As the crème de la crème of events, a black tie affair is lavish and unforgettable. As monumental as the high fashion and event itself is what’s on the menu.
Catering to a crowd like this means serving only the most sophisticated dishes that will really make guests say wow. If you have a black tie event on the horizon, check out these 13 tips for caterers and F&B managers.
Start with a Champagne Reception
At a bigger gathering, guests may not necessarily be well-acquainted. Caterers can break the ice by hosting a Champagne reception, which UK entertainment company The Talent says “is a great way for people to mingle and chat before entering the main venue.” Caterers may opt to set up a drink station or personally pour and serve drinks themselves.
Know the Different Cultural Serving Styles
After the food is cooked, plated and ready to be served, presentation may differ depending on the type of event and setting. Cultural factors may also come into play, says WebstaurantStore. These are some different styles for servers to be aware of:
- English — This means of serving “features a waiter or waitress individually serving each guest from a large platter, starting with the host.”
- Russian — The emphasis should be on food presentation, making dishes look as appealing as possible. Make sure to cut and serve the food in front of diners.
- French — You should also prepare the food in front of diners using a rechaud (a type of hot plate) and a gueridon (a French cart).
- American — You’re probably most familiar with this style, where food is ordered, prepared elsewhere and then served to the customer. “Servers should use descriptive adjectives when explaining menu items to patrons, and…anticipate when to bring items to the table before they are requested,” says WebstaurantStore.
Stay Congruent with the Theme
Allison Beck at The Daily Meal recommends that F&B managers check in with event organizers about whether the event will be themed. Beck spoke to Berghoff Catering & Restaurant Group’s Megan Morrison, who says to “think about what kind of event you want to host and plan your menu around that.”
Flexibility Is a Must
Although it’s advisable for caterers to stick to a theme and prepare their menus accordingly, be aware that in some instances changes must be made.
Jeff Kear at event management company Planning Pod says that sometimes means deviating from a standard menu because of food allergies or for other reasons. To best prepare for these last-minute changes, have a backup menu or two ready to go.
Be Aware That Not All Guests Can Eat Certain Foods
On the note of food allergies and flexibility, anticipate that some people may not be able to eat certain foods. Even if the host has asked guests to note dietary needs on the RSVP, it’s best to be thorough here.
The University of Colorado Colorado Springs suggests that an F&B manager double-check to see whether they’ve missed any guests who have special dietary needs. They can then relay that information to the catering team before the food is prepared.
The Food Can Be Understated, But It Still Must Be High-Quality
As a caterer, you want to serve the best food possible, but your dishes don’t always necessarily have to be the star of the show. Ian Lauth at auction house Winspire suggests caterers determine the “focus of the event” early on.
“If the meal is the focal point of the fundraiser, the dinner should reflect your goals and expectations,” Lauth writes. “If the main attraction is the auction, live entertainment or Las Vegas style games, there is less pressure to pull off the perfect menu.”
Keep Track of Attendance
It’s disheartening to work tirelessly on a meal only to have to throw much of it away because fewer guests showed up than expected. This also contributes to food waste, a growing problem.
To avoid tossing out perfectly good food, Connecticut wedding venue The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station recommends F&B managers speak to the event organizers to get an attendance number. Check in the day before the event or the day of the event itself to make sure attendance hasn’t changed. Be sure to make any necessary accommodations if it has.
The Event Determines Whether Alcohol Should Be Served
Depending on the theme and the time of the event, it’s not always proper to include alcohol on the menu, says Trumps Catering in Athens, Georgia. “Typically a party taking place late morning or early afternoon doesn’t require a full liquor bar,” the company explains. Even less formal drinks may be served differently at a black tie gala. For example, “a formal affair would require that beer be poured into glasses.”
When Choosing Portion Sizes, It’s Better to Go Bigger Than Smaller
Chef Heston Blumenthal tells Londonlaunch that caterers shouldn’t purposefully shrink portion sizes. “Generosity is massively important,” he says. “As a guest, you don’t want to feel that your hosts are being mean with their ingredients or portion sizes.”
Timing Is Everything
It really is important that the caterers, chefs, servers, F&B managers and other staff work seamlessly together. Otherwise, there could be trouble.
“The worst thing that can happen is having people waiting around hungry or jamming into a bottlenecked space to get in line for a buffet,” says Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar in Las Vegas. The restaurant recommends making “a timetable for service — cocktail hour and appetizers, dinner service, dessert service, coffee and tea — leaving about an hour for each section.”
Invest in Quality Serviceware
If this is your first black tie event, you may want to upgrade your serviceware, says Utah bed and breakfast 5th East Hall. “Having professional, coordinating serviceware helps highlight what you are serving as well as overall creating a professional buffet table display,” the B&B says.
“Proper serviceware is also helpful to maintain proper temperature controls (such as … a hot water dispenser for hot cocoa).” Rosseto produces such quality serving solutions for caterers.
Look for Opportunities to Develop Quality Partnerships
As John Cohen at Total Party Planner says: “Customers aren’t the only thing you should be focusing on when it comes to building your business.”
When catering galas, museum events, gallery openings, political rallies or other black tie events, F&B managers should look for opportunities to form working partnerships that can be mutually beneficial.
“Partners that could be good for your business may include vineyards, breweries, museums, bakeries, botanical gardens, tourist attractions,” Cohen writes.
Avoid Messy Dishes
When planning the menu, avoid foods that may dribble or easily stain.
At a black tie event, guests are dressed their very best. You don’t want anyone to accidentally stain their clothing as they eat. To prevent that, Rachel Kirkpatrick at Event Marketer says caterers should serve “one-bite hors d’oeuvres” because these are “no mess, no fuss.”