How to Choose Networking Foods
Every time I attend a networking event, I arrive starving. This may be because many of these events take place at happy hour/dinner hour. It may be because deep down I know they might have some really great food so I don’t eat beforehand. Or, it may be that networking tends to conjure up some nervous energy so my body is looking for nourishment. Whatever the reason, I always tend to arrive and beeline towards the food.
After attending a huge number of events, I have realized that there are “good networking foods” and “bad networking foods”. The good foods are easy to grab, handle, and eat without too much mess or too much left between your teeth. The bad foods are messy, plate or utensil dependent, and often impossible to eat leaving the networkers hungry, stained, sticky and consequently poorly networked.
With this in mind, when planning your next event, it is important to try to select “good networking foods”. In order to make the best choices, consider the following:
Time of Day
It is important to consider the time of day your event will take place as this will help determine the type of food to serve.
Will the event take place around a meal time? If the answer is “yes”, guests will often come starving and ready to eat. In this scenario, be sure to have a few more heartier foods to fill people up.
Will the event be a happy hour event? If so, you may have a signature drink in mind (often these go with an event theme) so you can use the food to complement the drink. For example, a Mexican Fiesta serving margaritas may decide to serve mini tacos, quesadillas, or ceviche.
Will the event be mid-morning or afternoon? If so, consider pick me up snacks such as soft pretzels, energy bars, sugary cookies, or caffeinated foods such as chocolate.
The next question you should ask is: Will there be seating?
If the answer is “Yes”:
Seating is not common because it can discourage guests from moving around and mingling. That said, if seating is essential to some part of the agenda, the food choice options are much extended to more complicated food that can be plated and eaten as a meal. If your event does call for seated tables, consider a buffet to get guests out of their chairs and talking to others who aren’t necessarily at their tables. Another option would be to have an unseated happy hour followed by a sit down (seated) meal which also encourages mingling.
If the answer is “No”:
No seating is more common as it allows guests to circulate, meet, and talk to more people. In this scenario, ditch the plates and utensils. Guests are likely already juggling purses, laptops, and drinks so plated food simply doesn’t work.
Consider small passed or tabled finger foods that promote grazing. The key is to choose foods that are the right size and composition so guests can eat them easily while meeting someone for the first time and carrying on a conversation. If food falls apart after the first bite, takes more than 2 small(ish) bites to eat, or leaves green specs between your front teeth, forget it. In other words, make sure it is portable, manageable, and tooth friendly. In addition, if you do opt for food stations (tables), consider the shelf life of the food served. Anything that requires sustained hot or cold temperatures should be avoided because chances are that it will quickly become cold and hard.
Even with a no seating set up, a few high tables scattered around the room are a good option. These give guests a place to put their drinks and a feeling of standing around a table which can create a “comfort zone”.
Tie Ins to Theme
A great way to tie an event together is through the food. A camping theme may be emphasized with small skewers or s’mores, a Luau is a good chance to showcase pineapple or pork dishes, and mini hot dogs or cotton candy may work well with a carnival theme. Whatever your theme, make sure the food at least remotely ties back to the rest of the decor, entertainment and overall event backdrop.
My Top 5 Networking Food Choices
1 – Mini Quiche – not only are these easy to grab, small enough to eat in 1 or 2 bites, and delicious, they also are available in vegetarian and gluten free so can accommodate most guests. And, best of all, they can be served warm OR cold OR anywhere in between.
2 – Mini-tacos – OK, so this may be because I am from Texas but I love mini-tacos or any Mexican appetizer. They can be enjoyed in a couple of bites, served with a variety of fillings, and can accompany fun cocktails such as margaritas, mojitos, etc.
3 – Bruchetta – topped with salmon and cream cheese, tomatoes, olives, or anything else you can dream of, these delicious little toasts are easy to handle, filling, and double bite sized.
4 – Cocktail Meatballs – these bite-sized hors d’ouerves are both filling and easy to handle, especially when served on a toothpick!
5 – Anything else on a toothpick – cheese, olives, fruit…you name it. If it comes on a toothpick, it is almost guaranteed to be consumable in one bite and mess free.
While these are my favorites, the choices are really endless and can be selected based on theme, cost, and even time of year. Just keep our good networking food advice in mind when planning the food for your next event and you are sure to pick some fabulous fare for your next event.