Gavin Marshall, deputy general manager of Leith's, which provides all of the in-house catering for the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, cites the more informal, relaxed atmosphere that receptions provide for guests as one of their biggest advantages. “The time required is more conducive to the client's home life,” he says. “The client can reap the same [networking] benefit from the evening without committing the whole night to a sit-down dinner.”
Marshall says that while clients such as media and financial companies might choose interactive food stations — including sushi bars, vodka ice bars and chocolate fountains — “to reflect their company ethos,” hot and cold canape “bites” are the highlight of reception menus at the center. Among the most popular are traditional British items such as mini Yorkshire puddings served with rare roast beef and horseradish, mini Cumberland sausages, and Stilton cheese with port jelly on oatcakes.
Marshall also cites more creative food service as one of the bonuses of reception menus. “Clients want to see innovative food and drink, and innovative crockery and glassware,” he says. “The presentation of the food is just as important as the food itself.”
Kathryn Gerke, director of conference services at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center in Seattle, notes that many of her clients “ask for creativity in designing the menu because they are on a limited budget.” Reception menus are a great option for those people because “receptions usually end up being less cost per person than a sit-down meal.”
Gerke adds that regional specialty items are at the top of her clients' lists. “Guests coming to Bell Harbor really enjoy Northwest themes,” she says. “Many guests are from out of the Seattle area, so planners request native cuisine, mostly fresh seafood such as salmon and shellfish.”
To satisfy those requests, Bell Harbor offers items such as cedar plank roasted side of king salmon and a seafood platter featuring raw oysters, chilled garlic clams, shrimp cocktail and dipping sauces. Hors d'oeuvre including crab cakes, mini beef Wellingtons and mushroom caps filled with mint-spiced lamb and feta cheese are also popular at the venue, where weddings and corporate events of 100 to 5,000 guests make up the bulk of reception clientele.
At the Rose Hill Conference Center in Rocky Mount, N.C., “Ninety percent of our wedding receptions are heavy hors d'oeuvre and not sit-down dinners,” says Donna Holt, the venue's sales manager and event planner. She cites the many different food items and service options as selling points of receptions, noting “you can have a larger variety of foods to accommodate all guests.”
To create menus that appeal to the client's desire for choice, Rose Hill delivers Asian-inspired specialty items such as sesame chicken and tempura vegetables, as well as American favorites such as crab imperial and roasted ranch potatoes, served buffet-style. Food displays are also a popular menu option, and “We like to do a spectacular fruit display, seafood display and a big assortment of mini desserts,” Holt says. She adds that the center's chef, who has been at the venue for 20 years, makes “wonderful” fruit or champagne punches, which add a festive touch to events.
Bell Harbor International Conference Center, 206/441-6666; Rose Hill Conference Center, 252/937-2000; Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, +44 20 722 5000