Foods to Never Serve at Networking Events
"So great to see you," a friendly voice chirps as a hand, a bit sticky with barbecue sauce, is extended for a handshake. Ewwwww!!
Unfortunately, this scenario can happen at networking events. Why? Because foods that are difficult to eat and handle are selected for the menu. In an effort to provide delicious foods and drinks, those planning these events can often forget that attendees will be doing all of the following, sometimes simultaneously:
- Shaking Hands
- Eating and Drinking
- Juggling Food, Drinks and Business Cards
In Public Speaking Tips: How to "Eat Neat" at Events, advice was offered for speakers and event planners on dealing with many of these issues. But attendees are also "on stage" when at these events. So let's look at some foods that should never be served for networking...
The 10 Messiest Foods for Networking Events
All of the following are so messy to serve, handle and eat, that they should be scratched from any networking event menu. (Note: All of these have been observed being served at events.)
- Barbecue ribs. Mostly likely the messiest of foods to serve and eat. Since they are usually eaten with the hands, this presents a real problem for attendees who either must constantly be wiping or washing their hands. Some might ditch the ribs altogether just to stay neat. (Ribs at a women's expo? Yep, seen it done. Yikes!)
- Fried chicken (except for boneless pieces). Like barbecue ribs, fried chicken is eaten either with the hands or requires utensils to create bite size pieces. "Buffalo" style wings can be an alternative, but sometimes the sauces on them are a mess.
- Sandwiches. Unless being eaten with two hands, at a table, the sandwich fillings usually end up slipping out on to the plate, the floor and clothing. Especially the case when mayonnaise and mustard or other condiments are added. Adding condiments to prepared sandwiches also is a mess. The "mini" sandwiches and "sliders" which are quite popular on menus now don't help much. It's still difficult to get the mouth around them and chew while engaged in conversation. And it messes up ladies' lipstick for sure.
- Spaghetti or long noodles. Spaghetti and fettuccine style noodles are tough enough to eat even while sitting down. They require fork twirling or cutting into smaller pieces. Now try doing that standing up and walking around.
- Cupcakes. Ah, smaller bits of beautifully decorated cake. A hot fad in the catering and food service industry! Just one problem, cupcake liner papers need to be removed and frosting usually ends up on the face. Again, ladies usually end up having to lick their lips to remove frosting, messing up makeup.
- Items with lots of seeds. Where do things like poppy and sesame seeds end up? In everyone's teeth. Not only is it embarrassing, but it's distracting since people are always trying (unsuccessfully) to remove them with their tongues.
- Powdered sugar-coated donuts or pastries. Like sauces, powdered sugar usually ends up going everywhere it shouldn't be.
- Anything that requires both a real knife and fork to eat properly. This would include steak or chicken breasts. If it's a reception or standing around event, the necessity for multiple utensils is going to be a challenge.
- Whole fruit. While the event can score points for offering healthier choices, serving whole fruits, such as apples and oranges, can create a juicy mess when eaten.
- Salads. Like whole fruit, this is a healthier choice to serve. Unfortunately, the lettuce is often not cut into easily eaten sizes, making attendees have to shovel large leaves (with dressing on) into their mouths.
Neater Networking Nom Nom Nom...
So what would be some alternative foods and serving options to consider for networking?
- "Biting" the menu. Some foods are just naturally in bite-sized pieces. So look for them on menus. Examples would include donut holes, meatballs, chicken nuggets, hors d'oeuvres, chunks of fresh fruit and mini cookies.
- Toothpicking. Have foods cut into bite-size pieces served on toothpicks. Almost any of the items above can be toothpicked. Yes, it will be more prep and expense. But if the goal is to facilitate connections, then it is worth the expense. This way attendees don't have to juggle utensils and can quickly and easily pop a bite before moving to the next conversation. Offer additional toothpicks at serving stations for attendee convenience... and someplace to easily trash the used ones.
- Bowtie, penne and ziti pastas. While attendees still have to contend with sauces, these smaller pasta bites can easily be pierced with a fork and eaten. Using the next suggestion helps even more...
- Bowl-ing. While the little serving plates look nice, sometimes it's easier and neater to eat from a small bowl. Maybe offer both to give attendees a choice.
- Trashing the place. One of the most overlooked items at networking events is how attendees will discard food waste and serving pieces. So they spend time wandering around seeking trash receptacles instead of new contacts. Offer several trash and used utensil stations in obvious locations.
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© 2013 Heidi Thorne