Meeting Planners Cheat Sheet: Food

Photo by cacaobug

Here’s the second in a series of four quick tip sheets for meeting and event professionals regarding food and beverage, and meeting room setups.  Here’s the first tip sheet: Meeting Planners Cheat Sheet: Beverages.

Most venues consider food and beverage as a significant revenue center. Often hotels give free meeting space based on the amount of money spent for food and beverage. So, the time to begin food and beverage negotiations is during the contract stage.

Breakfast Breads

Amount to serve:

  • 1 item (bagel, muffin or pastry) per person for 75% to 90% of attendees
    Example: For 100 people, order 75 to 90 items (most groups experience at least a 10% no-show factor for breakfast)


  • Bagels and muffins are usually the most popular. Minimize pastries, unless they look very appealing (i.e. prepared from scratch in-house).
  • Order breakfast breads conservatively as it is usually simple to add more cold food if needed.
  • If you’re doing a multiple day event, be sure to change things up a little each day.
  • Consider putting the buffet table outside the meeting room to limit attendees from returning to the buffet once the meeting begins. If you do this, you may need signage stating who the buffet is for to discourage those outside of your meeting from consuming.
  • If you have left over pastries, ask to put out for the AM break or have them delivered to your office or committee meeting.

Lunch/Dinner Buffet

Amount to serve:

  • 0.8-1.5 entrees per person
  • 1 beverage station per 75-100 guests
  • 1 double-sided food station per 75-100 guests


  • Estimate 50% beef, 40-45% chicken or fish and 5-10% vegetarian
  • One server for every 30-40 people for buffet style
  • Too get an accurate count of the number of attendees served, count empty place settings with folded napkins and subtract from total seats. Alternatively, you can count the number of main plates and subtract the number remaining after the function.

Passed Hors d’oeuvres

Amount to serve:

  • Before dinner – 4-6 per person or one of each kind per person
  • Reception only – 8-12 per person (passed and buffet combo)


  • To conserve on food, use butler passed hors d’oeuvres instead of buffet style
  • If you are serving hord d’oeuvres on a buffet, use small plates to help stretch consumption



  • If the hotel’s menu prices don’t meet your budget, work with your catering manager or chef to design a meal within your budget.
  • Ask if another group is having a lunch or dinner near your scheduled time. You may be able to choose the same menu and save the hotel time and money in preparing a different meal. If this is an option, schedule your meal just before the other in-house group’s time so that you don’t have to worry about the kitchen running out of food.

 What food and beverage tactics are you using to stretch your budget or improve service?

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  1. Sara Dyer says:

    We tend to hold the dessert from lunch and serve it as the afternoon break to save on costs. Most of our buffet lunches have enough variety that the attendees don’t miss dessert until we bring it out around 2 anyway.

    We’ve also moved from bottled water to pitchers of water in the room, and from cans of soda to pitchers of lemonade and iced tea. Saves money, less garbage, and eliminates the taking extra back to the room factor.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt. Jeff Hurt said: Meeting Planners Cheat Sheet: Food #eventprofs #pcma […]

  3. Saul Farber says:

    Great blog guys! Adding to my blogroll.

  4. Traci Browne says:

    Great tips and thanks for doing the math on both the food and beverage posts. This is definitely Evernote worthy.

    Can I make one request to all meeting planners out there? Please consider your diabetic attendees when ordering your catering options. The upside is, because a diabetic diet is low in processed foods and sugars, your attendees (non-diabetic included) are less likely to crash mid morning or mid afternoon.

    A great resource for meeting planners is

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding your tips. Love the idea of lemonade and iced tea in pitchers. Smart move.

      Glad you stopped by Saul. Thanks for letting us know you’re reading.

      Wow, Evernote worthy! Love that. Appreciate the tip about considering diabetic diets and the link. Now that’s Evernote worthy!

  5. Kristina says:

    Fantastic post with great information! So important to consider the vegetarians, and also important to consider the growing number of people who are finding out they are gluten-free. Breakfast is always full of breakfast breads, but have an alternative for those who can’t eat it (like me, haha).

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Great point. Glad you added it. What would you recommend for breakfast for people like you that can’t eat breakfast breads or pastries?

  6. Kristina says:

    Hi Jeff,

    If it’s a cold breakfast having fresh fruit available is always a nice option. A seasonal fruit salad is my favorite, but also an assortment of apples, oranges, grapes, bananas, etc. is also a great choice. Hardboiled eggs are also good too. The good thing about fruit and hard boiled eggs is that they also accommodate the health conscious in the group as well.

    If it’s a hot breakfast, definitely eggs and breakfast meats.

    There are also lots of gluten free breakfast bread options, although they can be costly. If a solid approximation of the number of gluten free attendees is known, it is nice to offer this option.


    1. For gluten-free fruit helps but we also need stable carbohydrates to sustain our energy through the event. The expensive gf products have too much sugar anyway, so better choices are a grain-free potato dish, sweet potato or white rice not contaminated by wheat, soy sauce, or prepared dressings or sauces (which tend to contain wheat fillers ). Simple is best and least expensive! Gf eaters will be ecstatic.

  7. At one of our meetings we asked the hotel to do the water and tea in pitchers and they were surprised at the request.

    I also want to stop the over use of water bottles, plus it makes the work area look less cluttered.

    When planning an F&B I make sure there are both kosher and vegetarian/vegan menu items.

  8. Cheryl Leske says:

    I request to have bagels split in half so people don’t have to eat a whole bagel. If the bagels are on the buffet and the toaster is separate, I make sure that the spreads are in both places.

  9. Rosemary Connors says:

    Thanks for the tips – yet another post to send around to my peeps who are not already on the Velvet Chainsaw Love Train. @Traci – thanks for the reminder about diabetics – will be checking that out.

    As someone who has been eating mini-danish at breakfast meetings since the early years of the Carter Administration, I have of late grown awfully fond of eating and serving the yogurt/granola/fruit option in the early hours, especially when there is a table to lean on (as opposed to the awkward balancing flimsy plates and bowls with foodstuff on one knee/coffee on floor resting precariously near foot only to be kicked over when speaker gets boring and I am squirmy, etc.). Yummy, filling – feeling good about self flows into feeling good about the meeting. Or so I hope.

    Stay tuned for my one woman show about running cocktail receptions called “Fork You: A Meeting Planner’s Guide to Cutlery”.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. We really appreciate it. Your suggestion of serving yogurt/granola/fruit is an exceptional one and one that many meeting attendees will appreciate it. We’ll be on the watch for your one woman show too.

  10. […] Meeting Planners Cheat Sheet: Food […]

  11. Sue says:

    I’m a geologist repurposed as planning menus for a small national NGO. For our annual training programs, our attendees love hot oatmeal. Healthy, cheap, good goo many types of diets and eaters.

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