The expression “attention to detail” has become something of a cliché on most job descriptions. What job doesn’t require attention to detail? But recently, I witnessed first hand, a group of professionals whose entire workload is attention to detail. My mission was to provide training for Event Coordinators within a large organization.
These are the individuals who organize and plan every function from conventions to luncheons and although the uninitiated may think this profession is glamour incarnate, the reality is very different. Military precision, troubleshooting par excellence and enough detail to drive an actuary crazy all define the professional Event Planner’s day.
During the training program, I gave a menu-planning workshop. Here’s a behind the scenes look at what we covered.
The theme was a very special dinner with a notable guest speaker. Just planning the menu requires far more than an educated palate. Coquille Saint-Jacques followed by pheasant may appear to pay homage to the occasion but things don’t always go as predicted. What if the speaker goes into “overtime?” The coquille’s scallops turn to rubber and the delicate pheasant becomes, to put it politely, drab. A cold appetizer followed by the pheasant’s humble but resilient cousin, chicken, is a far smarter choice.
And another thing. What if the chef had never before prepared Coquille Saint-Jacques or pheasant? Talk about a recipe for disaster. I encouraged the group to work with existing menus, not to request something special or “off the card” as the saying goes. Stick with what the chef knows.
Next up, we discussed the menu for the same occasion but with a guest speaker from another country. Rule number one, resist the urge to pay tribute to the guest’s national origins through the menu. Doesn’t matter whether, for example, it’s Italy or Japan —stay away from the temptations of serving pasta or sushi. Instead, select something more local for the event and time permitting, plan a restaurant meal during the visit.
We talked about the pitfalls of the buffet for this same occasion. One of the inherent problems is seating. Notable guests could end up by the kitchen, plus, it’s next to impossible to arrange groups of people together. And buffets are disorganized by nature. Half the table could be at the buffet while the rest are eating. A partial solution is assigned seats with something to start, say a salad, at each place setting, and then guests proceed to the buffet.
Today, most dinners are four-course, sometimes five and luncheons are three-course, four for a really special occasion. Regardless of how many times the plates are cleared, duplication is probably the greatest “misdemeanor” of menu planning. When there’s quiche to start, apricot tart is off limits. Never serve two pies. Same story for sauce: filet mignon with béarnaise sauce or asparagus with hollandaise. Shrimp cocktail means something other than salmon — unless of course, there’s a seafood motif.
If there is a printed menu: it should be placed on the plate over the napkin or over the napkin on the left of the plate. At the top of the menu, it should say something about the event.
Dinner hosted by:
Mr. William Cooper
International Association of Publishers
In honour of
The Honourable Jim Bouchard
Minister of Intercultural Affairs
For the Grand Opening of
The 5th International Conference
of International Authors and Publishers
And finally, although even seasoned Event Planners get the sidetracked it’s important to taste everything served. Some call it quality control; I call it common sense. Bon appétit!
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