Conference Food And Beverage Planning Tips

Conference Food And Beverage Planning Tips

Conference Food And Beverage Planning Tips

Planning food and beverage functions can be challenging. How much should you order? How much coffee do people drink? How many servers do I need? Miscalculations can result in not having enough or overspending and waste. In this post we’re sharing our secrets to get it just right!

In our many years of planning we’ve developed some great rules of thumb to insure our food and beverage planning is done just right, and we are sharing those rules with you today.


It is key that you know your audience. General likes and dislikes. Is the event social or professional? How many guests will attend? Are there potential allergies, or other restrictions based on company policy, cultural or religious considerations? Knowing your audience and event will help you plan service levels, meal and drink options, and how much food and beverage to order. More on that below.


Venues will require that you provide a guarantee, 48 to 72 business hours prior to the event. The guarantee is the number of meals you order and will be charged for. Also understand the overset numbers. The amount varies from venue to venue and is between 0% to 5%, and sometimes more. The industry average is 3%. This means that when confirming for 100 meals, the venue will have between 0 to 5 extra meals on hand.

Planning ample time for functions is also important. Allow 30 to 40 minutes for a breakfast, a minimum of 45 to 60 minutes for lunch, depending on the amount of people and how the meal is served. Self-serve buffet options may require less time and are ideal for smaller groups. Plated meals take longer, especially if one server is used to serve multiple tables versus one server per table. You could ask the venue to have one server per table, but you may have to pay for the additional labor.

Refreshment breaks for 100 should be a minimum of 15 minutes, 30 minutes for groups up to 1,000 and 45 minutes for groups larger than 1,000. 


Ordering the right amount of food and beverages is always a challenge. Remember that you will pay for every meal guaranteed, consumed or not. It is better to order less, understand the overset and order more when needed. There are formulas you can use to be as accurate as possible.



Hot beverages and juices are generally ordered by the gallon. 70% of attendees will consume coffee, 20% will drink decaf coffee and 10% will drink tea.

There are 12 to 20 cups per gallon depending on the size of the cup used at the venue (you can ask).  We generally plan for 2 cups per attendee for breakfast. So 100 attendees would require the following order for breakfast (based on 16 cups in a gallon):

- 9 gallons of coffee
- 2.5 gallons of decaf
- 2 gallons of hot water for tea

For breaks we use the following calculations:

Morning Break:
Regular Coffee = attendance x 60%
Decaf Coffee = attendance x 25%
Tea = attendance x 10%
Soda = attendance x 25%

Afternoon Break
Regular Coffee = attendance x 40%
Decaf Coffee = attendance x 15%
Tea = attendance x 20%
Soda = attendance x 65%


For buffet meals such as continental breakfasts, lunches and morning breaks we typically order meals at attendance x 80%. This means that with 100 attendees we would guarantee 80 meals, a number that can be increased on site if needed. Most events have a percentage of no-shows, or people not participating in meal events. You don’t want to overcommit and waste money and resources.  For afternoon breaks we typically order attendance x 65%. Many people may still be satisfied from lunch and not want to snack during the afternoon.

For more formal sit down and plated meals we order attendance x 90%. With 100 people attending and oversets you are usually covered. Note however that at a hotel or resort, a kitchen may be able to more easily serve additional meals. Off-site events will require guarantees to more closely match the registration numbers because additional meals may not be able to be created.


The ordering of hors d’oeuvres greatly depends on the event following the reception. Is the reception followed by a dinner or not? A 1-hour reception with dinner following will require 3-7 pieces per person, depending on the type of eaters you have at the event.  A reception not followed by a dinner will require 8 to 12 pieces per person. A 2 to 3 hour reception not followed by dinner will require 10 to 16 pieces per person.


You should provide one bartender/bar per 75 to 100 attendees. When hosting a cash bar after a meeting, approximately 50% of the attendees will participate. When having a hosted bar, 75%+ of the attendees will participate. If hosting a bar, count on 2.5 drinks per person for a 1-hour event. If ordering wine by the bottle, estimate 5 glasses of wine per bottle.  If hosting a seated dinner with wine, estimate ½ bottle of wine per guest. It is key however that you know your audience. Some may be inclined to consume less or more, and most events have a historical perspective you could fall back on.


There will be leftovers. Consider donating the food to homeless shelters or distribution organizations for the needy in the area. We have also taken leftover sweets directly to housekeeping and engineering departments at venues. The people who make your stay comfortable, you rarely see and rarely get recognized. 

DISCLAIMER: The numbers and formulas used in this article have proven to be successful in our planning efforts. We do however encourage you to understand your audience, event history and venue to place orders for your specific event, The information shared in this story is for informational purpose only.