Corporate events have many elements that contribute to their success. When should catering be one of those elements? Providing refreshments isn’t always strictly necessary, but it’s an aspect of a meeting or event that’s always welcomed by attendees. Whether it’s a boxed lunch, a plate of appetizers, or a beautiful buffet, good catering can take your event to the next level.
When Should a Corporate Event Include Catering?
For any kind of corporate event, it’s good practice to include some form of refreshment if the event runs longer than an hour or two. The main question isn’t so much whether to cater the event as it is what kind of food is appropriate to serve.
For instance, if you’re having your department come in for an early morning meeting, it’s courteous to provide items like coffee, orange juice, bagels, and pastries. But that doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a professional caterer. For informal in-house meetings, a large order from a local bakery or lunch spot can fit the bill.
But when you need food that’s professionally prepared, presented, and served, it’s better to go with a corporate caterer. Choosing a corporate event caterer has a number of advantages:
- You can expect expert food preparation and handling. Professionals know how to prepare, cook, and handle food hygienically, and they can help keep it hot or cold until a break in your event schedule.
- Dietary restrictions are accommodated. It’s much easier to make sure every guest’s needs are accommodated when you work with professional corporate event caterers. If they know in advance, most caterers can provide gluten-free, dairy-free, and allergen-free food.
- Corporate catering is cost-effective. Good catering takes up a chunk of your event budget, but it’s money well spent. And because caterers are experts at estimating how much food is needed for a given number of people, hiring a corporate event caterer ensures you don’t overspend and end up with way too many leftovers.
- Choose from style and theme options. Not sure what kind of food you need for an event? A caterer will be happy to provide you with options for dishes and menus. With their guidance, you can serve food that’s appropriate for the type of event you’re holding.
- Great food makes the best impression. Food that’s professionally prepared and beautifully presented never goes out of style. It makes your event and your company look good too.
Corporate Event Catering Ideas That Hit the Spot
1. Boxed Lunches
Boxed meals are perfect for informal corporate events, such as:
- Education and training sessions
- Team-building activities
- Working lunches
Choosing boxed meals means everyone gets a good-sized portion of food and ensures nobody’s left out. Because everything is pre-portioned, it can be difficult to accommodate food preferences. One alternative is to order a sandwich platter or other bulk-style catering option. With boxed meals, the best way to make sure everyone’s needs are met is to order in advance.
2. Buffets and Grazing Platters
Buffet-style food is perfect for a wide range of corporate event situations. By switching up the kinds of food you serve and the style of food presentation, a buffet can be suitable for many casual or semi-formal events.
For shorter or more casual daytime events, choose grazing platters that feature snack-style food like:
Evening buffet menus typically include hot foods and sides along with an assortment of grazing foods and desserts. Whatever you serve, make sure it’s easy for guests to help themselves. People should be able to serve themselves while holding onto their plates. If you have foods that need two hands, have waitstaff on hand to serve those.
Serving food buffet-style lets guests choose what to eat for themselves, without having to make a commitment to a certain dish weeks or months before the event. It can be challenging to hit on the right amount of food to serve. You need more than you might think because it’s not easy to predict individual food preferences. And it’s important to have a wide variety of foods, so you can accommodate preferences and restrictions as fully as possible. However, while you might need a slightly higher food budget, you don’t need as many waitstaff when you opt for a buffet-style catering menu.
3. Finger Foods
These foods are served by waitstaff who circulate among guests. They’re usually foods that can be picked up with the fingers and eaten in a single bite, without leaving behind crumbs, drips, and other mess.
Finger foods include all kinds of hors d’oeuvres, such as pastries, canapes, and mini desserts. This style of serving food is called “butler service.” It’s most appropriate for semi-formal evening events. It’s more formal than buffet-style grazing platters and tends to be a service style that showcases hot foods, as these can be served as soon as they’re ready, rather than left on a buffet table to get cold.
If you want to serve food butler-style but have a tight budget, one way to compromise is to serve less expensive dishes buffet style, then select a few more expensive hors d’oeuvres to be served butler-style to elevate the food experience.
It’s fine to serve only finger food at a corporate event; it’s not always required to serve a full buffet-style or sit-down meal. But if you only plan to serve finger food, it’s important to make sure you correctly estimate your food needs so there’s plenty for guests to eat. And, once an event hits the two- or three-hour mark, it’s important to provide more substantial fare, especially if you’re also serving alcohol.
4. Family-Style Catered Meals
Family-style meals are served to guests who are seated together and who help themselves from shared serving platters. These very casual meals are particularly suitable for smaller corporate events such as team-building and education activities, where the focus is on strengthening employee relationships.
The main drawback to this style of catering is that it can be difficult to accommodate certain kinds of food restrictions. If someone’s seriously allergic to a particular food, the only safe way to accommodate that person is to make sure it’s completely off the menu. Depending on the food, that can be an easy or a difficult matter to arrange.
5. Seated Dinners
The traditional sit-down dinner, or plated dinner, is popular for certain kinds of corporate events. Most commonly, seated dinners are reserved for awards ceremonies, high-end galas and fundraisers, and other formal occasions.
With the seated dinner, guests are usually served by waitstaff who are typically (but not always) provided by the caterer. It’s often a three-course meal, where guests have two or three different meal options. Guests receive their meal options along with their invitation and make their selections along with their RSVP. This means that when you opt for a seated dinner, you need to coordinate your guest list and catering choices so your menu options are planned in time for sending out invitations.
6. Food Trucks
Food trucks can be a great way to liven up casual events like employee picnics or product launches. Generally, this option means hiring several food trucks, so guests have food options to choose from. It can be a highly affordable way to go, since there’s no need for waitstaff, and lining up and ordering food contributes to a social atmosphere that can really enhance a casual event.
As with many catering options, the main downside to food trucks is that menu options tend to be limited. This may make it difficult for people with dietary restrictions. If you want to hire food trucks, choosing two or three trucks with different cuisine styles can help ensure there’s something for everyone.
Great Catering Makes a Good Corporate Event Even Better
When you’re pulling together all the elements of a corporate event, make sure that catering is one element where you don’t cut corners. When the food is especially good—or especially bad—guests tend to remember! If your food hits the right spot, they’ll remember your event for all the right reasons.