Do you negotiate service levels? Do you ask hotels what their service ratios are? Understaffed meal service is not compatible with successful events; regardless of the quality of a catered function's food and beverage, room setup, and overall ambience, poor service reduces significantly the attendees' appreciation and enjoyment of the event.
The cost of labor is staggering, so most hotels have Staffing Guides. They develop strict service ratios. The average ratio is one server for every 32 attendees at a meal function regardless of the style of service, the type of menu, or whether the servers are responsible for wine service.
Meal service levels can run from 1 server per 8 guests to 1 server per 40 guests. Most caterers’ staffing guides allow for 1 to 32, but meeting planners should try to negotiate 1 to 20 or 1 to 16 if there is poured wine or Banquet French service.
As with any negotiation, you need leverage. If you have a low-budget group, you will most likely be required to pay any extra labor charges. A high-budget group may be able to negotiate the charges away. Remember that this negotiation must take place BEFORE you sign the contract. As with any agreement, be sure it is in writing and signed off on.
For excellent service, the minimum service ratio for conventional sit-down meal functions with American-style service with some foods preset is one server for every 20 guests. If you are using rounds of 10, the caterer should schedule one server for every 2 dining tables. If you are using rounds of 8, two servers should be scheduled to handle 5 dining tables.
The minimum busperson ratio for this sit-down meal is one busperson for every 3 servers. If you are using rounds of 10, the caterer should schedule one busperson for every 6 dining tables. If you are using rounds of 8, one busperson should be scheduled for every 8 dining tables.
Some caterers will schedule one busperson for every two servers. This is usually done for functions that include several VIPs or where extraordinary service is requested by the meeting planner. Generally speaking, though, you can make do with one busperson for every three servers because servers normally are expected to perform some bus work during the catered event.
If the conventional sit-down meal function includes Russian, banquet French, or poured-wine service, you normally should request one server for every 16 attendees. You should schedule one server for every two rounds of 8, or two servers for every three rounds of 10. One busperson for every six rounds of 10, or every eight rounds of 8, will usually suffice.
Written by Patti Shock.