Retreat Meal Planning

Retreat Meal Planning for Your Next Church Retreat

Retreat meal planning can be one of the trickiest parts of planning a church retreat. With a large group of people there comes a naturally large group of tastes, financial statuses, and more that affect exactly what you will be serving at your spiritual getaway. However over years of planning group events, we’ve come across a few basic pieces of advice and options to consider that will go a long way towards planning your retreat meal.

Bring your own Food
The simplest retreat meal planning option is to have individuals or families bring whatever they prefer to eat and everything they will need to cook it with. This arrangement works best for camping out, or if you will be staying at a resort that has full kitchen facilities available. In the Branson area we often suggest Table Rock State Park because it has two pavilions, lake access, numerous picnic tables and grills–similar facilities are available at many state marks, and perhaps one is near your retreat destination.

The disadvantage to this type of retreat meal is that families tend to go off into their own little area while the purpose of the retreat is getting to know your church family. If you choose this method, you should have a common area where the group gathers to eat the food they have cooked. It also often won’t be realistic to ask people who are traveling long distances, especially those that might be flying, to bring food with them or do grocery shopping at the reunion site.

One of the best ways to get the group together is rent a banquet room at the hotel or resort where you are staying and have a pot luck meal. Every church member provides one or more food items, and all the items are shared between church members. To make sure you have a balanced meal, assign each member a specific category of food so you don’t end up with all salads or all desserts (as tempting as that last one may sound!).

Ask each church member to bring extra food, to ensure that you have enough food for everyone. Since some food items cost more than others, you may want to assign some families a few less expensive items while others do a single bigger ticket item.

Another option is to provide the main course ahead of time and the rest of the meal can be assigned via potluck dishes; but remember if the pastor is grilling or doing a fish fry then he hasn’t had time to visit with church members and this can be an unfair request.

Planing a retreat dinner at a local restaurant or hotel banquet room is a very nice option–be sure let your hotel or resort events coordinator assist you in a selection to find one appropriate for your retreat members. The advantages to this are obvious: no one has to worry about cooking or cleaning up afterwards, and everyone can spend all their time just enjoying each other’s company and catching up on the church member accomplishments and needs. The disadvantage is that you might need to make your reservations months in advance especially if youre looking for a private room. If possible, you will want to visit each potential restaurant for dinner to make sure that it fits with your retreat. You don’t want it to be too formal for your members tastes.

When you select the restaurant and are ready to make your reservation, request a confirmation letter or contract that spells out all the details you and the manager who agreed to verbally. You want it to be clear so that there is no room for any misunderstanding on the day of the event.

The letter should include:

  • The date & time of the retreat meals. There’s nothing worse than having your guests show up and find out the restaurant didn’t expect you until next week!
  • Number of retreat guests. Most restaurants will need to plan ahead to have enough food to feed a large group of guests, as well as time to set up tables to accomodate everyone.
  • Price per person. Whether this is being paid individually or by the retreat committee, this is still invaluable to make sure the retreat meal budget fits within expectations.
  • Date of the Final Count. Most restaurants will let you change the number of guests arriving for quite a while, but it’s always best to know when they need a final head count so you’re not surprised at the last minute.
  • Cancellation terms and deposits. As the saying goes, hope for the best but plan for the worst. If something comes up and you have to cancel your retreat meal, or even if a few families have to cancel, find out what your options and obligations are.
  • Any additional fees, tips, etc. Most restaurants will automatically add a gratuity to the bill of a large group–but it’s not guaranteed. Find out if this is done and the amount of the gratuity, as well as any other fees that may come along with a retreat of that size.

Instead of going to a restaurant for your church retreat meal you might want the food to come to you. When hiring a caterer, make sure you account for more than just the food. You will be need plates, napkins and silverware. Make sure you take into account any special dietary needs of your church member. A tasty menu makes for an unforgettable church retreat. Having your event organizer assist with selecting the menu usually works the best but should you decide to use your own caterer here are some tips.

  • Ask for catering references and pay attention when you eat at other catered events. Like the food? Find out who catered it and contact them.
  • Make a list of caterers and call each to find out availability–no sense in talking with one if they’ve already booked another church retreat in another town!
  • Ask potential caterers for their qualifications and if there’s an upcoming event you can stop by and see their work in action.
  • Ask for references from each caterer. Call them and see how they’ve done in the past–especially if it’s a church group similar to yours.
  • Choose the 3 best caterers and discuss your budget and available date with them. Be sure to provide an approximate head count and go over a sample menu so they can provide you the best proposal possible.
  • Be sure to ask about extra services and what they cost, i.e. cleanup, taxes, charges for linens & dishes, etc.
  • Ask for a kitchen inspection and if the caterer is “servsafe” certified. Don’t forget current health inspection reports.
  • Ask to see professional catering documents such as business license, certification and insurance.
  • Set up a meeting with your chosen caterer to finalize menu, beverages, decorations, wait staff, tips, taxes, setup and payment methods and anything else you need for your church retreat meal. Once you have this finalized, put it in a contract!
  • Contact your caterer one week and one day before your event just to make sure there aren’t any last minute questions or issues that crop up.

Whatever method you choose for planning a retreat meal, remember that the overall goal is to provide a time to relax and fellowship with your church family. Every decision in your meal planning should move towards this goal. Keep this mind and everything from pot luck to catering will ultimately help accomplish your goal of planning a church retreat to remember!