With You All the Way

by Sharron Campbell,

Certified Meeting Professional, 30 years experience

Planning Food & Beverage Functions - Guidelines A-Z 

First step, set up an F&B expense worksheet -

 budget chalkboard-hand with chalk

Setting up an Excel worksheet that will automatically calculate the total cost of each expense category relevant to your food and beverage function will prove to be one of the greatest timesaving and cost management tools you will use.  Once you have menus and price quotes in hand from various caterers, you can enter the different variables into the spreadsheet to compare prices, choose menu items, determine the right quantities to order, and monitor TOTAL cost.  As you enter prices and quantities, you will quickly see where you need to make changes to stay within your budget.  You can play with the items in your worksheet by entering, for example, a higher quantity of one item that is less expensive and a reduced quantity of another item that is more expensive.  You will quickly see how your changes will affect the bottom line.  Just be sure any new items you enter are included above the appropriate formula line so they will be included in the calculations.  There is a simple way to check your formulas in an Excel spreadsheet.  Ctrl~ will show the formulas, and Ctrl~ again will take you back where you were. 

The F&B expense worksheet will also serve as an invaluable tool to help with adjusting and forecasting cost if attendance projections increase or decrease or if additional equipment needs to be ordered, and so on.  Formulas for calculating all expenses relative to the function, including taxes and gratuities, labor and equipment should be included. 

Next step, a two-step process to create checklist and timeline

1)    Create a complete checklist that includes every task you can think of relative to your catered food and beverage function then combine tasks into separate categories that you can work more efficiently or assign by category to another team or person to handle independently.   

2)    Using the checklist as a guideline, create a timeline that sets start and completion dates for each category.  The checklist and time line work hand-in-hand, and both will remain a work in progress throughout the planning stages as situations change for your meal functions. If you are diligent about monitoring both of them weekly or even daily, they will prove to be invaluable tools to keep you on track and on time.

Next step, F&B function specifications -
The checklist and timeline will prepare you to create a realistic set of preliminary function specifications before initiating inquiries to the various caterers on your list. Forward these specifications as a follow-up after your first call or email inquiry so there can be no question about your needs.  This will prove to be a real time saver by eliminating many questions and unnecessary phone calls or emails! To set the tone for open and effective communications, your specs should be presented to your catering contacts in the beginning as a guideline rather than rigid requirements.  As the process moves forward, you will adjust the specs to incorporate unique circumstances that you will undoubtedly discover when working with caterers in different areas and venues.
 Chafing Dish-Outdoor BBQ

If you are planning an event with multiple food and beverage functions, outline all functions in the same set of specs.  A "NOTES" section should be included for items you wish to have clarified by the caterer or areas of your program that you need to emphasize.  This will help the caterer be better prepared for your follow-up discussion and will also flag any area in your specs that could be problematic.  

Making inquiries to caterers -
When the function specifications have been drafted and the F&B expense matrix formatted, you will be ready to make initial inquiries to caterers.  Many venues such as hotels or banquet halls will require that you work with their in-house caterer, which simplifies matters to some extent but allows less flexibility.  However, if you book a function with a free-standing venue such as an outdoor garden, historic home, or an art museum, your next step will be finding the caterer who can provide the food and beverage services most appropriate for your type of group and function.  For more info, go to links below ...

The sample documents provided by Planning Helper are incomplete and meant for use as guidelines to get you started on creating your own that will address the unique needs of your meeting, event or function. 
Food & Beverage Tools for checklist, expense worksheet, function specifications, more ... 
 bluebullet More about Choosing Your Caterer
 bluebullet More Catering Details about what to expect and what will be expected of you
 bluebullet About the Catering Contract and the Banquet Event Order
 bluebullet Back to F&B Catering Overview
 bluebullet Go to Set-Up Guidelines for related info re seating, space requirements per person, diagrams ...
 bluebullet View all Planning Helper Topics about meetings, events and social functions