How to Plan a Lunch Event

Tips for Choosing the Right Lunch Menu for an Event

Photo courtesy of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

As an event coordinator, you will almost certainly be asked to set up lunch events. Of course, there are many different types of lunch events, and it will be up to you to select appropriate dishes, beverages, and service. 

Types of Lunch Events

Not all lunch events are alike, and it will be up to you to make recommendations appropriate to the event, the venue, and the number of guests being served. For example, a lunch provided to a working group in a corporate setting will be very different from a "luncheon" provided to donors at a groundbreaking for a new hospital.

Here are a few variables to consider:

  • What is the occasion? Is it a formal event, such as a sit-down luncheon served after a morning wedding or is a simple corporate "grab and go?"
  • Will this be a plated or buffet event? While most lunches are served buffet style, you'll need to consult with your client before making that assumption.
  • How many are being served? If you're serving hundreds (or only a dozen), you'll need to consider appropriate foods, service options, and price points.
  • Where is the event taking place? In some cases, catering occurs at a large venue where the staff and facilities are event-ready. In other cases, lunches may be staged in private homes or in unusual settings such as a museum gallery.

Common Lunch Event Options

Your client's needs always come first, and none of these common options may be perfect for your client. But in most cases, one of these (with the right choice of foods and drinks) will be a good option.

Deli Buffets:

The deli buffet is quite popular for a simple event and includes mostly finger food that's easy to select and can usually please any crowd (assuming that you attend to the needs of gluten-free, kosher, and vegetarian guests). Most deli buffets include the following:

  • Mixed green salad (include three types of dressing)
  • Fruit salad, potato salad, antipasto and/or chips
  • Three types of sandwich meats (and multiple healthy breads)
  • Dessert trays such as brownies or cookies

Themed American and Ethnic Buffets:

Most caterers will offer several different themed lunch options for consideration, such as Italian, American, Asian, etc. These options allow the event planner to incorporate their food selection into the overall theme of an event. For example, popular themes include the following:

  • American: burgers and fries
  • Italian: pasta, pizza, Tuscan style chicken
  • Southwest: tacos and fajita stations
  • Asian: spring rolls, stir-fries, rice and noodle dishes

Be sure to include a variety of appetizer, entree and dessert options related to any of these and other buffet themes.

Box Lunches:

Best for working lunches, the box lunch is fast and easy so that event guests remain focused on the objective of the meeting itself. While sandwiches are the most commonly selected item, you might also consider requesting wraps. When selecting box lunches, be sure to offer at least 4 different varieties for attendees (as well as gluten-free breads and desserts):

  • Turkey, Roast Beef, Ham and Vegetarian Sandwiches
  • A piece of fresh fruit
  • Chips and a cookie
  • Condiments (always on the side), plastic utensils and napkins

Build Your Own Lunch Menu:

Most caterers provide multiple options for an event planner to "build your own" lunch menus, and these may be served as a buffet or as a plated meal. "Build your own" is most appropriate for a formal event or an event at which the client wants to impress his or her guests. (Note: if plated, plan for a three-course minimum.) These menus will include the following:

Appetizers and salads:

  • Lettuce salad options (e.g., Caesar, spinach, mixed greens)
  • Fruit salads (berries, melons, pineapple)
  • Soup (two options minimum)

Entrees (popular options):

  • Chicken, pork, beef, or salmon
  • Caesar salad with grilled chicken
  • Sides include vegetable, potato, pasta or rice

Desserts (popular options):

  • Cheesecake
  • Chocolate mousse
  • Pie with ice cream

    Beverages:

    Regardless of the type of meal selected, it's important to offer guests a variety of drinks to go along with their meal. With the increased popularity of flavored waters, vitamin waters and energy drinks, event planners should request specific brands and flavors of waters in addition to basic bottled water. Most venues can secure these products with a custom request from their suppliers, and should only charge based on consumption. Alcohol is only rarely served at a lunch event, though in some cases it is appropriate and should be included.

    Common options include:

    • Assorted soft drinks (diet and regular)
    • Bottled water
    • Assorted bottled juices
    • Coffee, decaffeinated coffee, tea