Menu planning – top three considerations for success!

Helping with Menu planning

We recently sat down with Senior Manager Food & Beverage, Neil Mather and Executive Chef, Peter Haycroft to find out their top tips for designing a stand out menu.

  1. Customer Brief

    How do you approach the menu planning process with a customer?

    We understand that every event is different, and don’t use a one size fits all approach. We take the same hand crafted approach to our menus as we do with our food, and work with customers to deliver the best culinary experience for them and their guests. The same principles apply, whether the event is for 20 or 5,000 people.

    Budget is always an important factor when menu planning, do you have any advice on how to maximise value?

    Food and beverage can make or break an event so it’s important not to skimp on your budget. Guests will talk about and remember good food experiences long after an event ends. Unfortunately the same applies when the experience is less positive. 

    Start by tailoring your menu to suit the style of your event and your audience. If money is tight, Feed Me Menu’s are a great option – they take the guess work out of menu planning and consist of our crowd favourites – at MCEC we have a half day and a full day option.

    Are there any other important factors planners should consider when developing their menu?

    If you’ve held an event before, ascertain what worked before and what didn’t. Discuss this with your event planner or catering team at the venue. Your event planner can assist you with menu selection and provide advice on what will work best for your program. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

    Is there a theme for the event? We can work with you to incorporate this into food experience. 

    Take your audience into consideration – what’s important to them? e.g. a conference for the fitness industry may want healthier options with high amounts of protein, so consider that when choosing your menu items, if it’s a morning event – a coffee cart might be a worthwhile investment. 

    Consider choosing something warm for morning tea, as these options are perceived as being more substantial and will assist in keeping delegates full and energised until lunch. 

    Consider a sweet treat for afternoon tea to satisfy any afternoon sugar cravings. The most important thing when selecting your menu is ensuring there is variety to suit your audience. Have a balance – don’t be afraid to be naughty but nice.

  2. Guest expectations and experience

    Any advice to planners when navigating dietaries?

    If there is one thing attendees take seriously, its food. They want fresh, creative and healthy menus that cater to a variety of dietary needs. 

    22 per cent of attendees have some form of dietary requirement. At MCEC, we develop menu items that cater for six of the most popular requests: gluten free, nut free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy free and fructose friendly. Guests with dietary requirements have the same expectations in quality and variety of food, so plan accordingly - don’t make dietaries an afterthought. 

    Variety is key, consider full day delegate packages that covers morning and afternoon tea, lunch, dinner and cocktail options. If your event runs over multiple days ensure you change up the items being served on consecutive days. 

    Guest experience is something we all have front of mind when planning an event, what are your tips on elevating this in the F&B space?

    Your food should form part of the event experience and be a talking point for attendees. Think about the entire experience from the first morning coffee to the last evening wine. 

    Deviate from standard cocktail food and create a point of difference. One way that we do this is through our interactive EAT stations, where we bring Melbourne’s street-food scene to life. The experience is fully immersive and fun! 

    Consider small details such as creating quirky names for dishes, or how you could present and serve the food in a less traditional way.

    Event organisers are always looking for something new, so it is important to review your menus annually if it’s a reoccurring event.

    Showcasing local, seasonal produce will give your event a sense of place and authenticity. Delegates appreciate having a chance to sample local cuisine. 

    People use all their senses to eat, crafting a well written menu, through to plating can all impact guest experience.

  3. Trends

    What are some of the most popular food trends and preferences at the moment?

    Interest in healthier alternatives continues to grow. Customers are increasingly interested in plant based alternatives. At MCEC, we’ve worked with a nutritionist to develop well-balanced menus. 

    Instagram is highly influential, so presentation is key. It has to be Instagram-worthy.

    The origins of food continues to be of great interest for our customers. People want to know where their produce comes from. Our Conference menu features the 100 mile market garden menu option inspired by Melbourne. We source all major ingredients from local farms and markets within a 100 mile radius of MCEC. This allows up to champion the incredible food producers we have in Melbourne, as well as allowing us to leave a lighter carbon footprint.

    On the topic of sustainability, what’s your advice on reducing waste when planning a menu?

    Consider using alternatives to single use plastics. MCEC have banned plastic straws and removed plastic bottles from catering. We’ve introduced eco-friendly packaging for our take away and portable catering options, such as our gourmet lunch boxes.

    Support food rescue programs where possible – we donated 38,660 meals to OzHarvest last year. Select a venue that aligns with your values and promote what you’re doing at your event.

Top five takeaways

  1. Consider your budget
  2. Embrace seasonal produce
  3. Be naughty but nice – have a balanced menu
  4. Work with your caterer to manage dietaries 
  5. Be creative

Ready to start planning your next event? Contact our team on +61 3 9235 8210 or