The Ultimate Guide for Selecting the Perfect Event Menu

August 25, 2022 Desiree Homer

There is some merit and nugget of truth to the idea that every aspect of your event is equally important. But let’s be frank. When the food’s bad or the food service is poorly delivered, the event temperature goes south. How many times have you encountered a food prep or catering issue that left a bad event taste in everyone’s mouth?

So, as a veteran New York event planner, you’ve learned your lessons. You put a lot of devoted attention into selecting the right catering partner and menu items for each event now. And to round out the absolute perfect menu for your next event, you can check out this ultimate guide to all things food and tasty for the best event menu ever.

The 4 Things to Consider First

Before you start vetting caterers or making selections between the beef or chicken plates, you’ll want to outline a few event menu pillars. Yes, you’ll need to understand budgets and seating capability. But there’s more. Gauge a sense of the event through these key elements, which will help narrow down just the right food service amenities and items to have available.

Your Client: Take initial cues from your client about the nature of the event, the style, the tone, and the invite list. They’ll give you an indication of how much freedom you’ll have with menu options. And the event timeline will tell you when you might need to supplement a meal with a few snack breaks, too.

The Venue: Some venues require in-house catering, which may not always be cohesive with your ideal menu selections. Verify the venue’s policies for food service and catering before you offer your client fare that won’t fly.

Operations: Will your catering partner have the prep space and resources needed to successfully pull off your selected menu? Do you have enough room for setup and service? Cover these details with your catering partner and venue rep first before committing to a menu for which there just won’t be room to prepare.

Gastro-Economics: Be mindful that you’re selecting menu items that won’t adversely affect your crowds. Tryptophan in turkey puts folks to sleep after Thanksgiving dinner, remember? Don’t choose snacks or dinner fare that might make people feel overly full, tired, or unable to hit the dance floor.

Flexibility Across the Smorgasbord 

Another set of parameters to consider involves flexibility and distinctions with your chosen food service. Talk with your clients about the invite list. Then, plan ahead for unknown guest preferences, just in case. The goal is to ensure everyone in attendance enjoys a meal or a snack. These are the elements you’ll need to know to do just that.

Accommodating Everyone: You’ll want to account for everyone when you determine how much food you’ll have available. This involves more than headcount, too. You'll need to know if there are kids on the guest list, for example, before making official menu selections. And if you’re event is longer than a few hours, you’ll want to arrange for snacks and hors d’oeuvres to keep your guests from growing “hangry.” 

Plated vs. Buffet: There are advantages to both plated and buffet-style meals for events. Decide which food delivery makes the most sense for your guests and event style. Remember, how you serve food will impact the overall aesthetics of the event. Servers walking around offering upscale hors d'oeuvres adds a classy element to the event, for example. And don’t be hesitant to adopt a hybrid variation of plated meals, with a few breakout, self-serve snack stations throughout the duration.

Special Needs and Preferences: Talk with your clients about any known special needs your event menu will need to accommodate. These might include personal food preferences or known allergies. And then prepare for special needs anyway, including vegan choices and gluten-free dishes, even if it’s just a few, so anyone not interested in the main menu won’t go hungry.

Impress Your Guests

With your menu parameters in place, you can get to the fun part. This is where you can work with caterer options and provisions to introduce the most delectable morsels and artistic plates to wow your event guests. These insights will help you choose the best.

Classic and Classy: Before you go all-out in picking bizarre and whimsical menu items, build your menu around a few crowd-pleasing classics. Yes, guests will be dazzled by new things. But they’ll always appreciate classic mashed potato or creamy mac and cheese. 

Ethnic and Regional: If your New York event calls for it, consider introducing a little culture with every plate by offering an ethnic or regional dish. Celebrate heritage and diversity and expand attendees’ palate horizons with something culturally delish.

Seasonal and Fresh: Sprinkle some seasonal and fresh across your event menu. Fruits and vegetables present a host of recipe and service options, so you’re guaranteed to find something fun the guests will enjoy. And yes, heading into fall, a little pumpkin spice can be just the touch your menu needs to be amazing.

Artistic and Unique: Talk with your catering partners about any unique or stylish dishes they offer. See if there are artistic or unique ways to serve charcuterie or deliver desserts. Incorporate an artistic plate design or seafood station. Elements of posh, upscale options will make guests feel special, even if they aren’t fans of the dish itself.

Not everyone will enjoy every meal or snack your event has to offer. The key is to provide enough variety so that guests feel comfortable making choices. And stick with these elements of food service to help you outline the perfect event meal every time.

For more insights from New York’s top caterers and fellow event planners, keep following our ongoing blog series for more insights. And be sure to get on the waiting list for The Event Planner Expo 2023!

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