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• Organizing your management team

• Ins and outs of location selection

• Organizing your responsibilities

• Working with your venue's event planner



The CM
(Catering Manager)

 Working with your Catering Manager

The relationship you have with your CM (Catering Manager) is critical. They have the ability to cut prices and give a freebie here and there. You don’t want to abuse your relationship but you want to know that you can get a favor if you need it. Don't underestimate the value of your business. They really need you but know your limits. Realize that you may win the battle but if you do so in an overly thoughtless or aggressive manner it could jeopardize your relationship and make the CM tougher when you need a favor.

The best help you can get in negotiations is a very detailed contract. The more everything is spelled out the fewer items you will have to negotiate over in the middle of the event. So you want to share as many of your event details as appropriate — goals and objectives, programming, timing, number of guests (approximate if you're not sure of exact numbers), alternative venue arrangements, any specific menu requests, your participants' likes and dislikes, and so on.

Set an appointment with the CM, letting them know beforehand what you expect to discuss so the CM is also prepared. Let the CM know you would like to tour the meeting rooms and discuss sample menu ideas. If you have special needs or food requests (vegetarian, etc.) let them know so they will have suggestions ready for you. The basic idea is that you maximize time when everyone's prepared.

Make sure that you come to your first meeting prepared and knowing your budget and limitations. The CM obviously wants to sell you as much as possible. Don't waste their time exploring wonderfully creative ideas when your purse strings don't stretch that far.

Avoid disclosing your budget too early in the discussions. Give the CM ballpark figures to work with rather than specific amounts. If you reveal a specific amount, then that's what the CM will quote you. If you just give a budgetary range, then you could get a quote for less. However, don't waste time looking at caviar if you only have a hamburger budget.

Special Food Items: As mentioned, you should email ahead about food issues. At the meeting you should discuss:

·         Options for participants with special dietary needs, such as low-fat, low-salt, vegan, vegetarian, and kosher. You should also query your people about allergies. There are some items like peanuts that relate to a lot of allergies so you should know what has to be avoided.

·         Walk through the whole itinerary with the CM. Discuss in detail what meals are needed on which days, whether your various meals necessitate separate rooms, whether you want plated or buffet-style food service, where you want to have the refreshment breaks (in or out of the meeting room), and what extras you may need for your special people such as corporate heads or speaker/entertainer (a raised platform and/or lectern).

·         Discuss complete meeting package prices if the hotel does them. Many facilities offer an all-inclusive package to help the meeting planner save money and budget for the event. A typical package may include the room rental, basic refreshment breaks, and minimally priced meals. Know exactly what is and isn't included in the price.

·         Discuss your audiovisual needs in detail so there is no embarrassment when the big event comes. Test the equipment if possible.

·         The bottom line is you want to avoid any hidden surprises. For example, are soft drinks included in your refreshment breaks or is that an extra? A great question to ask is, "What specifically is included in that price?" Verify if tax and gratuity are included. Is the service charge or gratuity taxed?

·         Ask about any conflicting events being held at the same time as your event, and find out if the hotel will be renovating at the same time as your event.

The importance of food:

You have to realize the significant role the food and beverage arrangement can make to the success of your event. Absolutely everyone will talk about it. Together with the CM, plan well-balanced, nutritional menus that offer variety and are visually appealing. Sample the food if possible so you don’t get ridiculed later. Also remember that assuming the food is tasteful people will eat with their eyes. You want the presentation to look good.

·         Consider doing a food tasting beforehand, and, if you serve wine, definitely sample the CM's recommendations for both red and white wines. Match the wine to the menu. If you feel intimidated at the prospect of choosing a wine, ask the CM for help.

·         Avoid choosing a standard set menu and then asking for it at a lower price. This won't make you popular. Instead, ask the CM to develop a similar menu at a reduced cost. It's best to give the chef an inclusive, per person budget and ask him to create a menu, as you're more likely to get better food and more creative options.

·         Ask to see a sample refreshment break station setup. Look for creativity and design. Do they use disposable or real crockery? Is there a selection of herbal as well as regular teas? Is soymilk available as a dairy alternative?

·         Find out if the foods served are purchased fresh, or whether they are canned or frozen. Also inquire if they have an in-house bakery.

·         Ask about the portion sizes of each meal.


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