You would think Food & Beverage would be one of the easiest elements of planning a meeting, right? We all love food (well, most of us; I have a weird friend who only thinks of food as energy?!?), we all love to read yummy menus, and to pick some delicious menus should be a breeze.

Well, you would think that, but being an easy thing to do currently would be wrong! Food & Beverage in 95% of meetings is the top budget line item. Putting a lot of effort into it pays off. It tells us it’s a task that needs our full attention and expertise, so we can provide our clients with the most economical food without sacrificing quality for the people eating it. And since we don’t want hangry attendees, it’s important what we feed them.

This topic has many elements, and I could write a 100-page blog about it, so for time’s sake, we’ll touch lightly on dietary needs, food trends, and some cost-saving ideas to put in place.

Dietary Needs

Dietary needs have increased from the one vegetarian we might have had to provide in the past. It’s now standard to have many different dietary needs requests. By law, we must ask the question and make the answer required and provide it, if requested, as some of these cause serious medical complications if we don’t, such as celiac disease, anaphylactic shock.

What are some of the requests we’re seeing?

Food Allergies; nuts, milk, grains, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish

Personal Preference; Vegan, Vegetarian, Raw, Paleo, Flexitarian, Pescatarian, Low Carb

Religious Practices; Kosher, Halal, Muslims fasting during Ramadan, etc.

Labeling all food items is mandatory and includes if the dish is gluten-free, contains milk or soy, etc.  This should be in the contract and on all banquet event orders (BEO’s).

Food Trends

I watched numerous webinars, attended some great training sessions at IMEX, and read various articles, and there are some exciting trends for 2018. Now mind you, you must know your audience, and not every group will be willing to be nearly as adventurous as you or I would be. If you have a more adventurous group, some of these things you may be able to incorporate into your menus, others like the cannabis cuisine mentioned in two webinars, probably not.

Educational, Interactive, Engaging, Unique events; think food/wine pairings, craft beer tastings, charcuterie classes, butchering classes, dine-around having shared meals in people’s homes instead of just going to restaurants, street foods, educational chef food stations, food trucks, vertical rotisseries, frozen wine, savory desserts.

People are more concerned with what they eat; is it local, non-GMO, natural, less-processed, no artificial ingredients, or antibiotics. We’ll see more boutique wines: gluten-free, natural, canned. Vegan wines filtered with fish skin or egg whites.

Cold-brew items such as coffee, specialty cocktails and mocktails, cocktail consultants, ice cubes with logos inside, alcoholic architecture with dry ice.

Alternative meats such as goat, venison, elk, bison. Also, alternative cuts using snout to tail and specialty cuts are not as expensive. Alternative proteins such as crickets have been discussed. Something called plant butchery has been mentioned, which is meat-free meats like beet carpaccio, Portobello mushroom steaks.

Alternative milk such as coconut, soy, hemp, almond, cashew, hazelnut, rice.

Alternative sugars such as coconut, dates, agave, maple, honey, molasses.

Alternative pasta such as spiralized zucchini and squash to add color and fewer carbs.

Regional cuisine with local flavors, global cuisine is becoming more mainstream such as African, Middle Eastern, Latin America, and Filipino.

And remember during this age of the camera; people like to document their food experiences now, so make food art worthy with a colorful and beautiful buffet or plate presentations.

Cost-Saving Ideas

During the contract phase, negotiate a percentage off food & beverage banquet menus. You also want to separate food attrition from room attrition. Have the percentage a graduated reduction. One week away only pay to loss of profits; they haven’t bought the food yet, so there is no loss of food.

Talk to the chef and explain your budget and challenge him to come up with some ideas to fit within your budget. Nine times out of ten, they will be super excited they get to spread their creative wings!

Add more vegetables to your menus. This not only helps with the vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free requests, but it also helps your bottom line.

Customize menus. Some buffet lunch menus offer six entrees, five vegetables, and five desserts. My group doesn’t need all that if I want to prevent them from nodding off in afternoon sessions. It’s perfectly acceptable to strike-through some of the options and ask for a sizable discount from the per-person cost.

Another trend that may help your bottom line is serving breakfast all day. And sometimes, the hotel will work with you to do this, such as waffles and eggs for dinner. It’s fun not only for attendees but helps your budget.

Count everything ordered to determine what is liked and what is disliked for future planning. Watch plates as they’re taken up from the table to see if something consistently was left on a plate.

Get actual counts of meal attendees for each meal so that you can compare your guarantee versus actual. Then start keeping a history of numbers to get an obvious idea of attrition or event drop off, so you can make educated decisions on guarantee numbers moving forward.

I hope some of this helps and happy food & beverage planning! Just remember to create memories which have an impact on emotions and experiences your attendees will remember and talk about.

Check out how Brightspot can help you plan, design, and execute your next corporate meeting or event.

Holly Swanzy

Author Holly Swanzy

Senior Program Manager | Meeting and incentive travel planning professional for 25 years. Delighted when I can collaborate with my clients to not only relationship-build, but determine their goals and provide them with stellar customer service to ensure we achieve their goals.

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