Fish, chicken or beef – too many options!

In the first part of our three-part blog series on gala planning pitfalls, we covered contract negotiations and the importance of knowing exactly what is part of your contract versus what would be considered additional fees. We also discussed tips on how to manage your time during event week and make sure you have ample volunteers. In part two, we will be talking about catering and audio-visual (AV) as these elements can really make or break your event if they are not planned well.

  • The first area we will tackle here is catering – everyone loves a good meal!
    • Guests know your event is a fundraiser – while you probably shouldn’t serve mac and cheese as the main meal at a $150/ticketed event, you don’t need to offer a surf and turf. The meal you pick can make or break your bottom line. Be mindful of the cost inclusive of gratuity and tax. Whether it is $75/person or $110/person, you want to make sure the revenue you receive from your tickets more than covers the cost of your meal.
    • When it comes to catering, especially if you need to be budget-conscious, it is best to go simple. You cannot please everyone but you can always try to find something that MOST everyone will enjoy. Planning too many little additional details when it comes to food can really add costs and time staff must spend on it in the lead-up to your event. One example is meal choices – there are ways to offer your guests options without spending hours trying to track known and unknown guests down to figure out if they would like chicken, beef, or a special meal. We recommend going with a duet plate that can offer your guests the option of chicken with beef or seafood and 2 sides. The only additional option should be a meal that hits most, if not all, of the dietary restrictions. Working with your catering company to streamline your event order will make things run smoother on event day and leave less room for issues. Your guests will thank you and enjoy themselves even more!
    • When choosing your meal, think through what it looks like when it comes out – if you have 1,000+ people at an event, is the chef and venue able to seamlessly get this meal out while also ensuring it tastes great? Are you picking items that a large portion of the attendees may not like? We find blue cheese and sometimes mushrooms can be loved or hated! We tend to steer clear of food with those items on it. Your venue contact will have recommendations – they know what they do well. At our firm, we went with one “go-to” meal at a popular venue because their chef loved it. It wasn’t what we anticipated choosing, but guests loved it and it was a huge people-pleaser. Lean on the person helping you plan – they know what works and more importantly, what does not.
    • Lastly, if you go with a meal choice, be VERY clear about the deadline for submitting the choice, and if you miss it what meal will be served. Some venues add on aggressive fees for all last-minute meal changes and, as event planners, we don’t blame them. If you are burning through your event and venue staff trying to offer multiple options, it will ultimately cost you extra fees and human capital. One rule of thumb – if the event is less than 100 people, meal choices are more manageable. Over 100 – stick to a duet or single meal.
  • The last area we will tackle in this blog is audio visual: I think we can all agree that seamless AV planning is essential and helps set the mood for the event. 
    • Before you meet with AV it can be helpful to have a few key pieces of your program figured out. Visualize what you want your program to look like, who your speakers are, and how many speakers you will have. Consider how many people will be on stage at one time, if you want to show a video or have slides, etc… Knowing the answers to some of those questions will be helpful when meeting with AV so they can help you decide what equipment might be necessary for your event. This information will help save time in the planning process. Consider meeting with your speakers prior to meeting with AV to finalize details so you have as much information as possible.
    • Having a good understanding of your venue and what they can offer you to help offset the budget can be key. Sometimes venues already have in-house staging, screens, microphones, sound systems, and more. It is good to compare pricing between the venue and another AV company to see what will fit your budget. You can piece things together between two or more companies to help you save. If you are interested in using an AV company that is not on the venue’s preferred list, be sure to check with your venue to see if you are required to use their preferred AV company or if there are additional fees to bring in another company. It is common for your venue to charge to have a person onsite to help the outside AV company get around the venue and make sure they know how to properly access the ballroom, electricity, and more.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially if you don’t know what something is. Most people have no clue what the different pieces of equipment are and what they are used for. It is good to ask questions to verify that everything listed is important to have and if there is anything you can get by without assuming it won’t sacrifice the quality of the program.
    • Finally, be sure to set up a rehearsal that includes your speakers on event day to make sure everything is working the way it should be and everyone is on the same page. This will help speakers feel comfortable with the room and how the microphone works. It will also give you, your speakers, and your AV team more insight into what is to come so there are few surprises during your program.

Paying attention to all the little details regarding catering and audio-visual will go a long way on event day ensuring your guests have the best experience. Keep an eye out for our next blog of this series where we cover an important deadline idea and budgets.

-Brenna Wood, Event Director

Click here to read Part 1 – Gala Planning Pitfalls: Just Sign The Contract! Or Not…