5 Event Catering Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Baked food on a serving plate

Skift Take

All the unique catering ideas won’t get you very far if you make these mistakes.

Here are five event catering mistakes you need to be aware of and how to fix them.

1. Running Out of Food

This is one of an event planner’s biggest nightmares: hungry guests and no food. Sometimes, there’s plenty of food, but the staff isn’t keeping platters full, so guests assume you’ve run out, which puts them on edge.

Solution: Address Expectations to Avoid Empty Platters

There are several ways to handle this:

  • Overestimate the amount people will eat and tell the caterer you need more ahead of time. This will be more costly, though, and you could end up wasting food.
  • Tell the wait staff to consider a platter empty at half and replenish accordingly.
  • Offer a moveable feast, with foods moved in and out so guests don’t know when numbers are low.
  • Insist upon a kitchen contact on speed dial and assign a junior staffer to keep an eye on the food so it can be replenished before it gets to empty plates.
  • Before signing with a venue or caterer, ask critical questions about their staff and numbers. A caterer being short-staffed shouldn’t leave you with empty plates.

2. Not Understanding Your Audience

Donut walls and candy buffets are hot trends, but they are not suitable for a health and wellness conference. This may not be the most dramatic event catering mistake, but it can come back to bite you.

Solution: Personalize Your Offerings for More Wow Moments

When deciding on catering menu ideas, take into account audience preferences of what they’ll like and what they’ve already seen, as well as their food tastes. Provide a well-balanced menu that offers something for everyone. Some event planners know exactly which conferences their audience attends in addition to theirs. They research those conferences to understand better what attendees have already experienced, and they adjust accordingly. You want to be a trendsetter, not a copycat to your competitors.

3. Forgetting the Space

Will your caterer need access to a kitchen? Can your venue provide one? If not, what adjustments will need to be made? Will they bring their own chafing dishes? Cool, unique venues are awesome, but only if your caterer understands the limitations. This event catering mistake can have some serious implications.

Solution: Talk with Your Caterer on a Game Plan to Ensure Everyone is Satisfied

Most caterers are familiar with the most common venues. However, there’s a trend towards using inventive spaces these days. If you’re going with a unique venue or dry hire, make sure your caterer knows exactly what to expect. Take them with you or arrange for them to see the spot themselves.

4. Getting “Pinterested” and Losing Sight of the Budget

We’ve all fallen into the Pinterest rabbit hole. Everything looks so good, and there is one amazing idea after another. Each of those ideas comes with a price tag. While we may love the room-sized chocolate fountain, if that eats away your entire event food and beverage budget, you may have some hungry and disgruntled attendees (and clients).

Solution: Organize the Budget for More Splurges

Don’t look at your food and beverage budget as the entire number; you might just find yourself ordering that giant squid butter sculpture. Instead, amass all the things that the budget needs to cover and give each area, such as snacks and breakfasts, their own mini-budget. Then, you can see what you have to work with and what you can rearrange for some effective splurging. “Effective splurging” is spending money on those things people will notice. The ones they’ll talk about next year. Ineffective splurging is doing something like paying more for the heirloom tomatoes in the salsa instead of ordinary, hothouse tomatoes.

5. Not Taking into Account Special Dietary Needs

We’ll get into the details of how to excel with special dietary requirements in the next section, but it suffices to say that if you think one meat meal and one vegetarian meal have you covered, you haven’t gone to an event recently. This is one event catering mistake that could cost way more than a hungry belly.

Solution: Make Guests Feel Comfortable with Food Choice

There are religious reasons, health and allergy limitations, diets, political statements and a host of other reasons why you and your caterer need to be more flexible in your menu.