Introduction: Hi fellow event organisers. For over twenty years I have been catering for Melbourne’s most impressive corporate events and I’ve learnt a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t. From conferences that buzz with excitement to team-building workshops that spark creativity, I've learned one thing: the right catering can turn an ordinary event into an unforgettable experience. So, lets journey through the ins and outs of crafting outstanding corporate event catering that'll have your guests talking long after the last bite. This overview will help you consider all the most important points, so your event is a huge success.
Understanding the Essence of Corporate Event Catering First things first, let's talk about why catering matters. Imagine this: a conference with a stellar line-up of speakers and game-changing ideas. Now picture the angry faces of attendees munching on bland sandwiches and sipping weak & lukewarm coffee. See the contrast? Catering isn't just about filling bellies; it's about enhancing the entire event's vibe and making guests feel valued. Everyone has been to an event where the food was cold, or it didn’t appear on the centre table while the guests waited hungrily! Let’s read on so you cover all bases, to ensure smooth sailing on the day. I once had a manager that constantly stressed the ”six P’s” – “proper planning prevents piss-poor performance” and this catchcry certainly applies here.
Tailoring Menus to Event Objectives Okay, let's dive into the nitty-gritty. When planning your catering menu, think like a detective. What's the event's purpose? Is it a formal conference demanding a sophisticated menu, or a relaxed team-building retreat that calls for hearty, interactive food stations? How long will my guests be present for? Am I keeping them from getting home in time for dinner? If so, to keep them happy you better ensure there is plenty to go around.
Tailoring your menu to match the event's goals is like serving up a slice of understanding to your guests. Make sure the menu is supporting the event e.g., if you overfeed your guests, they may become lethargic and not be as attentive; didn’t you want them to listen to the speakers and not have them fall asleep? I once went to a Tony Robbins’ “fire-walk” weekend and no buttery croissants for morning tea for us, just a bowl of fruit with apples and oranges to choose from, it certainly kept us focused on our huge task at hand!
If the event is built around “wellbeing” you obviously would want the caterer to serve healthy food covering all dietary requirements such as fodmap diet & vegan. If the event is a relaxed celebratory affair your guests may be hoping to indulge in something richer. Perhaps they are anticipating a treat such as petit fours or even overindulging on the second serve of the seafood paella is what they have in mind.
Navigating Dietary Diverse Needs Dietary restrictions don't have to be a headache. I've seen guests light up when they find out their dietary needs were not just met but exceeded. Sometimes it’s just giving two or three choices for them instead of just one is enough to make them content. It's like giving someone a personal thumbs-up for their choices. Going the extra mile to accommodate special diets is a game-changer.
In the past people probably lived with “that bloating feeling” after eating too much pasta, not knowing they were e.g., gluten intolerant. Some people are working out for themselves what diet suits them best, others with health issues such as peanut allergy & coeliacs must be very careful about what they consume. A good caterer will ensure their menu has variety, flavour and suitability to the occasion and we encourage our clients to provide on the menu the most common dietary requirements. These are gluten free, peanut free, dairy free, halal, vegan & vegetarian.
Budgets Must Be Kept in Mind. It’s great to come up with some creative food ideas that will make your event impressive and amazing, but does it fit your budget? When chatting with your caterer its best to talk about your budget upfront. Most modern caterers have a few clients with deep pockets and more with lessor ones so it pays to be honest and as direct as possible when it comes to your finances, otherwise they may attempt to upgrade you to the maximum spend. Other things to consider is when comparing quotes from different caterers is have included GST tax in the price or is that to be added on? Is the quote on offer for a certain period of time only? What are the terms of payment? Most caterers will do their best to create an experience for you that fits your budget whilst honouring your desired outcome. I know, like other decent caterers; I will tell the client where they can save money e.g., they may be over catering or choosing a product that is less costly in a different volume or format. A good caterer will be upfront about your spend & will work with you so there is no financial stress.
Curating Culinary Excellence Here's where my love for locally sourced ingredients comes in. Fresh produce isn't just a fad; it's the heart of a remarkable dish. When I lived in the Otway’s I built a giant green house and grew grey oyster mushrooms in coffee grounds I had collected from local cafes. These delicious mushrooms ended up in stir-fry’s’ at our client’s parties and guests couldn't stop raving about the vibrant flavours of them. Fresh is best and here in Melbourne, Australia we have incredible markets with fresh Asian greens, world class coffee grinders and French patisseries that would hold their own in Paris. Choose a caterer that’s accessing the best ingredients & remember, presentation is like a sneak peek; if it's appealing, you'll leave mouths watering.
Personalizing the Experience Let's chat about customisation. It’s important to think about the theme of the event, and talk this through with the caterer, as they may have some ideas you haven’t thought of e.g., how to present the food, a signature dish that suits best or even a supplier they have used that can provide those balloons in the right colour. We once had clients have us print “you rock” & staff names on our noodle boxes, giving staff the feeling, they are seen and valued. Little personal touches, like a dessert with their company logo, goes a long way.
Innovations in Serving Styles Get ready to think outside the buffet! Interactive food stations are our secret weapon and there are plenty of quality caterers out there with their own unique presentation. Of course, bain-maries and warmers have their place but picture a DIY taco bar where guests create their perfect masterpiece. Food trucks are popular these days and our own wok-powered BBQ’s create great ambience. These new innovative caterers are like a surprise visit from a gourmet restaurant, it isn’t just about food; they spark conversations and connections. The “wow factor” is enhanced when there is some interaction between customer & caterer.
Enhancing Atmosphere Through Decor and Setup Let's talk ambiance. Decor isn't just a backdrop; it's part of the experience. It's not about over-the-top luxury; it's about making your guests feel like they've stepped into a memorable moment. There are plenty of event planners and party suppliers out there who can guide you through all the options (Harry the Hirer is a great one here in Melbourne) out there and sometimes you can encourage staff to get involved in decorating the room or venue. This way they have some investment in the success of the night. Certainly, the caterer can enhance the atmosphere too e.g., over the years our massive paella pans and giant woks have often been place in a central position of the venue, to give that great buzz we all wish to create for a themed event.
Crafted Beverage Experiences Drinks matter too! You can rope in your staff or employ a professional bar service (e.g., I list a few here in Melbourne we work with for corporate events). You can also approach your local pub to provide the beverages and often they will provide glassware for free and a bartender or three for a fee. A professional bar service can create a signature mocktails inspired by the event's theme, sure to be a hit. From wine pairings to refreshing non-alcoholic options, beverages add that extra layer of delight to the catering experience.
Sustainability and Local Sourcing Being eco-conscious isn't just trendy; it's essential. Using local, sustainable ingredients doesn't just create mouth-watering dishes; it supports our community and planet too. These days most professional caterers provide sustainable sourced crockery and cutlery made from sugar can, recycled cardboard and even corn. One of our favourites is palm leaf crockery, sourced from the Areca tree in India, natural, compostable and biodegradable. Trust me, guests appreciate knowing that you have made a genuine effort to be environmentally friendly.
Benefits of Outdoor Catering Here's a thought: why not take the event outdoors? The natural ambiance, fresh air, and versatile setups can take your event to a whole new level. Often staff love an excuse to get out of the office or noise of the factory and a catering event set up outside can feel like a more relaxing affair than being stuck inside. The caterer can sometimes provide a marquee or recommend a marquee hire company they work with. Studies have shown corporate client interactions increase when formalities are not overstated and catering in your local park, or even your work carpark with a marquee can be very effective in keeping the team together whilst still managing the occasion the way you had planned.
Delivered vs. On-Site Catering Let's tackle a big question. Delivered catering? Convenient and ready to roll. On-site catering? Freshly prepared and customized to perfection. It's a balancing act between convenience and culinary wizardry. Choose what suits your event's style and goals. Delivered food is usually more cost-effective and easier to organise than on-site catering, though this option opens some other challenges. We have had clients come to us complaining about other caterers who didn’t deliver on time or delivered cold what was meant to be hot! This problem is solved when your caterer cooks everything there and then at your premises or venue. On-site catering avoids the challenge of keeping delivered food delivered hot, unfortunately health department requirements of 60 degrees Celsius is not always maintained by some delivery services, even though the restaurant sent its food out at the right temperature. Mobile catering specialists solve this problem.
Choosing the Right Dining Experience Standing or seated, formal or informal? It's like choosing the right outfit for the occasion. Casual settings encourage mingling, while seated dinners add a touch of elegance. I've found that mixing things up keeps guests engaged and the conversation flowing. E.g., sometimes we serve our entrees standing before guests are seated, other times we have the guests come up to our “woks” for the mains. If you have chosen to have your corporate event at a venue, choose a space that fits the number of people. A room too big or too small is uncomfortable for your guests. Similarly, if the room is formal whilst the event is a casual affair, the “vibe’ of the event may feel out of sync. Is it appropriate to have a seating menu at the entrance for your guests to be guided by as to where to sit? Or is this overkill and not necessary? Take some time to ensure the “type of event’ fits the chosen space. Is the venue easy for guests to get to? Does everyone know where the toilets are? Is the bar not too close to the catering service? Does the caterer need access to the kitchen? Is there enough parking for guests? Work with the venue to ensure all your questions are answered and keep the caterer informed too.
Ensuring Seamless Service Ah, the unsung heroes – the waitstaff. They're not just serving food; they're creating an experience. Coordination between catering and venue staff is key for a smooth flowing event. I've learned that when everyone's on the same page, the magic happens seamlessly. You can employ waiters directly through the caterer or the venue and if you have decided for guests to enjoy self-service from a bain-marie or wok BBQs like us, your waitering costs can be kept to a minimum. It’s important to discuss this in advance with the caterer as they will be able to guide you as to how many waiters are needed, and for how long. Costs can vary greatly as caterers charge either by the hour or build the staff cost into the “catering package”. The more plates to the table, the greater the service and the higher the cost. As the waiters are often the first people your guests will meet, its best to view the caterer’s website in detail, there you will discover the “attitude & vibe” of the caterer, this will be reflected in their testimonials, and this will be what your guests will experience.
Conclusion: In Melbourne's bustling corporate event scene, catering isn't just about food; it's about crafting an experience. With a menu tailored to your event's objectives, personalized touches that show you care, and creative presentation that dazzles, you're setting the stage for a corporate event that leaves a mark. And remember, fellow event enthusiasts, whether you're savouring food under the open sky or enjoying a seated dinner, it's the thoughtful details that make your event stand out. Here's to creating memories that last far beyond the final bite!
Hi, my name is Antony Hooton I am the founder of Flying Woks.