Catering for a 600 pax corporate event – Numbers, Challenges and Lessons Learnt

Catering for a 600 pax corporate event – Numbers, Challenges and Lessons Learnt
The catering was for an annual charity event for a large bank. It came about after we flawlessly executed a tea time finger food style catering for their 200 back office staff a few months prior. But a highly anticipated cocktail dinner for 600 middle to senior management staff is a completely different story.

Menu planning – after a few rounds of modifications, we settled on a total of 16 gourmet canape including 3 bowl foods (beef bourguignon on mashed potato; teriyaki salmon on cold noodles), 5 cold canapé (tuna tartare on sesame cone; gazpacho shrimp shooter), 5 hot canapé (wagyu beef on sweet potato chip, seared scallop pea puree on china spoon) and 3 dessert (banoffee tart, chocolate truffle with gold leaf).

Quantities – as a rule of thumb for cocktail dinner parties, guests on average consume 8pcs of canape for first hour then halving the number for each following hour. So for this 3-hour event, we estimated 14pcs per person. With 600 pax, this translated into 8,400 pcs of canape.

Beverage – free flow wine, sparkling & still water, juice, soft drinks. We were advised to limit the flow of alcohol during the first half of the event when speeches, performances and awards took place so we estimated about 1,400 glasses of wine for the event, equivalent to 180 bottles.

Equipment – prior to this event our largest party of this particular format was 300 pax so a lot of the chinaware, glassware we needed to purchase. We would end up bringing 1,000 wine glasses, 800 high balls, 800 small china plates and similar number of shooter glasses, china spoons and small forks.

Kitchen equipment – venue had limited facilities and we had to engage a supplier to provide warming cabinets, heat lamps and extra refrigeration.

Staffing – given the size of the event, it had been agreed that there were to be 2 food stations and 2 beverage stations at separate ends of the venue hall. 40% of the food will be displayed on the food stations and the rest 60% to be passed around. Passing around over 5,000pcs of canape is no simple task. Not including kitchen staff, we brought in 30 wait staff to look after service on the floor.

All of the above were set and done. Me and my team were raring to go. Then came the day of the event.

Problem 1: We wanted to move all glassware, chinaware & table decorations there early but everyone from the production house to the furniture delivery to the kitchen equipment we rented were all arriving at around the same time and there’s only 1, yes ONE, service lift. So our team wasted a good hour queuing in line.

Lesson learned – where possible for large scale events, move equipment to venue the day or the night before. This would take a lot of the stress out from fighting for lift space and prevent possible delays as the event unfolds.

Problem 2: storage area reserved for catering was partly occupied with equipment from the production house. It was a passageway connecting the main hall and kitchen and with these additional equipment narrowing the passageway, it caused major inconvenience for our wait staff and kitchen team
throughout the event.

Lesson learned – extremely important to communicate back of house arrangements to captains and kitchen teams as these can majorly impact the performance on the floor.

Problem 3: There were too many finishing touches required for the majority of the 16 types of canape.

With limited kitchen space and over 8,000pcs of canape to be served, service wasn’t the smoothest and certain types of food came out of the kitchen slower than others. It was evident when one of the guests mentioned “this is my sixth tandoori chicken skewer, it’s absolutely delicious but I am not seeing much of anything else left on the table!”

Lesson learned – the split between pass around and canape on the table wasn’t quite right. With this number of guests it should have been 70% on table and 30% pass around. We initially suggested 3 food stations but the production house had other ideas so we compromised on the two. With the benefit of hindsight, we needed to stand our ground.

Problem 4: there was a lack of guidance for a number of wait staff resulting in a stark contrast with some busting their lungs and others seemingly wandering around unsure of what to do.

Lesson learned – two areas we have since worked on – ensuring that for every 6 staff, there should be 1 captain with briefings on run-down and important reminders to be done at least 30mins prior to start; encourage communication between captains and giving them flexibility to redirect team members to assist other teams.

Problem 5: we didn’t bring enough glassware and we didn’t hire dish washing staff, which meant we had to move a few of front of house staff to cleaning glasses, again impacting the flow of pass around services.

Lesson learned – the usual practice for cocktail parties was 3 pcs of glassware per guest (across wine glass and high ball glass). We had planned for this number but with the above scale and format of catering where guests would often grab a glass, put it down to listen to a speech/ watch a performance, then walk to the bar counter to grab another glass, we needed adequate buffer on top of the 3pcs on glassware.

Being a caterer can be extremely satisfying if all the preparation before each & every single event is done properly. But we must always prepare and plan for that one little misstep or miscalculation that can potentially generate a chain reaction disrupting quality of the catering service for rest of the event and impacting overall customers’ experience.

Successfully executing a large scale high end corporate catering service is no mean feat. zebratasty is one of the few professional caterers in Hong Kong with the right experience and expertise to do just that.