When in Rome, entertain your guests as the Romans do. Now, you don’t have to be in Rome to enjoy an Italian tradition that has been growing increasingly popular among event professionals. We are talking, of course, of the aperitivo: a much misunderstood Italian term that has become an international buzzword. As a business event, an aperitivo presents several advantages, being a flexible format that can easily be adapted to both formal and informal occasions. Depending on your budget, your aperitivo could be filed under super-expensive client entertainment or under reasonably-priced team-building. But what is it exactly?
Aperitivo: the meal before the meal
Traditionally, the term “aperitivo” refers to a small and light meal or a snack, usually accompanied by one alcoholic drink, that is consumed shortly before dinner, to whet one’s appetite. In a more intimate context, such as a dinner party, the host may introduce a round of snacks before the first course as an “aperitivo”. Over time, however, the word has evolved. Bars and cafes have started offering a late afternoon “aperitivo”, which consists in a free buffet that customers can access provided that they buy one drink at a fixed price. On these occasions, the food on offer tends to exceed what is commonly considered “snacks” and include proper courses like pasta, salads, croutons with dips, meat, fried veggies, and even dessert. It is understood that such a meal is no longer intended to be a pre-dinner affair, but rather an early dinner in and of itself. So, how can you tell a proper dinner from an aperitivo? Easy: an aperitivo is more glamorous, everyone gets their own food from the buffet and often eats standing up and, most of all, they socialise and network way more intensely than any dinner table could possibly allow. Also, more than anything, an aperitivo is cool.
Plan your business aperitivo
The aperitivo is the perfect business event format: quick, informal, laid back, easy and yet elegant. Many companies find it cheaper to make group reservations in bars that already offer their own aperitivi, rather than overseeing the whole organisation themselves. This allows the whole team to hit the bar together right after work, much like teams in the UK and Germany head straight from the office to the pub (the only difference being the food on offer). As a team-building activity, this is as simple and manageable as it goes: employees will share drinks, eat, chat and get to know each other. However, there are much more glamorous ways to organise such an event. If you want to impress a client, for instance, you could have your own private aperitivo in a fashionable venue, hire a DJ and provide gourmet finger-food and designer cocktails. This kind of event is usually organised to wind down after a conference or a trade show, to create networking opportunities in a protected environment or to entertain an important client or a visiting team after a meeting.
All things in moderation: what you need to know about alcohol, food and music
The fact that this is a relatively simple format, doesn’t mean it is impossible to get it wrong. There are a few caveats when planning an aperitivo, and a few easy mistakes that can kill the vibe of the whole event (and if there’s one thing you don’t want to do is kill the vibe). For instance, you don’t want your guests to get drunk. You are not taking visiting students to a pub-crawl after all. Always offer quality drinks, but focus on taste, not alcohol. During a 3 – 4 hour event, each of your guests might end up consuming 4 to 6 glasses of whatever is on offer. Make sure the cocktails on offer are enjoyable, but not too strong and always provide plenty of water and non-alcoholic alternatives. Something similar needs to be done with food. This is not a business dinner after all – more of a cocktail party – therefore food will most likely be offered on a buffet or passed around in trays. Choose finger-food options that don’t require cutlery and that won’t make your guests feel stuffed at the end of the evening. Similarly, when it comes to hiring a DJ, agree on light and enjoyable background music. Something that will not necessarily make people dance, but will have them sway lightly, while still being able to talk without shouting. This is not a clubbing event: don’t let the music get in the way of networking.