A “Dinner by the Bite” format works well for events where the level of room activity makes it difficult to plan a specified dinner time. Some examples of this include silent auctions, networking events and exhibitions. There is no doubt that crowd management becomes easier when you take away the time constraints of a sit-down meal, but there are also plenty of challenges involved with the alternative. If you are weighing the options between each one, then you’ll want to take notes on the guidelines below.
A Served Meal is Less Expensive
This may come as a shock to some meeting planners, particularly those who have never priced a meal in this format. If your goal is to replace a served dinner with hors d'oeuvres, then you should provide 12 to 15 pieces per person.
In Midwest markets, hors d'oeuvres are typically priced between $3 and $5 each. A served dinner can range in price from $29 for a chicken breast entrée, to $45 for beef or seafood. When you multiply the average price of hors d'oeuvres by 12 pieces, the total price per person comes to around $48. The bottom line is, don’t choose “by the bite” as a cost saving option.
Standing Crowds Need Entertainment
The first 45 minutes of an event is easily filled with cocktails and networking, but at soon after this the attendees are going to grow restless. To maintain a positive vibe with a standing event, you want to roll out your entertainment in phases.
For example, you might have a musician playing during the reception, followed by a 15 minute welcome message. From there you can proceed to the auction or exhibition, which is of course accompanied by the food. A captivating event runs on anticipation, so you’ll want to save your best attractions for later. The goal is to strategically boost interest levels throughout the evening.
Discuss Food Strategy with Your Coordinator
One thing that you’ll likely encounter with a “by the bite” meal is a shortage of the most popular food items. It could be the beef tenderloin carving station that goes first, or perhaps the crowd will make a run on the mini crab cakes. Unfortunately you won’t know for sure until the event begins. However, one thing you can plan for is how you’ll respond if one or more of your selections disappear quickly.
Ultimately, the decision to replenish food will be driven by your budget, but communicating the plan with your site coordinator will help him or her respond swiftly if needed. Many hot foods take 45 minutes to actually appear in the room after you order them. With this in mind, everyone needs to be on the same page when quantities get low. If you wait too long, the kitchen’s best efforts will end up going to waste.
Be Responsible with Your Bar Service
Events that serve “Dinner by the Bite” have the potential to run a higher bar tab since the format is more sociable. This means you’ll inherit additional budget and safety concerns compared to a traditional served meal. Implementing a beverage ticket system is one way to cover both bases in a hospitable manner. With this you provide one or two tickets to each attendee during registration. The tickets can then be redeemed for a comp drink at the bar.
At the end of the event, the venue counts how many tickets were redeemed and charges you accordingly. This gives you more control over your beverage budget, and provides some deterrence against the over-consumption concerns associated with an open bar. You can still offer a cash bar service throughout the evening for those who want to purchase additional drinks. No matter which option you choose, it is a good policy to close the bar at least one hour before the event ends.
“Dinner by the Bite” offers several advantages for events where attendees are expected to browse through the room. That being said, the format requires a different approach in planning if you want to make the event memorable. The important thing is to think through the format from an attendee’s perspective, and discuss what last-minute options will be available with your site coordinator.
These two planning strategies alone will squash many fires before they start.