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How to Host a Conference/Catering
Well-planned meals and snacks are critical to a successful conference. Consult with your venue food services, or with a local caterer, determine what is needed, and what it will cost. Let food services or the caterer do the work.
Be sure to negotiate food services in such a way that you are not liable for food costs beyond what you can cover through conference fees. Usually food planners will allow up to 10% more people than you contract for (e.g., for late registrations), but be sure this is clear up front.
To reduce costs, seek sponsors for specific meals where possible. Some larger vendors are happy to get the publicity that comes from sponsoring a breakfast, lunch, reception, or even a dinner. In any case, it doesn't hurt to ask. If the sponsor desires it, let the sponsor choose the caterer and take care of the arrangements.
For small conferences, many if not most of the meals can be left up to the attendees. Be sure to provide a good list of local eateries. Include information about which are within walking distance, which are not, and how to get to those that are not.
Strategically scheduled snack breaks, with drinks and fruit or cookies, can add a touch of class to your conference. These don't usually cost too much, and can be covered by registration fees. Don't skimp on the time allotted for breaks, since attendees will want to network and will take the time anyway. Be sure to take care of all the caffine junkies in the crowd. If possible, try and arrange for a pre event tasting. You don't want people remembering your event for the bad coffee or sandwiches.
Be sure to allow for special dietary considerations. Always offer some vegetarian options for your meals.