Whether it’s a farm dinner, charity benefit, pop-up restaurant or other event, it’s easy to focus on the big three: food, location, decor. But it’s the less glamorous, often overlooked logistics that can make an event the best night ever … or a total nightmare.
Pay close attention to these details to ensure a hiccup-free event day.
1. Permits and Paperwork
Established restaurants, catering halls and other venues will likely have all necessary permits. But keep in mind that loud music, the hours of your event and even dancing may put it outside of the space’s “usual business,” and require additional paperwork, such as a sound permit.
Spaces that don’t typically host food events may require you to take out a full event permit. Make sure your space’s Certificate of Occupancy is current and will accommodate the number of people you plan to host. If you’re entertaining in a public space, such as a park, town square, public building, you will have to take out permits from your local city government agency (Parks Department, Department of Buildings, etc.).
Rules vary by city and state. Grilling, selling tickets, selling alcohol, restricting space from public use and your event’s hours name some factors that could determine the kind of permit you’ll need.
2. Alcohol Permits
It’s extremely important to file a permit to serve alcohol—these should be on hand at all times should you undergo an inspection. Some event permits come with a booze clause, but not all. Make sure you have everything in writing.
The local agency that grants you an alcohol permit will consider the length of your event, time of day, proximity to schools or churches and the type alcohol you plan to serve (beer and wine only, or full liquor). Make these decisions early and stick to them as changing a permit you’ve applied for may be difficult.
More restrictions (depending on locality) apply when it comes to the sale of alcohol at events; permits to sell are different than permits to serve.
Do some research on your local regulations and determine what will work best for you. In some instances, there are workarounds. For example, instead of selling beer directly, an event can sometimes sell tickets that attendees can redeem for beer. Consult a legal professional if you have any questions about permits.
3. Event Insurance
Each space is unique and may pose its own risks for attendees. Work closely with your team and the location’s team to ensure you have proper insurance to cover potential accidents (including food poisoning). Many venues may come with basic insurance, but expect the organizer to take on additional liability. Know what you are covered for, at what level and for how many people.
Run your event insurance paperwork (again: always get it in writing) by a lawyer. When it comes to insurance, better safe than sorry is the right attitude.
4. Inclement Weather Plans
You can spend months planning an exciting event, only to have to cancel at the last minute due to weather. Clearly, rain is a factor for outdoor events, but even if you plan to be indoors, there are many unforeseeable weather-related factors that could prevent attendees from reaching your location.
Have a rain plan well in advance of your event. Renting tents, securing an alternate location or having a rain date, may cost you a more time and money, but will pay dividends if the worst happens and you don’t have to waste all of that incredible food.
If you are working with restaurant partners who will order their products in advance, discuss your inclement weather plan. Paying for food you can’t use may take a hefty bite out of your budget.
5. Food Allergies and Your Menu
Every chef wants to serve a bit of mystery with a wonderful food experience. However, food allergies are serious and it’s important to clearly label menu items and spell out ingredients.
Make it known at check-in that a food list is available upon request. Ask attendees to email you about food allergies when they buy their tickets and provide alternatives. You’re not obligated to accommodate every attendee, but transparency is key.
6. Where You Source Ingredients
What and from where, you source the food you’ll serve is a less formal, but equally important consideration. Many food event ticket buyers want to know where your produce, meat and dairy come from and whether it’s organic, local or fair trade. The extra care you take in purchasing high-quality ingredients reflects on your overall vision and your community.
For example, if you work for a nonprofit concerned with migrant workers’ labor rights, you would be remiss to serve food produced on factory farms and in processing plants, as these types of places have a reputation for labor injustices. Your choices at all levels of the event reveal who you are and what you stand for. Be consistent.
These are just a few important details to consider as you plan your next big bash. Of course, all of the permit regulations will vary by your location. Leave yourself enough runway to seek legal advice and get all of your paperwork in order. Then focus on the fun stuff.
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