The right food at a business event can make the difference between focused, appreciative, alert participants and angry, bloated, and drowsy ones.
Food and drink are intrinsic to the levels of well being and comfort of your delegates. Assuring their satisfaction is not just good manners, it’s good business. When choosing the refreshments for a meeting or conference, there are many factors to consider ranging from personal nutritional preferences to allergies and religious restrictions. Other factors include how messy a dish is and the time and dexterity required to consume it. Also, certain foods tend to induce sleep more readily than others.
Remember: Eat, Drink & Be Happy!
- Ease of consumption – Avoid messy and difficult to eat foods.
- Audience – Be sensitive to your guests and their special needs.
- Timing – When you serve can dictate what you serve.
- Selection – Make sure you offer your guests a variety of menu options.
The less effort your guests must put into eating, the more they can focus on the conversation or the business at hand, avoid foods that are hard to chew or especially sticky. When foods splash, splatter, and drip on shirts, blouses, and laps, diners get annoyed, embarrassed, and stained. Not only will this make them unhappy, it will also make them less presentable. No one wants the camera to zoom in on the keynote speaker only to reveal a big blotch of barbecue sauce on a white collar. Overdressed salads, soupy sauces, long pasta, BBQ, pizza, foods sitting in broth, and unwieldy giant lettuce leaves are common culprits.
Allergies are very prevalent and it is important to be aware of the main contenders. Provide complete and accurate information on ingredients and preparations. Nut allergies are particularly insidious because nuts can sneak into foods through oils, dessert crumbles, and salads. Other common food allergies and sensitivities include fish, shellfish, strawberries, milk products, caffeine, chocolate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sulfites. Be aware of any Religious restrictions that may be included in your party and order appropriately to their specifications.
The last thing you want is to have people fall asleep during someone’s talk. You also do not want to accentuate the body’s natural lull in energy after lunch. One way to reduce this risk is to avoid certain foods and drinks that make people sleepy. Tryptophan is nature’s sleeping pill. Turkey, milk, and milk products are high in tryptophan. Fatty foods take longer to digest. They sit in the stomach longer, churning around. This makes people uncomfortable, weighed-down, and fatigued.
Simple sugars give people a quick high but some come down hard. After an initial high, some people experience an extreme low in blood sugar in response to sweets, making them sleepy and dimming their concentration. Another more obvious culprit is alcohol. It “taketh away the performance.” Therefore, it’s not a good idea for the speaker or the audience to partake before a presentation.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Although it is impossible to cater to every individual’s personal taste, you have a responsibility to provide enough choice and variety so no one is forced to go hungry. Your guests will appreciate your consideration and courtesy. Make sure you gather information about special dietary needs or concerns. This should be an easy and confidential process, not a public show of hands. Honour all requests where possible.
As you start to plan the food for your next business function, here are two key questions to ask:
1. Who is the audience?
- Dietary requirements (vegetarian options, religious, and cultural considerations)
- Expectations/perceptions about what you serve (e.g. lobster vs. sandwiches)
2. What is the context?
- Time of day
- Formal vs. informal
- Purpose of meeting
- Activity, participation, and alertness required
- Length of meeting