ILEA Quick Tips for Event Planners: September 2017

Selecting a caterer and planning the perfect holiday menu.

Sure, it’s only September. But if your organization is throwing a holiday event, you need to be planning the menu right now. Here are a few tips to ensure a successful party that’s talked about for months.
Mind the fees: The first and most important thing to have when contracting a caterer for your big year-end festivity is that you feel at ease with the company from the beginning. If a caterer is shy about sharing menu pricing or has an ‘all inclusive’ pricing structure this may mean that you are paying more for less. When you have found a sales manager that you trust and they return your calls, (Yes, this is a real industry problem, and your time is valuable!) the next thing to check is if they are forthcoming with line-itemed fees along with detailed descriptions. If the caterer refuses to give you a clear, detailed breakdown for what will be provided, my advice is to walk away. This ‘all inclusive’ form of pricing hides operating fees, venue fees, labor costs and sometimes extra taxes that you should not be paying.
Meet the chef: Food is one of the most important methods to convey an event theme. Meeting the actual chef that runs the kitchen that is producing your event is a reasonable request. Frankly, the chef should be in the picture from the beginning—you just need to ask. Having the chef that will be writing your menu see your venue, understand menu item requests directly from the decision maker can save an immense amount of the time in the planning process. On-site visits by the culinary team can avoid the pitfalls of execution errors or serving your group cold to lukewarm food more often than not. Involving the chef from the beginning can also provide immediate guidance for food allergies and creating items that specifically fit your venues restrictions and overall event theme.
Trendy is fun: Food trends will ebb and flow each calendar year. The caterer that you choose may have a specific holiday menu that they want you to order from, instead their full menu. The reason for this is simple from their point of view: It allows them to produce large amounts of the same items and ship them to several events at the same time. This one-size-fits-all approach may be fine for most events so long as the caterer produces a high-caliber cuisine consistently. Feel free to push back if you are sent the ‘holiday menu’ upon submitting a proposal request. No event is the same as another, no matter what a sales manager tells you. Having new, fun and unique items and presentations for your holiday event can be a great way to engage your guests.   
But traditional fare can be great too: We’re not talking just turkey here. Traditional items can still make up the majority of your menu if your client needs ‘approachable’ food. Challenge the sales manager and chef to find creative ways to present the tried and true holiday flavors. Use caution when perusing the internet looking for ideas. Just because it’s really cool looking on Pinterest doesn’t mean it will scale in production volume for your 500 guests.
It’s about the experience: It’s not just millennials that love to ‘play’ with their food. Having stations that allow your guests to both learn and interactively participate in creating their meal can make for months of water-cooler talk. And it’s not just caterers that can create the food experience, entertainment troupes are providing lots of crossover opportunities for food interactions during events. Roaming performers help to not only carry the theme but they can also serve the food too!
John Chesnut, Culinary Director, CRAVE Catering has held several creative positions throughout the past 20 years giving him broad knowledge of the restaurant and event industry. He is the proud recipient of the International Caterers Association – Catered Arts Through Innovative Excellence Award for Best Menu Innovation, along with five ILEA Minnesota Star Awards in the categories of Best Menu Innovation, Best Off-Premise Catered Event, Best ILEA Team Effort, Best Creative Solution and Best Specialty Item. Chesnut is an active member of the International Live Events Association (ILEA) Minneapolis-St. Paul Chapter as well as the International Caterers Association (ICA).

International Live Events Association (ILEA) is the new name for the International Special Events Society (ISES). ILEA represents and supports more than 5,000 members globally — industry professionals who do business together, share knowledge, nurture talent and progress the live events industry. For more information on how an ILEA professional can help you with your event, please contact