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Foods to Never Serve at Networking Events

Heidi Thorne is a business author with 25 years of experience in marketing/sales, including a decade in the hotel and trade show industries.

Networking events are great for meeting customers and colleagues. But some foods can make these events challenging and get in the way of making connections.

Networking events are great for meeting customers and colleagues. But some foods can make these events challenging and get in the way of making connections.

"So great to see you," a friendly voice chirps as a hand, a bit sticky with barbecue sauce, is extended for a handshake. Ewwwww!!

Unfortunately, this scenario can happen at networking events. Why? Because foods that are difficult to eat and handle are selected for the menu. In an effort to provide delicious foods and drinks, those planning these events can often forget that attendees will be doing all of the following, sometimes simultaneously:

  • Standing
  • Talking
  • Shaking hands
  • Eating and drinking
  • Juggling food, drinks, and business cards

Let's look at some foods that should never be served for networking...

The 10 Messiest Foods for Networking Events

All of the following are so messy to serve, handle and eat, that they should be scratched from any networking event menu. (Note: All of these have been observed being served at events.)

  1. Barbecue ribs: Mostly likely the messiest of foods to serve and eat. Since they are usually eaten with their hands, this presents a real problem for attendees who either must constantly be wiping or washing their hands. Some might ditch the ribs altogether just to stay neat. (Ribs at a women's expo? Yep, seen it done. Yikes!)
  2. Fried chicken (except for boneless pieces): Like barbecue ribs, fried chicken is eaten either with the hands or requires utensils to create bite-size pieces. "Buffalo" style wings can be an alternative, but sometimes the sauces on them are a mess.
  3. Sandwiches: Unless being eaten with two hands at a table, the sandwich fillings usually end up slipping out onto the plate, the floor, and clothing. Especially the case when mayonnaise and mustard or other condiments are added. Adding condiments to prepared sandwiches also is a mess. The "mini" sandwiches and "sliders" which are quite popular on menus now, don't help much. It's still difficult to get the mouth around them and chew while engaged in conversation. And it messes up ladies' lipstick, for sure.
  4. Spaghetti or long noodles: Spaghetti and fettuccine-style noodles are tough enough to eat even while sitting down. They require fork twirling or cutting into smaller pieces. Now try doing that standing up and walking around.
  5. Cupcakes: Ah, smaller bits of a beautifully decorated cake. A hot fad in the catering and food service industry! Just one problem, cupcake liner papers need to be removed, and frosting usually ends up on the face. Again, ladies usually end up having to lick their lips to remove the frosting, messing up makeup.
  6. Items with lots of seeds: Where do things like poppy and sesame seeds end up? In everyone's teeth. Not only is it embarrassing, but it's distracting since people are always trying (unsuccessfully) to remove them with their tongues.
  7. Powdered sugar-coated donuts or pastries: Like sauces, powdered sugar usually ends up going everywhere it shouldn't be.
  8. Anything that requires both a real knife and fork to eat properly: This would include steak or chicken breasts. If it's a reception or standing-around event, the necessity for multiple utensils is going to be a challenge.
  9. Whole fruit: While the event can score points for offering healthier choices, serving whole fruits, such as apples and oranges, can create a juicy mess when eaten.
  10. Salads: Like whole fruit, this is a healthier choice to serve. Unfortunately, the lettuce is often not cut into easily eaten sizes, making attendees have to shovel large leaves (with dressing on) into their mouths.
These mini crab cakes served on a skewer are great to serve at a networking event.

These mini crab cakes served on a skewer are great to serve at a networking event.

Neater Networking Nom Nom Nom...

So what would be some alternative foods and serving options to consider for networking?

  • "Biting" the menu: Some foods are just naturally in bite-sized pieces. So look for them on menus. Examples would include donut holes, meatballs, chicken nuggets, hors d'oeuvres, chunks of fresh fruit, and mini cookies.
  • Toothpick foods: Have foods cut into bite-size pieces served on toothpicks. Almost any of the items above can be toothpicked. Yes, it will be more prep and expense. But if the goal is to facilitate connections, then it is worth the expense. This way, attendees don't have to juggle utensils and can quickly and easily pop a bite before moving to the next conversation. Offer additional toothpicks at serving stations for attendee convenience... and someplace to easily trash the used ones.
  • Bowtie, penne, and ziti pasta: While attendees still have to contend with sauces, these smaller pasta bites can easily be pierced with a fork and eaten. Using the next suggestion helps even more...
  • Bowl-ing: While the little serving plates look nice, sometimes it's easier and neater to eat from a small bowl. Maybe offer both to give attendees a choice.
  • Trashing the place: One of the most overlooked items at networking events is how attendees will discard food waste and serving pieces. So they spend time wandering around seeking trash receptacles instead of new contacts. Offer several trash and used utensil stations in obvious locations.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 09, 2015:

Oh, Greensleeves, I would so love to see this as a comedy sketch! It'll go viral. :) You're right about the paper plate + paper cup + plastic fork combo. Real dinnerware & silverware, please! At least I have a fighting chance to actually eat something with 'em.

Thanks for adding the fun insight! Have a wonderful, neat-eats day!

Greensleeves Hubs from Essex, UK on April 09, 2015:

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Read More From Toughnickel

Haha - who would serve spaghetti at a networking event? It's just asking for trouble! As for barbecue ribs and chicken that has to be held in the fingers - no way, unless there's wash basins with soap within easy reach!

My own pet hate is those functions where you are expected to stand up holding a paper plate in one hand, a paper cup in the other and a plastic fork in - well - exactly! Not that it's worth having a plastic fork which breaks as soon as you try poking it into a sausage.

Great idea for a hub Heidi, and actually come to think of it - an even greater idea for a comedy sketch in which all the wrong foods are served to all the wrong people at just the wrong moment!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 06, 2014:

Hi kittythedreamer! Those are tops on my never-to-serve list. Just a mess. Thanks so much for the support!

Kitty Fields from Summerland on March 05, 2014:

When I read the title of your hub, I immediately thought of spaghetti and anything with red sauce. I think your hub is informative and well-written. I voted up and useful. :)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 20, 2013:

Hi epbooks/Elizabeth! I usually don't think of these types of things either... until I see them in action. Thanks for reading and commenting, as always. Have a very Happy Thanksgiving if we don't talk before!

Elizabeth Parker from Las Vegas, NV on November 20, 2013:

I never thought of this before but as I was reading, I was in complete agreement. I love these type of hubs- some of these tips are unforgettable!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 19, 2013:

You are right on, informationshelte! I do think that newbie event planners are definitely likely to make mistakes due to not understanding the differences. Unfortunately, I've seen some who should know better make these blunders, too. Those might be trying to satisfy either their own or their bosses tastes, regardless of whether it's beneficial or not. And if you're serving pizza bites, I'll be right over. :) Thanks for reading and adding some great insight into the issue! Have a wonderful day!

informationshelte on November 19, 2013:

Hi heidithorne,

People who organize networking events with little previous experience are prone to make the mistakes mentioned in your article, as they usually can't see the difference between a family-and-friends BBQ and a formal occasion where food is served to attendants, while they have to shake hands, keep professional appearances etc.

I would also like to suggest a few more alternative less-messy snacks, for example:

pizza bites, fried vegetable and cheese croquettes,

and using rolls rathen than plain sandwiches, as they can cause less mess with sauces and crumbs.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 18, 2013:

Hi Nell! We've ALL been there! I remember one time I was doing photos for an event where they were serving fried chicken. So I sneaked out back to eat. Wouldn't you know, they found me to call me in to take some pictures. Cameras + fried chicken = camera needs a cleaning. Yuck! Thanks for commenting and sharing. May your upcoming holiday gigs be filled with delicious nibbles!

Nell Rose from England on November 18, 2013:

Oh this is so true! I remember all the office Networking do's and that food! you just stuff something in your mouth that is prone to making you dribble, and then the boss comes over to ask your opinion on something that will make you popular and get you that darn promotion,.....yes I have been there! lol! nibbles is the way to go! great hub voted up and shared, nell

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 16, 2013:

Oh, FlourishAnyway, I should have added garlic to the list! That's a whole other mess. And I'm all for brownies... anytime! Thanks for reading and have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 16, 2013:

Thanks, Marie, for checking in! Agreed, I love toothpicked goodies. So easy to handle during networking. I think another item to make sure we have at events is obvious directional signage to the ladies room. :) Have a lovely weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 16, 2013:

Great article. Anything spillable ("wearable"), smudgeable, requiring lots of maneuvering definitely needs to be avoided. Also the stuff that causes stinky breath ... garlic, Italian. It is hard to get close to people when they've eaten garlic earlier. Brownies might be a better alternative to cupcakes, as you don't have to frost them, they don't have liners, they are self-contained and not too messy.

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on November 16, 2013:

I vote for hors d'ouerves with a toothpick, definitely. While beverages have to be served, disposable paper or Styrofoam cups probably work best. The ladies are still going to have to go to the lounge to refresh their lipstick, though.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on November 14, 2013:

Aw, thanks, billybuc! My networking pal and I were having a good conversation on what food works and what doesn't at these gigs. We've definitely had our share of "what doesn't." :) Once it's the weekend, I'll be looking forward to digging my messy paws into some sandwiches. Happy Weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 14, 2013:

What a clever you know I love unique articles and this is definitely one of them. Great suggestions and written very well. Nice job Heidi!

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