The Word: Chicken

(noun) 1. the common domestic fowl (Gallus gallus); also its flesh used as food

Pedestrian Poultry

Chicken is one of the least expensive and healthiest meats to serve your meeting attendees, but the bird is a victim of its own success. Its ubiquity has earned it a reputation as a humdrum, cost-saving menu item, and that perception can turn off your attendees before they've taken a bite. However, chicken makes great banquet food because people generally like it, and, unlike some other meats, it tends to hold up well when being served en masse.

No Rubber, Please

Treating less-expensive ingredients such as chicken in interesting ways can be a budget-saver. Chicken satay with Indonesian peanut sauce, for example, is a popular option. How about chicken cacciatore served in a glass? Chicken Wellington instead of beef Wellington? No matter what, avoid rubber chicken by choosing a recipe that will keep the meat moist and tender while sitting in a hot-box on its way to the far ends of the ballroom. Consider a stuffed breast, a fruit chutney topping, or a sauce that will maintain its integrity under the heat lamps.

Ride the Free Range

The green meeting movement is gaining momentum, and one aspect of a green effort can be serving organic food that was raised humanely, fed only pesticide-free grains, and never given hormones. Organic chicken has become widely available, and while the price will be higher than conventionally raised chicken, the organic label will offset the down-market connotation of this well-liked main course — and most attendees will appreciate the healthful effort.

Upgrade the Plate

Whether chicken is on the menu as a budget item, a comfort food, or a crowd pleaser, the rest of the meal can step up to deliver a memorable dining experience. Look for a presentation that has an exciting balance of colors, flavors, and textures. If the chicken seems mundane, counter it with an up-to-the-minute salad, such as baby greens with golden beets, Parmesan shavings, and balsamic vinaigrette. Consider upgrading the china and glassware, and finish with an eye-popping dessert that will make a lasting impression.

Birds of a Feather

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, Americans consume 84.5 pounds of chicken per capita per year, a number that grew dramatically from 39.7 pounds per capita in the mid-1970s. Beef, also popular, only hit 65.8 pounds per capita in 2004. While the numbers might suggest that your attendees need a break from the inescapable fowl, you can be sure it's a menu item to which most people will not object.

Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.usda.gov [3]; Merriam-Webster Online, www.m-w.com [4]