Passed Hors d'oeuvres v. Staffed Food Stations

Food StationOur recent blog posts about strategies to avoid food shortages at corporate events and recovering when you're running out of food sparked a lot of discussion on LinkedIn. I had pointed out that events at which service consists of passed hors d'oeuvres were at the greatest risk of running out of food. (One never hears of food running out at sit-down dinners.)

So, I put out a question to the Event Planning and Event Management group and members weighed in on the benefits of passed hors d'oeuvres vs staffed food stations.

At first, most event planners who responded indicated that, like me, they prefer staffed food stations to ensure portion control and the widest possible distribution of food. Heather Bray, an Event Manager at Loan Market Association in the UK, provided an important reminder that canapes and hors d'oeuvres are intended to be an appetizer before a meal and not a replacement for a meal. This is a very valid point. Yet, to encourage networking and stretch budgets, some events continue to use the passed hors d'oeuvres format.

Joan Eisenstodt, Washington, DC-based veteran event planner, industry trainer and facilitator, took the discussion to a different level. She pointed out that it is difficult for attendees with mobility issues to get to food stations. Passed hors d'oeuvres are accessible for attendees with physical challenges. She also pointed out that with passed hors d'oeuvres, there isn't a need to cut short networking and discussions in order to access food.

When using passed hors d'oeuvres, there are a number of things to keep in mind:

  • Ensure that there are enough pieces per person.
    There doesn't seem to be a foolproof formula to ensure that you don't run out of food but a good place to start may be:
    - 3 - 4 pieces per person per hour plus 10% if hors d'oeuvres are used as an appetizer before dinner
    - 6 - 8 pieces per person per hour plus 10% if they are used as a dinner replacement.
  • Don't just serve bite sized hors d'oeuvres. Include some hearty options.
    Think more filling menu selections like sliders, mini chicken, beef and veggie kebabs, mini Beef Wellingtons, cocktail patties, satay, tempura, and sausage rolls.
  • Pre-plate some selections to control portions and ensure that guests don't take more than they can eat.
  • Ensure that there is enough staff to cover the group.
    1 server for every 25 guests should provide adequate coverage.
  • Brief the severs so that they can answer questions about what is in each item.
    A number of guests will have allergies and food sensitivities yet it is amazing how often servers have to go back to the kitchen to get this basic information.
  • Avoid common allergens.
    If the client insists on including them, plate in a way that ensures that there is no cross-contamination of allergens.
  • Spread the servers out to cover the room.
    Think a number 5 domino configuration....with servers starting in each corner and in the centre.
  • Stagger service and hold back some food for late arrivals.
    Serve it near the welcome table.
  • Provide a variety of seating options to accommodate guests with physical challenges.
  • Experiment with some casual seating options like sofas and comfortable chairs with coffee and end tables on which platters can be placed.
    This will make food accessible even to those guests who are less mobile.

While staffed food stations offer many benefits, perhaps a combination of service styles should be used for events which aim to promote mixing, mingling and networking. Have some food stations with the menu items and all ingredients clearly labelled. Pass some items. Serve others on labelled platters and place them on tables where guests are seated in casual configurations.

For more tips on preventing food shortages, also consult Banquet Service Ratios, Food for Thought: Reception Without Dinner? Feed 'Em Like You Mean It and A Variety of Service Style Options on Cvent Event Blog.

Photo Credit: Corporate Event Planning, Executive Oasis International

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