palette and we were looking forward to dessert. However, after 20 minutes of sitting patiently we noticed that the dining room was starting to empty and so we asked the catering team if there was a dessert coming or if the evening had ended! To which we were then informed that there was a dessert buffet on sharing plates in another room. Surprised but relieved that there was something sweet to eat, we were then disappointed to find we were some of the last people to enjoy the buffet and all of the petit fours and lovely cakes had been ransacked and left rather unappetising looking!
Granted we probably should have followed the crowd earlier, but again had this been outlined on the menu then we would’ve known in advance and felt less likely to be left out of the dessert enjoyment!
6. Serve food that is practical for the occasion
Whilst I was at the dessert buffet with my new found table four friends, I was told a story by one person who had recently attended a corporate event with a buffet. It was at the buffet they served BBQ chicken wings and BBQ spare ribs and whilst he said they looked and smelt delicious, it was a practical nightmare and would have taken a brave person to try and tackle one of the delicacies without making a mess of their hands or through fear of dropping some sauce down their business suits!
Sometimes thinking ahead to the occasion and what people will be doing whilst eating the food can save terrible embarrassment and / or abstinence from your guests. Quite often we are asked for some wonderful sounding canapes, but when we look at how people will practically eat these, it can sometimes be a better idea to go with the simple and easy to eat option.
7. Serve enough food
Bringing me to the end of the evening at this particular dinner in London. To which I was sadly still hungry by the end of the evening and with stomach still rumbling and a great dissatisfaction I found my nearest take-away! It can be a great shame that with so much effort going in to hosting guests and providing some lovely catering and hospitality that when all of the goodbyes have been done that the first thought turns to “where can we eat, I’m starving”?!
There’s a balance between serving huge overwhelming portions and not quite enough, but this can often be tackled with the type of dishes that are served. Protein rich foods and food high in fibre like meats, rice, pasta, and potatoes can all be good ingredients to ensure your guests feel satisfied.
Again on this occasion we were served with our main course, but without potatoes or vegetables and whether this was an oversight or to save costs, it was something noticed, something missed and for what is relatively inexpensive it left us hungry.
So there you have what was quite a comedy of catering errors despite it being enjoyable company and learning a lot of funny and surprising stories. Hopefully this blog gives you some helpful pointers and helps you plan the perfect event with great food and happy guests who remember your event for all of the right reasons.