Conference Food and Beverage Planning Made Easy

Conference planning can be overwhelming—from choosing the dates and times to the locations and activities, event preparation requires special attention to detail. But, on top of all that, there’s the most important consideration to make when planning a conference: the menu. Aside from choosing the event center, the catering for conferences can be the most vital decision on which the success of your event depends. Let’s face it, everyone remembers if the food was good or not!

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into conference food and beverage planning. We’ll discuss how to make the best use of your food budget, what catering options are available, and look at practical considerations for event planners. We’ll also do a comparison of traditional on-site catering versus food truck catering, so you can choose the best option to make your conference a hit. 

Food and Beverage Planning for Events

When you’re budgeting for food and drink at a conference, there are several things to consider. Of course you need to think about the size of the event, but you also want to consider what kind of service you’d like to use. For example, you may ask yourself questions like:

  • What are the venue’s capabilities as far as food service?
  • What style of food service suits your event needs best? Full service? Continental? Buffet? 
  • Will you have a meal that is integrated with a part of the event? (ie. a speaker or presentation during a lunch or breakfast) 
  • Will alcohol be served? If so, will it be included, or does a cash bar make more sense with your budget? 

There are pros and cons to every choice, and many of the decisions you make will be specific to the kind of event you want to execute. For example, a breakfast is a great way to keep motivation high at the beginning of the day, but if you’re dealing with an all-day conference, you may want to plan a lunch as well. Alternatively, you can choose to dismiss for lunch— but then you face the possibility that a percentage of attendees won’t return for afternoon sessions.

Moreover, evening dinners or cocktail parties can be an excellent way to cap off the night, but when you factor in included alcoholic beverages it can get pretty pricey. And depending on your audience, they may or may not be receptive to the idea of a cash bar. So really, what’s important is being able to gauge what you want the overall spirit of the conference to be because as a planner, you have the power to make it happen through a series of careful choices.

Food Catering for Conferences: Full Service or Food Truck?

Now let’s take a look at the kind of services available. There is traditional catering, which may or may not be included as an added service at your venue. If not, you’ll have to find an outside company to cater for the event. In either case, this will entail planning out a menu for whichever meal/meals you are serving. It can be a buffet, full service (seated, where everyone eats together), continental, snack breaks/drinks, etc. 

Food truck catering is often a simpler and more exciting approach to conference food and beverage planning. By using a food truck catering service, you have a plethora of food options to choose from…more than what’s available from anyone catering company. You can choose from trucks that specialize in any kind of cuisine, and for any meal–breakfast, lunch, or dinner. All you have to do is simply reach out with the number of attendees, the size of the venue, and get an estimate. 

Food trucks also come cheaper than traditional catering. On average, traditional catering can come to around $100 per person, while food trucks are more like $15 per person, making a huge difference. However, you need to keep some of the limitations in mind. Traditional catering is all-inclusive, which means that you get staffing, set up, and very often beverage and dessert service. Food trucks typically bring more of a casual picnic vibe, which may not work with more traditional events. 

Also remember that when you are working with food trucks, you’ll need to schedule pretty far in advance to be sure that the trucks you want are available. Three to six months prior to your event is typically the recommended amount of time to allot.  

Some events that are ideal for food truck catering include: 

  • Day events/ outdoor events (company picnic or carnival)
  • Industry conferences
  • Company summits
  • Professional society conferences 

Catering Menu Ideas and Pricing

For larger events, you’re looking at a fairly diverse group of people. One of the benefits of choosing food truck catering is that you can offer a variety of foods that meet the different dietary tastes and needs of a bigger crowd. 

When you hire a food truck, you’re also looking at an average cost of between $15-$35 per person, so it’s important to plan accordingly. This means that for every hundred attendees, you’ll need to set aside $1500 to $3500. 

Other than that, you’ll need to decide whether you want to start off the day with a bang by hiring breakfast or brunch trucks. This can be a way to boost positivity early, while afternoon food trucks can keep your attendees on task, so they don’t scatter and avoid coming back for afternoon events. 

Regardless of your specific event needs, when you take everything into consideration, food truck catering is usually the most cost-effective and convenient way to handle your next big corporate or nonprofit affair— and have fun doing it!

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