There’s a lot to know about catering, from matching food and wine to the crowd to meeting budget without compromising on quality. Julie-anne Sprague reports.

LET there be no mistake … the food and wine served at a function plays a significant role in the event’s success or otherwise.

For those charged with organising events, be it the PA, office secretary or events manager, there are a couple of golden rules to ensure that the food dished up will impress the guests, and the boss.

Event organisers need to take into account the time of the function, guest demographics, and the weather in order to provide the right type of food, and enough of it.

Wesfarmers Federation Insurance PA to the general manager, Mel Rom, has been organising function catering for 10 years and says that when she organises catering, be it staff functions or executive boardroom lunches, she tends to over-cater.

“I always over-cater. There is nothing worse than serving alcohol and not having enough food to go around,” she says.

Ms Rom says she briefs caterers about the types of food she wants served.

“If it’s a cocktail function I say I want up-market food but nothing messy. Nothing can fall off and, if it does, it can’t dribble,” she says.

Beaumonde Catering executive chef Gary Payne says people tend to eat more if the function is straight after work.

“A lot of people do things straight after work. It’s always problematic because they [the clients] tend to eat more,” he says.

“People are on a budget. In the mid-afternoon you can do some stylish stuff that will have the wow factor but you don’t need to serve as many.

“It’s hard to convince people that although they are going out to dinner they will still eat a lot.”

It is important to know the crowd, according to caterers contacted by Gusto, whether they are male or female and what industry they work in.

A rule of thumb is, if the crowd is predominantly male, then offer menu items that are slightly larger, and choose more meat dishes.

For women the suggested choice is lighter dishes with more vegetarian and chicken-style food.

Heyder and Shears managing partner Andrew Gaby says the industry type being catered to also plays a role in determining what food to serve.

“If you think in terms of style you will serve something different to engineers and stock brokers. For engineers, generally, you would not serve too many exotic foods, but you would serve more quantity,” he says.

“When it’s mostly men that attend you would serve more meat and a heavier serve. You would have less champagne, more still wine and a lot more beer. It wouldn’t be food that is too fiddly; they are not as adventurous as women.

“For women you would serve more fish and vegetarian dishes and lighter food. The serves will be small because women like to put all the food in their mouth in one bit. If men see little bits of food they say ‘get out of here’.”

While spring rolls and baby quiches are easy to eat, they don’t necessarily say ‘style and sophistication’.

Beaumonde Catering’s Gary Payne says simple party favourites can be transformed into gastronomical delights.

“We do a spring roll-type dish that is a piece of dhufish or red emperor with lemon and fresh dill rolled in a spring roll and deep fried. It’s not soggy and people love it,” he says.

“Per item the cost of food is small.

“It depends on how fiddly you want to make it and that takes a bit more time and adds to the labour cost.”

WA Turf Club executive chef Adrian Tobin says something new doesn’t necessarily mean it will be pricey.

“Normally it’s modern food done in an innovative way,” he says.

Having a small budget does not mean having less food, however, it simply means a different style of food.

But knowing your budget and telling the caterer your expectations will save you a lot of time in the organisation stage, according to Heyder and Shears’ Andrew Gaby.

“A lot of people don’t have a budget but it saves a lot of time,” he says.

“If we come back with a quote that’s too expensive, we then go back and change the dishes.”

Another tip for would be to make sure there are non-alcoholic beverages as well as wine.

“We find people are drinking more water and mineral water,” Gary says, adding that it’s best to allow on average half a bottle of wine per person for a two-hour function.

Mel Rom says finding a reliable caterer who can advise on the best options can make the organisation process less stressful.

“It’s important to have a reliable caterer whose judgement you trust,” she says.

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