28
Apr
15

Good news foodies: Conference venues are listening

small_plates_of_foodAt a conference dinner earlier this month, a bunch of us, hungry and tired, sat at the table joking that chicken was most likely on the menu.

And it was. But we had salmon, too. And vegetables, rolls, rice, salad and dessert. Sounds about right for a conference, yes?

So imagine our surprise when the rest of the meals didn’t consist of the typical conference grub, but instead included fancy finger foods, fresh vegetables, flavorfully spiced meats and beautiful presentation. It was straight out of Pinterest or my “Cooking Light” magazine.

For the most part, everything was fairly healthy (except for the desserts). But more importantly: There were options.

According to a new list by International Association of Conference Centres, such palate-pleasing spreads will soon be the norm.

The global organization recently released its Top 10 Conference Food and Beverage Trends for 2015, and healthy tops the list. Farm-to-food eating is gaining popularity across the globe, so conference venues are taking note.

“Recently, there has been an enormous shift toward health and the impact that food can have on concentration and productivity,” said Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC. “The trends identified in our research take this knowledge to the next level and will help meeting planners to deliver the ultimate experience when it comes to catering for conferences.”

Here’s IACC’s list:

  1. Local is everything – The importance of adding a local feel to meetings has been identified as a major trend, as attendees want to experience as much as they can about the area they’re visiting for their meeting or event.
  2. Network your heart out – Small plates of food, continuously served in a reception format, add a nice break to an extended event. Another popular choice is to hold a more substantial networking-friendly dining reception midway through your event, as it provides a great way for guests to meet up in a causal environment and build relationships while enjoying great food and beverage.
  3. Small is the new big – Bite-sized desserts have overtaken larger portions in popularity. Conference delegates are turning their backs on the big slice of cake and heading instead for the signature bite-size desert station. Warm house-made donuts, chocolate truffles, French macaroons, mini cupcakes and house-made cookies are top of the list for planners.
  4. In with flavor, out with fats – Healthy choices don’t need to resemble rabbit food. Conference chefs are increasingly working with exciting new ingredients, including whole grains, protein alternatives (quinoa, amaranth, tofu, beans), green vegetables (kale, spinach), low fat and low-sugar foods that sound, look and taste great.
  5. Making and breaking bread together – Nothing brings the team together more than food. Having the opportunity to cook with someone can unveil a new hidden talent not seen in an office environment or company outing.
  6. Contrasting environments – Utilizing outside space to create a change in scenery and a casual dining experience will revitalize attendees, especially during multi-day meetings and events.
  7. Finale, not gala – Make sure the last night of your event has all the components to create a dynamic environment and brings people together to celebrate the end of a great conference. Be creative and choose your room seating layout and dining style to deliver that finale.
  8. Theatricality – Adding a chef-run interactive station can also highlight the menu with fresh prepared items (Panini, clubhouse or slider). Remember to ask for gluten-free options.
  9. Go micro for max effect – With the explosion in microbreweries offering brews that appeal to all tastes, ask your conference planner if he or she can make pre-dinner drinks a local affair.
  10. Infused tea cocktails – The English drink a lot of it and now the world has caught on to the latest trend: infused tea cocktails. Combine this with trend nine and you can have a double brew at your next reception.

NXT-CRAFTYBEERDRINKER-TBFood and drink bring people together. Case in point: Think about your last gathering. Did everyone congregate around the food, in the kitchen?

Try to create those same casual, memorable experiences at your next gathering. While education and professional development will draw your participants to your event, networking – especially over crisp wine and trendy appetizers – will bring them back.


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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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