How to Plan a Banquet
If you’ve been tasked with planning a banquet, the process may seem daunting. From finding the right venue to crafting the perfect menu, you want to plan a spectacular event that will truly wow your guests. Whether you are organizing the company holiday party or your high school class reunion, use this step-by-step guide for how to plan a banquet like a pro.
1. Identify the Purpose of Your Event
Banquets can serve a wide variety of purposes — your banquet may be a charity fundraising event or a celebration of a major accomplishment within your company. Banquets can also be held for engagements, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduation, retirement or any other occasion.
Determine the goal of your banquet first, because this purpose will guide all of your other planning decisions. A banquet for the retirement of a key employee might have a professional and sophisticated feel, while an anniversary celebration may more be lighthearted and fun. The purpose of your event will also influence the menu, decorations, entertainment and even the design of the invitations.
2. Determine Your Budget
You can plan an awesome banquet on a tight budget, or you can go all out with the finest food, fanciest decorations and premium entertainment. Either way, determine your total budget in advance to avoid spending more than you intended. When creating a budget for your banquet, consider these three primary areas first:
- The venue: Booking a venue is often the biggest banquet expense and plays a crucial role in the success of your event. Look for a space that is large enough to comfortably accommodate your guests without too much extra space. The style of banquet room will also impact the feel of your banquet, whether it is elegant and classy or clean and simple.
- The food and drink: Some banquet venues provide in-house catering that makes it easier to budget for food and drink expenses. If the venue you’re eyeing does not offer catering, contact restaurants or catering companies in the area and request a quote for serving the number of guests you anticipate.
- The entertainment: Depending on the purpose of your banquet, the entertainment can range from a presentation to a full-blown live band with dancing. Ask for rates from entertainers or musicians you are considering. If you want to save on entertainment expenses, consider simply playing background music through the venue’s sound system.
After you have set money aside for these primary features of your banquet, you can add additional line items. Some other areas to include are:
- Guest transportation
- Hospitality staff
- Event management staff
- Event security
- An event photographer
Some of these expenses may be included in the cost of your venue — many banquet venues provide hospitality staff, event management, table linens and decorations. Your venue may even offer guest valet parking for an additional fee. Choosing a venue with inclusive services can simplify the budgeting process so you can focus on crafting the perfect guest experience instead of managing expenses and payments.
If you are holding a banquet as a fundraiser, use your expense budget to determine an appropriate ticket price that will generate a profit. If you do not want to charge too much for tickets, you can also seek sponsorship from local businesses.
3. Choose Your Venue
The next step is to secure a great location for your event. The best banquet venues are often booked well in advance — especially during holiday seasons — so start looking for a venue as soon as possible. Choose a venue that is an appropriate size for the number of guests you plan to invite and fits the style and mood of your event. If you want to host a casual luncheon, choose a simple venue. If you want to host an elegant company dinner, look for a venue with sophistication and class.
Your banquet venue should also be easy to find so guests do not get lost on the way to your event. If you are planning to bring entertainment equipment or large decorations, make sure the banquet room is easy to access with parking spots available for vendors and suppliers.
When you contact potential venues, have some basic information about your banquet plan in mind, including your estimated budget, an approximate number of guests, the style of meal you want to have and an idea of the type of entertainment your banquet may feature. Request a list of banquet services the venue provides, such as catering, linens, serving staff, bartenders, an event planner and sound or projection equipment.
4. Set a Date and Time
Once you have found a venue you love, ask what dates they have available for your banquet. Try to choose a day that does not conflict with any other major events, like popular local sporting events, out-of-town conferences or holidays when people often travel. If guests are coming to your banquet from out of town, consider days when it will be easiest for those guests to attend your event.
When setting a time for your event, do not make it too early or too late. If you choose to hold your banquet on a weeknight, leave your guests enough time to get ready and get to your venue without rushing after work. Booking a banquet venue on a weeknight can also be a great way to reduce your expenses if you are on a tight budget.
5. Determine the Food Service Type
The banquet meal is the centerpiece of the night, so it is essential that you plan your menu well. However, before you can dive into the exciting process of menu planning, you first have to choose the type of dining experience you want. Here are a few popular options for food service at banquets:
- Served meal: A multi-course served meal is a classic option for elegant banquet dining that will never fail to impress. Choosing a served meal also does not need to break your budget — event venues often offer several tiers of dinner packages to choose from.
- Buffet-style meal: Buffets are often a more affordable option that allows your guests to eat as much as they like throughout the evening. However, buffets tend to have a more casual feel that may not be appropriate for very formal events.
- Hors d’oeuvres: Everyone loves a good cocktail party, and serving only hors d’oeuvres at your banquet can reduce expenses while still providing a classy experience. Guests can graze all night, enjoying delicious appetizers like bacon-wrapped scallops, stuffed mushrooms and fresh crudité. An hors d’oeuvres banquet also promotes networking and guest interaction.
- Combination: You may choose to begin your event with hors d’oeuvres on the patio and then move to the banquet hall for a served or buffet-style meal. Providing a cocktail hour before a formal meal allows guests time to socialize before giving their attention to the keynote speaker or presentation during dinner.
If your event venue provides catering, ask what types of food service they have available. Choose a dining experience that suits your budget and the purpose of your banquet.
6. Plan Your Banquet Menu
Once you know the type of food you want to provide, you can start crafting a banquet menu that will thrill your guests’ palates.
First, consider the profile of your guests. Determine what their food preferences might be based on their age, interests and level of professionalism. For example, your guests may be health-conscious athletes who prefer lighter meals or creative young professionals who will appreciate a more daring and elegant dinner. The right menu will also depend on the time of day — lunch banquets tend to feature more casual menu items like sandwiches and salads, while formal dinner banquets often serve full entrees like Filet Mignon or almond-crusted chicken.
Your banquet menu should also be mindful of any dietary restrictions of your guests. Provide accommodations for guests who have vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets whenever possible. Buffets can make it easier for guests to choose exactly what they want to eat, and many catering companies also offer special meals for persons with allergies or other food restrictions.
Make sure everything on your buffet or hors d’oeuvres display is labeled clearly. If you are having a served meal, offering multiple choices of entrees also ensures guests can find something they enjoy.
7. Plan Drinks and Refreshments
You have several possibilities for beverage service at your banquet — from an open bar with top-shelf liquors to a cash bar with domestic beers. Here are a few options for banquet drinks and refreshments:
- Open bar: With an open bar, you are responsible for paying for all of the drinks your guests consume. Open bar packages are typically available with varying grades of liquors, wines and beers from pricey premium liquors to affordable house wines. Although open bars often provide the best guest experience, they can also be expensive and difficult to budget for because they are billed by consumption.
- Cash bar: With a cash bar, guests purchase their own drinks. This allows them to enjoy their favorite cocktail while saving your company money. However, cash bars may not be appropriate for elegant events where complimentary beverage service is expected. If your banquet will have a cash bar, include this on the invitation so guests are aware in advance and remember to bring cash.
- Wine service: For a professional banquet, providing complimentary wine service during the meal may be more appropriate than having a bar. Guests can choose between house red and white wines that are served throughout dinner. Your company will typically be charged based on how many bottles are consumed, or you may choose to purchase a set number of bottles in advance.
- Combination: If you want to offer an open bar, but do not want to run up a huge tab, consider offering an open bar for the first hour or two of the event and then switching to a cash bar for the remainder of the evening. Your banquet may also offer complimentary wine and beer, with cocktails available for purchase, or provide tickets for one or two free drinks per guest.
Consider the guest experience you want to provide when choosing your beverage service. Wine service allows guests to stay seated throughout the event, without needing to get up to go to the bar. An open bar is often perceived as classier, but may also encourage guests to consume more than they should. For a casual banquet like a birthday party or office holiday party, unlimited domestic beer and house wine may be the perfect fit.
8. Choose Your Decorations
Your decorations are the opportunity for the theme or spirit of your banquet to shine. You may choose to create a banquet theme — such as a luau or masquerade. A themed banquet allows you to go all out with decorations and coordinate other aspects of the event with this theme as well. For example, you may serve shrimp cocktail and crab-stuffed flounder for a nautical-themed banquet or chicken cordon bleu for a romantic Paris-themed anniversary party.
If your banquet does not have a theme, you can still have fun decorating the tables and venue space. Guests will admire your centerpieces as they dine, so spend time choosing beautiful floral arrangements or candle displays. Make sure centerpieces are not so high that they block guest’s view of the entertainment or other guests at their table. You can also add a special touch to your tables with custom-designed menu cards or small party favors at each setting.
Many banquet venues provide their own table linens but may allow you to choose from a selection of colors. If you want to match a particular shade, like your branded company colors or university colors, order special linens from a rental company. You can also add a pop of color to traditional white or beige linens with colored table runners, napkins or chair covers. If renting table linens or runners, schedule them to be delivered early so the venue staff has time to prepare the room.
9. Book the Entertainment
Depending on the goal of your banquet, you may hire a live jazz band to play during the meal or a DJ for after-dinner dancing. Classy banquets should have elegant entertainment, like a live quartet or classical singer, while celebratory banquets can have more lively entertainment like a rock band or comedian. For a fundraiser banquet, booking unique entertainment — like a circus act or magician — may allow you to raise your ticket price. If your banquet will feature a speaker or presentation, you may not need to hire any additional entertainment and can simply request that the venue play background music during the meal.
10. Create the Guest List
If you are hosting an event for your company or organization, crafting the guest list might be very straightforward. Deciding who to invite to a fundraiser or celebration may be more challenging. For a charity banquet, begin by sending invitations to your loyal customers, board of trustees and those who have supported your company or cause in the past. You can then open ticket sales to the public and advertise your banquet online and through local marketing channels.
When planning a banquet for a birthday, anniversary, retirement or another occasion, determine how many guests your budget allows you to invite. Start with the most essential guests first, such as family members and close friends, and then fill in additional spots with coworkers and more casual friends.
11. Choose a Master of Ceremonies
The master of ceremonies, or emcee, serves a crucial role in the success of your event. Your emcee will welcome guests at the start of the banquet, introduce speakers and guide guests through each stage of the night. When the party is over, the emcee will provide closing remarks and thank guests for coming.
Choose a master of ceremonies who suits the occasion of your banquet. If your banquet is commemorating a notable corporate achievement, the master of ceremonies should be someone who serves an important role in your company. For an anniversary celebration, the emcee could be a close friend of the couple, and a previous class president or valedictorian could host a college reunion.
Your emcee should also be well-spoken and comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. Make sure your host’s language reflects the mood of the banquet, whether that means speaking professionally for a formal event or cracking jokes for a casual party.
12. Create a Seating Plan
Banquets can have assigned seating or open seating, depending on the size of your banquet and the purpose. For very large banquets, a seating plan helps guests find a seat more quickly and ensures couples and groups can sit together. Open seating often works well for smaller banquets and gives guests the freedom to sit with whomever they want.
For a company banquet, you may choose to have departments sit together and seat honored guests near company executives. At a fundraiser banquet featuring an interesting performer, you may be able to price tables or seats according to how close they are to the stage to increase your profit margin.
13. Send Your Invitations
The final step for planning your banquet is to send the invitations. Your invitation design should reflect the theme or purpose of your event through creative font and images. Include all crucial event details on your invitations, including:
- The name of your event
- The date and time
- The venue name
- The venue location
- How to get to the event
- The schedule of events
- Menu choices
- The dress code
- RSVP information
If you are sending a paper invitation, include an RSVP card where guests can fill out their entree choice and if they are bringing a plus one. You may also ask guests to RSVP via email or phone. Online invitations can also be used for less formal banquets. Send your invitations about six to eight weeks in advance so guests have plenty of time to respond before the event. This also helps you get an accurate count of how many guests to expect.
Once your invitations are in the mail, it’s time to finalize any lingering details, confirm logistics with your event venue and get excited for the big day! By following these steps for how to plan a banquet, you can host a party your guests will never forget.
Book Your Next Banquet at Colonial Golf & Tennis Club
If you are planning a banquet for a company celebration, engagement party, family reunion or any other special event, consider choosing Colonial Golf & Tennis Club as your banquet venue. Our elegant facility can accommodate up to 300 guests, with intimate spaces available for smaller banquets as well. Conveniently located on Linglestown Road in Harrisburg, Colonial Golf & Tennis Club is the perfect spot for your next banquet.
Colonial Golf & Tennis Club caters all events in-house, with delicious food and beverage options available for any style of banquet. When you plan a banquet with Colonial Golf & Tennis Club, we will provide professional hospitality staff and bartenders, and our experienced Catering Director will assist you at every step of the process. Learn more about events and banquets at Colonial Golf & Tennis Club or contact us to book your next banquet.