How to run a successful banquet or develop event catering

By Peter Ruddick

- Last updated on GMT

TV shows like Great British Menu have led to a resurgence in popularity among chefs for cooking banquets or developing event catering, so BigHospitality went behind the scenes at a fine-dining three-course meal for 2,000 at the Royal Albert Hall to find out how do it.

From restaurants catering for weddings to high-profile chefs like Cyrus Todiwala​ and Heston Blumenthal​ devoting time to event catering; banquet dining has never been as popular.

With a reputation for high-end, bespoke menus, what Rhubarb doesn't know about preparing for and catering for events is not worth knowing, but the London-based firm is still pushing the boundaries.

Dinner for 2,000

Since winning the contract to cater for the Royal Albert Hall the team at the iconic late-1800s venue are continuing to refresh all the restaurants, concessions and bars as well as the dining offers for events. They now offer 39 different menus in the hall each year but one week is extra special.

In the down week between the main schedule at the hall and the launch of The Proms season the events team book a number of large-scale corporate events including award dinners and conferences.

This year,with three events, Rhubarb cooked and served a full, luxury three-course meal at each, with the largest both the Royal Albert Hall or the Rhubarb team have ever attempted - dinner for 2,000.

Secrets revealed

In an exclusive audio podcast, BigHospitality took a behind-the-scenes tour of the venue, the main production kitchen and seven satellites and chatted to the people who made the event happen. We have also produced a photo gallery to give you a behind the scenes look at the event​.

Aaron Whitelock, Rhubarb director at the Royal Albert Hall, Duncan Basterfield, Rhubarb executive head chef and Gary Robinson, the company's culinary director revealed the secrets of a successful banquet.

They explained how a client expressing an interest can lead to a supplier receiving an order for 2,000 portions of sea bass, up to 60 chefs and hundreds of waiting staff getting their orders and oblivious diners playing a part in a near-military operation.

Rhubarb's top tips to cater for the perfect banquet or event:

  1. Know what you can offer. When designing the menu with a client suggest and decide on dishes that you have cooked before or you know you can achieve in the particular venue. 
  2. Have a 'say yes' attitude but be honest and steer the client where possible.
  3. Avoid fillet steak or duck to be cooked pink as they will need to be held at temperature and will overcook.
  4. Factor in special dietary requirements.
  5. Construct and de-construct the dish and picture the plate. Know the assembly, how many components can be put together in advance and how quickly it can come together. 
  6. Minimise the 'hits to the plate'. Each element to be added is a hit and each hit will lengthen the plating time
  7. Work out what can be done in advance. Puree, swipes on plates, crumb, crust or scatters can be made in advance and held.
  8. Prepare the venue. Get a main production kitchen ready for the bulk and set up satellite kitchens for final prep and serving.
  9. Where possible, work with staff you know. 
  10. Plan the timings of the evening to the minute or second - and stick to them!

For an accompanying behind the scenes photo gallery to see pictures of the Rhubarb team at the Royal Albert Hall in action, click here​. 

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