How To Plan The Perfect Conference Menu

Conference menu planning can be like mastering a fine art. Theres often time and budget limitations and a need to cater to different palettes and dietary needs. So, to help you plan the ideal meeting menu, weve consulted industry experts to bring you a host of ideas and inspiring industry insights.

Key Menu Planning Considerations


Offer a Menu Built on Quality

Ask any event attendee about their meeting experience and food’s sure to be mentioned. Gone are the days when conference menu choices were often considered as an afterthought. In 2019, planners are increasingly consulting Executive Chefs to plan innovative menus, resulting in appealing and nourishing produce arriving on attendeestables.

Image courtesy of Chateauform’.



An event’s food and beverage is often one of its greatest expenses, so ensuring that guests are satisfied with the refreshments is vital.

Increasingly, meeting venues are providing event planners with both bespoke and package dining options. The latter often proves popular, as planners seek transparent costs, with no hidden costs or unexpected extras, like those offered at all IACC venues.



When designing the meeting agenda, ensure that the timings of all meals and refreshment breaks are well planned and the timings clearly highlighted. Attendees are less likely to under or overeat if they know when their next meal is (beneficial from both ROI and food waste perspectives).

Be mindful of the countless studies extolling the benefits of well-timed refreshment breaks. If timings are tight and a “Lunch and Learn” style approach is adopted, ensure that the next breakout session provides some light relief (consider using any available outdoor space or using areas with plenty of natural light and greenery).

Many meeting venues now offer biodegradable packaged “boxed lunches”, which are ideal for events where timings are tight.

Conference planners who’ve considered the practicalities of how the food can be eaten politely without getting in the way of conversation and working the room are winning.”



Abigail Leighton-Boyce, Event Planner.




Catering for Special Dietary Requirements

Time is critical here – dietary needs are where unexpected costs can arise and additional time can be incurred.

There’s many different dietary requirements – largely grouped as follows:

  • Health-related (including allergens and intolerances and specific diets (such as ketogenic and low-sugar)).
  • Religious diets (including Halal and Kosher diets).
  • Vegetarian and Vegan diets. Veganism (adopting a largely plant-based diet) is becoming increasingly popular. The key reasons why include animal conservation, the reported long-term health benefits and environmental sustainability.

Consult guests at the initial registration stage regarding their dietary needs. If a proportion of your attendees are vegetarian or adopt a gluten-free (GF) diet, it would more cost effective to provide GF and / or vegetarian choices as part of the main menu. This approach will also help keep costs and food waste down (learn more below within “Prevent Food Waste”).

Whether people’s dietary needs are health-related or simply lifestyle choices; ensuring that needs are met will ultimately result in a more enjoyable guest experience.

Click here for more about catering for guests with special dietary needs.


The Event’s Theme

The 2019 IACC Meeting Room of the Future report found that that meeting planners are increasingly looking to food and beverage (F&B) to be a part of their overall experience creation strategy. If your event is themed, then ensure that the conference refreshments complement it, both in the menu choices and where possible, their serving style.

“An event’s menu should give a nod to the history or atmosphere of the venue. Hosting your conference in an old gin distillery? Then try bite-sized salmon gravlax blinis and gin & tonic inspired baked treats.”

Abigail Leighton-Boyce, Event Planner.

Focus on Food Sustainability

Ensure your conference menu features locally sourced or organic produce. This helps support both the local community and the natural environment. Eco-friendly meeting venues also tend to use local suppliers and craftsmen, further lessening the carbon footprint and boosting the local economy.

We focus on planning a seasonal menu to ensure the best quality produce is used and look to use the wholeproduct. For example, if we serve broccoli for dinner then we use the stalks in salads at lunch.

Louise Hallquist and Patrik Nilsson, Head Chefs at Restaurant Skog, Sigtunahöjden.


Chateauform’s menu features high quality seasonal produce – including this nourishing autumnal pumpkin soup. 


Prevent Food Waste 

  • Food and its serving style can play a huge role in an event’s environmental footprint. So, work with the conference venue’s catering team on how to reduce potential food waste.
  • Incorporate wonky fruit and vegetables – try using diced wonky fruit as breakfast toppers or serve “uglycrudités with hummus as snacks.
  • Careful meal break timings and portion control should help mitigate leftovers, but consider offering guests leftovers as snacks for their onward travel or donate surplus food to charity (many venues work with social enterprises).
  • Ask for smaller-sized plates to be provided to reduce portion sizes.
  • Champion plant-based or vegetarian choices to help reduce CO2 emissions or even consider offering a purely vegetarian menu.

Image courtesy of Chateauform’.

Conference Menus





Key considerations include:
  • Firstlywill breakfast be provided at the event? Breakfast offerings are often essential for to kick-start an action-packed day.
  • The initial breakfast stage can also prove a great networking icebreaker.
  • If a more formal breakfast is planned, then highlight this, so guests know to expect it, arrive promptly (and, dont gorge on the hotel breakfast!). Managing guestsexpectations at all stages is key.



The conference lunch is always eagerly anticipated and there’s many serving styles for planners to consider. However, the traditional buffet-style still often dominates. This relaxed serving style provides an opportunity for guests to network, relax or catch-up on pressing personal matters.

Image courtesy of Chateauform’.

Buffet serving styles include:

  • Food stations(these can also be themed by cuisine, continent or food type)
  • Finger buffets or more formal Forkedbuffets
  • The inventive deconstructedstyle – guests can assemble their own dish from an eye-catching array of salads.


Refreshment Breaks 

Offer “brain-friendly” foods and energy boosting snacks. Popular, healthy items include:

  •  Grazing stylesnacks, such as nuts and dried fruit
  •  Fresh fruit
  • Hummus and crudités
  • Dark chocolate (with a high cacao content).

Imaginative refreshment breaks are always a bug bear – we had an event recently and their breaks were fantastic. Guests could help themselves to a “deconstructed” morning break. On one day they had Greek yoghurt, berries and granola and fruit smoothies in mini milk glass bottles with paper straws. It would be good to see this more in hotels and healthy vegan and organic snacks.”


Layla Warfield, Director, Mabrouka Events Ltd.  


Image courtesy of Sigtunahöjden.



The evening meal often proves to be a highlight of the meeting agenda. Here, Executive Chef and Certified Chef de Cuisine (CCC), Murray Hall from Dolce Hotels and Resorts discusses a sample menu he designed to cater for an audience with varied dietary needs.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

      Theme: “Plant Forward” & Inclusive dining

      Guests: 40

      Serving style: Plated

By starting with a salad, there are many ways to create a great dish that can be GF, DF and Vegan – one that all guests can enjoy whether they have a dietary concern or not, (even meat eaters have the odd meatless Monday).

The Entrée choice can follow the same approach. By simply changing a few key ingredients will spin the dish in a new direction and thereby accommodate guests with dietary concerns.

Dessert selections have really expanded in recent years. Depending on your supplier or in-house production team, GF, DF and vegan desserts can usually easily be sourced or produced.

Of course, vegetarians, vegan and other special requests will need to be catered for separately. However, from a kitchen standpoint, not having to create extra DF and GF meals is a considerable time and money saver.”

Murray Hall, Executive Chef, Dolce Hotels and Resorts.

Predict, create, and shape the future of meetings at IACC Americas Connect 2020. Register now.

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