Event Catering: 10 Tips for Recovery if You Run Out of Food

PizzaThe unthinkable has happened. Your event isn't over and you've run out of food. What's an event planner to do?

Before we get to solutions, remember that an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure. Please refer to the 10 Tips for Avoiding Food Shortages shared last week. In addition to these steps, if it is a catered event:

  • Ascertain, in advance, what the caterer can obtain and prepare quickly.
  • Identify and reach out to delis, bakeries, pizzerias, sushi bars and restaurants that serve hearty fare. Find out what is available for pick-up or delivery on short notice.
  • Review these options with the caterer and the client.
  • Determine under what circumstances the client will foot the bill and when the caterer will have to pick up the tab (i.e. caterer error).
  • Ask the caterer to identify local chef assistants (to run to the store) or wait staff available on short notice.
  • Keep aprons, gloves and hair nets in your emergency supply kit.
  • Ensure that some members of your team have food and beverage training or serving experience .
  • Ask the caterer to alert you as soon as they realize they are running low.

When the unthinkable happens:

  1. Pause service.
  2. Take stock and determine how many more people need to be served.
  3. When I was in training to be a summer flight attendant, we were advised that, if we were ever short of meals, to ensure that all VIPs and children were served first. This is also a good tip for event planners.
  4. Deli SandwichAdvise your client immediately and get permission to obtain more food and bring in wait staff.

    In the scenario I shared last week when male guests were still hungry after finishing Danish open-faced sandwiches, I conferred with the food and beverage manager and they were quickly able to pull together large blocks of cheese, cold cuts, salad, bread, and rolls to set up a "build your own sandwich" bar. The dessert was European cakes that were hearty. No one went home hungry.
  5. slidersIf it's a meeting, ask the venue to bring out what you ordered for the break and consult with them and make another selection for break time.

    In the second scenario I shared last week, the client opted not to order more food as attendees had been advised a very light lunch would be served. We brought out what had been prepared for the snack before the cooking portion of the program. At snack time, we invited those who had missed the lunch to line up first. Portion sizes were reduced for the snack. Everyone had enough to eat as the final event of the afternoon involved cooking.
  6. Give the caterer a chance to come up with a solution.
  7. If they can't, contact a local deli, bakery, pizzeria, sushi bar, or local restaurant and place an order.

       Best Food to Pick up or Order On Short Notice

  • Sushi
  • SushiHearty Deli Sandwiches
  • Pizza
  • Chinese Food
  • Sliders or Gourmet Burgers
  • Jamaican Cuisine
  • Falafel Wraps
  • Italian Cuisine (from a gourmet bakery)
  1. If the buffet or food stations are manned, ask servers to reduce portion sizes.
  2. If client opted for an unmanned buffet or food stations and you're at a venue where servers are available, get authorization to pay for servers. Ask the venue if some servers can man the stations until service is over.
  3. If the venue has no servers, get experienced event staff to wash their hands and put on aprons, hair nets and gloves and man the stations. If there is quite a bit of time left before service is over, ask the caterer to call the staff they determined was available on short notice.

Photo Credits: cherrylet, yogmaavlxyz, acme

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