Lunch is meant to offer a convenience to attendees and to make sure that they will not wander away and disregard the afternoon sessions and meetings.
If a lunch is only intended to provide a refueling stop for attendees, the menu should not include an excess of heavy foods. If attendees eat too much heavy food they will probably become drowsy and inattentive later in the day. Heavy foods are greasy, fatty foods, and complex carbohydrate foods, such as rice or pasta dishes. These products take a long time to digest. Fats can sit in the stomach up to 12 hours or more. On the other hand, fruit and vegetables are digested more quickly. Complex carbohydrates are somewhere in between - they digest more rapidly than fats, but not as quickly as fruit and vegetables.
"Working" luncheons are often roll-in deli buffets that usually rely on white meats and salad greens. It serves the dieter, the man-handler and everyone else in between. Heavy items, such as potato salad, should be served on the side so attendees can take a small portion. Serving these heavy items on the side will tend to discourage attendees from consuming too much. Sixty-four percent of Americans are changing what they eat to healthier food, according to a survey from the International Food Information Council.
It is important to remember that attendees may be eating several luncheons during their stay at the hotel, so variety is essential. Most attendees are satisfied with traditional breakfast selections, but they normally seek a greater selection for lunches. Or else they may go to a restaurant or bar for lunch and be late getting back to the afternoon's business sessions. This may also throw off meal guarantees. Attendees could get side tracked and not come back at all. With working lunches, refueling, speed and keeping attendees on the property are the major objectives. The typical working luncheon is usually less than one hour long.
The "non-working" type of luncheon usually involves some sort of ceremony and is normally about one and one-half hours long. Many non-working luncheons have speakers, audiovisual displays, fashion shows, awards, announcements, and so forth that may overshadow other objectives.
When you have a ceremonial type of luncheon, the logistics are more complicated. Head tables and reserved tables must be noted correctly, name badges prepared, audiovisual equipment installed and ready to go, all lighting synchronized properly, and printed materials, if any, set at each attendee's place.
Buffet, preset and plated services are the typical service styles used for lunches. Speed is usually a major concern. Consequently, menus and service styles are usually selected with quickness and efficiency in mind.
I have attended many lunches at meetings and some people at my table invariably complain if it is not a hot lunch. While you want to serve a healthy lunch, you should have some fatty foods on the menu. Some attendees will be disappointed if they cannot have a few French fries or butter on their bread. You should see to it that alternatives are available to satisfy everyone.
Box lunches don’t have to be boring. If you are taking your group to an off-site location and providing a box lunch, look beyond the ubiquitous sandwich, piece of fruit and cookie combo and ask the chef for more creative offerings. You can be creative and have lunch served in Japanese Bento boxes, which are compartmentalized.
Be sure you choose foods that go well together and don’t make it some random assortment. Appearance is important, so pay attention to the color, texture and taste of the food that you select for your lunch menu.
You can theme lunches to create a distinctive atmosphere. I remember a Mardi Gras lunch I attended in Atlanta once. We could hear the music as we approached and everyone was literally dancing into the room with big smiles on their faces. In Seattle, a Purple Haze lunch themed on native son Jimi Hendrix was a hit – not only for the music, but for the themed menu which included a guitar-shaped dessert. Themes can focus on locations, seasons, upcoming holidays, etc. You can have a tail-gate lunch for any sport.
Think of some fun and quirky theme dishes that will get people talking and go with the theme of the event. I have a huge collection of creative ideas on my Pinterest boards.