Serving Your Best: Fundraising Event Catering and Bartending Best Practices

It’s been said that you win hearts through the stomach.

If you’re an event planner you know that the quality of food and drink at a fundraising event can make or break the impression you want for the night.

Presentation, taste, theme, and the level of service you offer guests contribute to the evening’s atmosphere and carries with it an indelible impact on your guests’ image of your nonprofit.

Selections in your catering and bartending service send messages to your guests that can take them further into the experience you’ve created and affect the impression they have of your organization. Careful planning can elevate that experience.

Matching Your Service to your Theme

A dinner or reception is an extension of the event’s theme and, from soup to nuts, your choices in food and drinks need to build on that theme. If your event is centered around an atmosphere that encourages mingling, like a casino night, offering a table filled with finger food might be the best option to guests who are more focused on enjoying many of the program’s activities. For an event with a formal presentation or speaker, your best option may be a formal service with beautiful centerpieces, fine china, and attentive tableside service. During your planning sessions consider your guests’ experiences throughout the night as you make your catering and beverages choices.

Itemizing the Costs

Budgeting for your event can often reveal necessaries areas of change. Often the most workable area for making adjustments is in the area of food and drink. It’s best to begin by determining all costs, including taxes, tips, service, linen and china charges at the start of your planning, then cut back as needed as your planning continues.

Once you’ve finalized your arrangements with your contractors be sure to get a final detailed agreement in writing. Keep in mind that taxes and tips or service charges will be added to the listed price of the food in the agreement and often adds 20% to your bill. Changes to the estimated attendance numbers can typically be made up to a week or two prior to the event, with the final guaranteed number usually being required 48 to 72 hours before event night, however, this assumption can vary depending on the caterer so it’s best to ask before signing.

Making the Menu Memorable

A talented caterer can produce a table that is dramatic, fun and takes your guests on a culinary journey. Work closely with the chef to find dishes that will match your theme and meet the goals you’ve set for your event, both in a budgetary sense and in regards to your theme.

For more information on the best way to get your catering and bartending ready for the big night check out our webinar “5 Keys to Efficient Event Setup” It provides tips on everything you’ll need to provide your guests with a memorable experience.

On a practical note, keep in mind food intolerances, handling issues, and allergies that could be a challenge for your guests. Collect that information on your registration form and offer options that will allow everyone to partake in the feast.

Getting Your Drink On

People have a wide range of preferences when it comes to beverage selection which can change based on the type of event, time of day, and what is being offered on the menu. At an evening event, they may prefer to start off with a cocktail, then switch to wine for dinner. At a brunch event or a conference that features long sessions, your guests may prefer coffee, tea, or water. It’s best to offer a variety that can satisfy every taste.

Offering alcohol is a great way to up the celebratory atmosphere of your event, but there is a very important downside to consider. When serving alcohol it’s quite possible that a guest could overindulge and become destructive or harm themselves or others. If you decide to serve alcohol it’s a good idea to consider the following:

  • Always hire a licensed and trained bartender to serve. They will have a better view of any guests who overindulge.
  • Keep in mind that your guests’ behavior is your responsibility and you will be liable for any damage their behavior causes.
  • Consider limiting your options to only beer and wine, leaving out hard alcohol which can affect a drinker to a larger extent.
  • Serve food throughout the event when serving alcohol of any kind.
  • Discourage over consumption by providing a specific number of limited drink tickets or offering a cash bar to guests.

Including food and drink at your event is a great way to provide a visceral experience for your guests through the flavors, visuals, and the communal nature of eating and drinking together. Adhering to these best practices will keep that experience within your budget and focused on the goal of providing your guests with a memorable evening of giving.

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