What to cook for 7,000 people during big events

It is not just sound and lighting that must be set up before a big event, the culinary aspect is just as important, if not more important. This requires at least as much planning as anything else, but the food is also a decisive factor that greatly affects the guests’ overall experience. In another words, we need to get this right!

Hilde Pettersen

Hilde Pettersen is a Project Coordinator in the Food & Beverages department at Oslofjord Convention Center. She has worked with us for more than 5 years and has extensive experience in catering for large events. We asked her what to cook for 7,000 people.

How do you think it was to work with this kind of event?
This type of event is right up my ally way, it’s great fun! In this case, we also worked together with an event agency and then it becomes extra important to work with clarification of expectations; what does the customer want, what does the event agency want and what is actually possible during such a large event. We probably all know that it is tough and demanding along the way, but it is also professionally challenging, incredibly fun and absolutely worth it in the end.

How long do you spend planning an event of this magnitude?
We need a few months in order to really make sure that we cover all basis, four to six months is ideal.

Can you tell us a bit about how you worked with the various food concepts?
We had a close collaboration with the event agency throughout so that we delivered food concepts that were in line with the customer’s wishes and the program for the various parties. We also have to be careful when planning the logistics; the order must be absolutely correct with regard to, among other things, capacity for heating.

The concepts we decide to use must also reflect what is possible to achieve in a good way for such a large audience. Apart from the large banquet dinner, we had different food stations with meals, in addition to each room being equipped with its own breakfast packs.

In this case, the customer was also very concerned about the environment and sustainability. There was a big focus on vegetarian options, packaging and recycling, so this was an important factor when we worked on the various concepts.

How did you work on nailing down the menu for the banquet dinner on Saturday?
We carried out two tastings and collaborated very well with the customer along the way. We found that expectations were well coordinated throughout, so that menus and food concepts were quickly put in place.

What was on the menu for Saturday’s banquet?
For starters: Salmon tataki with salad and green dill emulsion
Main course: Sharing concept with red pork-marinated tenderloin, garlic-marinated chicken thighs, grilled marinated vegetables, potato salad, Bearnaise sauce and BBQ sauce.
Both the starter and the main course also had their own vegetarian options.
Dessert: Macaroons

The starter was ready on the tables when the guests arrived and the main course was ready in a warming cabinet. The menu this time required a little extra preparation because there were so many guests that they used a lot of the area we usually have for “back of house”. Therefore, a sharing concept for the main menu was the best solution considering the space we had available.

How many employees did F&B have on duty during the Saturday dinner?
We had over 220 waiters and 60 chefs in 17 different zones. In addition, we had 30-40 bartenders. Everything is distributed among the various zones in advance and down to the smallest detail. All material is marked with the zone it belongs to, and the employees are assigned responsibility for different zones. It will almost be like having 17 smaller companies.

We also had 40 employees for clearing alone – it was an enormous job! We had also planned this very carefully and used, among other things, parts of the parking garage under Oslofjord Arena for a cleaning and recycling station.

How long did it take to serve the main course and side dish?
Serving the main course, with a side dish, took just over 20 minutes. The sharing concept made it possible to serve a little faster.

How much tableware was used for such a dinner?
About 70,000 units in total. This meant, among other things:
14,000 plates
28,000 pieces of cutlery
28,000 glasses and coffee cups

Not just a big banquet dinner

A big banquet dinner is not the only big event that needed catering. In addition to the large banquet and breakfast packages in the rooms, a total of 17 different meals were served! Among other things, the following was on the menu: wraps, baguettes, fruit cups, chili con/sin carne, salad with pulled duck, chicken curry and popsicles.

Were you worried that something wouldn’t go quite as planned? And if so, what?
Actually, I was not particularly worried. We’ve done this so many times before that we know what it takes to succeed. Nevertheless, I leave with a small lump in my stomach, because something can happen that we cannot plan for, such as a power cut or technical failure. The only thing that is certain about large events is that there is a high degree of unpredictability, and you have to be flexible along the way.

Did something actually not go quite according to plan?
Yes actually! The guests had been told to go up to the Arena a little too early for the banquet on Saturday, so ten minutes before we were supposed to open, people had started showing up. It was not 100% ready inside the venue and we still had waiters walking around with starters on the tables. It got a bit chaotic for the people at work right then, but it worked out very well in the end.

What is the most fun thing about working with such large events?
It’s a real kick and that’s what makes it so much fun! It is also, of course, a lot of fun when it goes so well. The large volume also means that the margins are very small. One small thing multiplied by 7,000 guests, that’s what makes it a kick to work with. My job is largely about making sure that the guests are satisfied, and it is very rewarding to have that hosting role.

Read more about their event here!