A plan for when the caterer cancels and 500 people need served at your event!

It’s the call you never want to receive. Especially, when the caterer was donating the food in the first place. But, it happens and what takes place afterwards can determine your future. The example below was a creative idea and it worked! Because of its success the same idea was carried on again the following year for the same event.

Gayle Gross, now the founder of SOAR with Network Fundraising, was on the planning committee for a theatre event in the city where she lived. The caterer, a major chain of restaurants, pulled out a few weeks before the event was to take place. People attending the event were expecting BBQ, and they were major donors for the non-profit. They had paid a large ticket price for the event to see a choir from Africa.

Gayle raised her hand when the committee chair asked if there were ideas on how to pull off feeding the group without spending money. “Let’s have a BBQ cook-off.” People fell silent for a moment and then the chatter went back to discussing other ideas. “I’m serious. We don’t have money to hire anyone. Let me come back to you next week with a plan.”

Plan for a BBQ cook-off for catering a 500 person event:

Get a $2500 sponsor. This money covers prize money (first prize is $1000 and there’s second place, third place, and a “best booth” award), the cost of plates, cups, napkins, utensils, beverages, potato salad, beans, cole slaw, buns and dessert. Sponsor receives logo on all marketing materials, acknowledgement from stage, and an opportunity to have a booth at the event.

Gather 20 businesses to participate. The businesses are not restaurants! (The business winning first place in this scenario was a glass company.) The businesses are willing to enter the BBQ Cook-off – each business has a “booth” space with their BBQ on their table. They each make five pounds of BBQ and have a way to keep it warm. Each booth is entered into a best booth contest. The benefit to each business is the marketing they receive and the opportunity to get in front of the guests. Limit each business to one in a category and offer the first right of refusal for the next time the event happens.

The setup. There’s a central area for serving the sides and then there’s a map listing what kind of BBQ is at each booth. The attendees visit the central area first and then branch out to find the booth where their favorite BBQ is. The judging of BBQs is done prior to anyone entering the event and the winning BBQs’ booths have special ribbons!

The plan was simple and when the committee heard about it they said okay. The event was pulled off within two weeks and the patrons attending the choir were very pleased with the BBQ. 500 people were served quickly (within 30 minutes) because planning went into how the event was set up.

Extra bonuses to consider, which involves partnership with other groups:

  1. An outside BBQ allows for a fire pit to do ingredients for smores (a real estate company provided the ingredients at the theatre event)
  2. Providing picnic blankets for people to spread out (a social club had special blankets available at the theatre event)
  3. Provide real wine glasses if you’re serving wine (the Chamber had glasses with their logo available at the theatre event. The wine was donated by a liquor store.)

The BBQ idea is something you’re encouraged to expand upon. It can certainly be a format for a fundraiser for a non-profit. Good luck if you decide to go for it. Gayle is always available for questions via email if you want to ask! iwantto@soarwithnetworkfundraising.com



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