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Creating the perfect charity event menu

Any charity event organiser can simply pick up the bill for standard fare at an event, but if you really want to make an impression, personal touches matter and that’s why when hosting a charity event the menu should speak volumes about your charity and brand.

Every charity is different, and will have different styles and different ideas of what a perfect event should involve. Food, and therefore the menu is at the very heart of this and will be the central focus.  It will be what starts conversations and be one of the main things people will remember when post event evaluations take place. So take time to know your guests and create something bespoke for them.

Even  if it is a daytime seminar, volunteer or staff training event the food can make an important impact. In all cases, first, determine what you want to achieve.  Say you are organising a fundraising lunch or dinner, do you want to provide your existing supporters or potential donors  with a heavy 3-course meal or a light bite menu?

Of course cost comes into it, and you will know how best to price the occasion to keep within your budget, which no doubt will incorporate some realistic estimates of returns from the occasion.

Here are some tips for creating the perfect charity event menu once preliminary decisions have been made:

Know your guests

Find out how many guest are attending the event as this will help to determine the amount of food that will be required which is crucial. Of course, you don't want to over order because you haven't got your final numbers right.   However, you never want to have too little!  It is important to understand the expectations: is a full 3-course meal expected or will it be a selection of light snacks coupled with a drink-focused reception?

Secondly, what is the profile of guests attending the event? Consider their professional level, location, age, ethnic background and how regularly they attend these type of events. By taking all of these considerations into account you will be in a much better position to have a menu that will be most suitable for each particular event.

Find out preferences

Once you have determined the profile of the guests you are catering for, understand it. At the same time, you need to think about the character or image of your charity. This will help you to decide what type of menu you will offer.

Attendees who have come to support a charity providing care for the elderly or promoting a healthy lifestyle might not want a burger or a rich food like venison or duck! Think things through to rule out certain foods and then do some research to ascertain what guests will enjoy the most.  It goes without saying that you should make provision for those with special dietary requirements, but see more about this below. 

Choice of dishes

Offering choice at the actual event may not be practical in terms of budget at a formal lunch or dinner, but it should be when there is a buffet or food being taken round by venue staff.  Ensure that you are able offer choices to suit all. Offer at least two starters, mains and desserts.

Also ensure that the food suits the occasion, for example, for seminars, training sessions and lunchtime meetings to sell a project to key donors, keep the menu light with "brain food". For chewing over funding targets and other figures maybe coffee and comfort food, and for treating your volunteers and staff for a job well done something more indulgent!

If it's a buffet of hors d'oeuvres, plan a menu of several different items with a total of four to ten pieces per person. Choose a variety of dishes that will suit all. Have some savoury, sweet, rich, light, hot and cold items.

Be seasonal

If you want to make an impression, ensure that you are aware of food trends and seasonal items. This will make your menu pop! Fresh fruits and vegetables will always have a better flavour and colour when they are in season so make sure these are incorporated into your menu. It will also help, as at certain times of the year certain foods are more easily available than others, so do bear this in mind.

Another consideration when choosing your menu is to incorporate the time of year. For example, if it’s Christmas, you should be focusing on warmer, festive food.

Timing of the food

Timing is essential. The time of a meal can be the best guide to creating the perfect menu.

If you are serving lunch, you might want to keep the food quite light and have lighter  drinks too. In contrast if the event is in the evening for dinner it might be more appropriate to offer heavier courses with a bar and a choice of white or red wine, or indeed the opportunity of both.  Think about what’s most appropriate at the time the event is being held.

Ask around

Discuss the menu with people who have attended such events of yours before or otherwise just supporters who you know would take a friendly interest.  Run possible options by them just so you know you are on the same lines.

Before any event, you have to find out if any of your guests have any dietary requirements or preferences so they can be addressed in the menu. You should be able to provide vegetarian, gluten free or other options. With healthy eating becoming increasingly important there should also be an option of lower calorie substitutes such as steamed vegetables and salad as a side dish.

Setting up the event

Finally, once the food has been considered and agreed make sure the venue is also suitable. Choose an appropriate room and layout which support your objective. If you are serving a formal dinner, ensure that there are enough tables, glasses, cutlery, candles etc and that they are of a suitable standard.

Charity events can be extremely preference based, so be sure that you follow the above advice when it comes to organising the menu.  Once the menu is signed off talk to the venue to ensure there are no surprises on the night.

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Manor By The Lake's Dale Nelson - once you have determined the profile of the guests you are catering for, understand it.