Like many event planners, I am a big fan of interactive food stations. I've been seeing them for years at events for arts organizations and at trade shows and conferences for event industry professionals. They're fun, they provide great opportunities to mix and mingle and the variety that they offer is unsurpassed by a standard buffet.
Given my enthusiasm, I was somewhat unprepared for the lukewarm response when I suggested it to some clients. In the end they opted for standard buffets. It was not surprising that someone started what has turned out to be a vibrant discussion about this very topic on LinkedIn.
Some of the concerns that have been raised in the discussion and by clients have highlighted:
- a perception that only light hors d'oeuvres will be served
- they're too much work, an event planner shared this experience on LinkedIn
"Several years ago (I was) taken to a highly touted restaurant. We walked by the meat case, picked out the slab of protein we wanted & brought it to a huge grill surrounded by seating where we cooked our own dinner. This is what an "interactive food experience" brings to my mind. And my thought then, as now, is that if I wanted to grill my own food I would have stayed home and invited some friends over."
- a perception that they're costly due to higher labor costs to man the stations
- the misconception that they are only appropriate for receptions and "stand-up" events
- concerns about long line-ups
Joan Eisenstodt raised some really important concerns about ensuring that options are provides so that food is accessible to guests using crutches, wheelchairs, electric scooters, walkers, or other mobility challenges.
While interactive food stations aren't new, they're new to some clients. Like any new idea, the benefits have to be clearly conveyed and sometimes, you can't just jump in with a brand-new idea. The client has to be introduced to it gradually.
So, what are some of the benefits of interactive food stations? With interactive food stations, it's possible to:
- cater to a variety of tastes and preferences. This is important in increasingly diverse communities.
- allergen free stations can be created to avoid cross-contamination and ensure safety.
- ensure that you don't run out of food at an event at which arrivals are staggered
- create vegan or vegetarian stations to give variety to attendees who often feel overlooked.
If interactive food stations are new to a client, you may want to introduce them gradually. Here are some suggestions:
- Add a few interactive stations to a buffet. Appetizers and dessert are great places to start.
- Offer some hearty fare to overcome the perception that there won't be enough food. For example, include a couple of carving stations and fish stations.
- To avoid line-ups, offer duplicates of popular stations. Cvent did this for the opening kaleidoscope event at the Corporate Meetings Summit earlier this year and completely eliminated line-ups
- Use table service for the appetizer and dessert and use the interactive stations for the main course.