A good convention always comprises a good meal. This rule may be obvious but breaking it caused a lot of damage. To allow the catering to give its best, we must allow it to do so. Here’s how to:
Prior to deciding what to serve, it will be important to verify the infrastructures and the spaces dedicated to the catering, this will allow us to avoid inconveniences and to make a very bad impression on our guests.
Let’s assume we are organizing a one day meeting with about 200 guests. We usually have three moments related to food: the welcoming in the morning and the parting in the afternoon, the lunch break and the coffee breaks. Possibly the dinner.
The welcoming, the coffee breaks and the parting are usually hosted in the foyer or in a hall in close proximity to where the meeting is held. This room ideally measures about 120 sqm, plus an office room of about 40 sqm. The ideal office room has a reserved access, a toilet for the staff and, most importantly, a good power supply (about 30 kw). To make a comparison, a normal flat usually has a supply of only 3 kw. The electric power is used to produce heat (induction plates, ovens, plate warmers, etc.) because using the old portable gas cookers is now prohibited by law and very dangerous.
For a meeting, we keep assuming 200 guests, that offers a placé lunch (a lunch sitting at the table) we need a hall or a foyer of about 250 sqm, with a technical room of about 70 sqm and an power supply of 50 kw in five poles. These numbers are to be added to the ones already considered in case we decide to use different spaces to give variety to the day. For example: the morning welcome coffee in the entrance, coffee break in the foyer close to the meeting hall, buffet lunch on the terrace, aperitif in the garden and dinner served in the restaurant hall.
In this case and with this kind of service you will need a definitely superior catering space, even bigger than the meeting hall itself. Unless resorting to some incredible arrangements that will almost certainly affect the quality of your service.
Summarizing, you will need about: 0.8 smq per guest for a buffet service, 1.2 sqm per guest for a placé service, 1.5 sqm per guest for a placé lunch or dinner with a buffet service.
To provide the service with the due courtesy and professionalism, even the waiting staff needs to be proportioned with the dimensions of the meeting. For the coffee service you will need 1 waiter/waitress every 20 people; for a buffet lunch 1 waiter/waitress every 14/16 guests and for a placé dinner at least 1 waiter/waitress every 12/14 guests. In addition, every room will have to have a maitre. Kitchen staff: cooks, 1 every 30/35 guests; unspecific employees (dishwashers, etc.), about 1 every 50/60 guests.
It’s interesting to stress that a buffet lunch or dinner requires roughly about the same number of waiting staff members a served meal does; this goes against the common belief that a buffet service will dramatically cut the expenses on staff. Sometimes a buffet may even end up costing more. This is because the food needs served anyway, because of the large numbers of stations that need to be overseen and because the amount of wastes will unavoidably be larger. The only saving, and a very small one, in case of a standing lunch is that it won’t be necessary to bring tables and chairs on site: few euros per person. To be more precise and provide a few examples: 3 € per person for a Thonet chair; 7 € for a kartell Marie chair; 12 € for a Phantom chair.
And since we are on the topic of prices, I will now provide an estimate of the prices that would be required to organize a meeting for 200 people today, May 2009, in Milan – the most expensive city in Italy.
Per person, approximately: welcome coffee 7 €; coffee breaks 6 €; snack buffet lunch 35/40 €; sitting lunch 45 €; buffet dinner 55 €; sitting dinner 65/70 € (not counting the costs for the optional aperitif).
These are the basic costs to which are to be added the optional ones: tensostructures to be used as office rooms, permits and clearances costs, transportations, mounting and dismantling of the kitchen if they are not available on site. The prices provided in my estimate are based on a meeting with 200 guests.
In the banqueting industry there are some initial costs, necessary to set the whole process in motion; for this reason, the unit costs for a meeting of about 100 people will be higher than the ones I present. The costs will lower for meetings of 200/300 guests. For bigger meetings the costs will become more stable.