In part one of this two-part series we looked at the 2018 meeting industry trends guaranteed to help you design an impressive food and beverage (F&B) program for your next event. Now let’s get the dish from our experts on which fresh new trends will make your program as tasty as it is talk-worthy!
Hail the Plant Protein
Gluten-free, low carb, vegan—chefs are finding more people want to eat healthier or have dietary restrictions that require menu options, with enough variety offered to please all. Hence why you’ll find meat alternatives and new protein sources a top trend for 2018.
“We used to get maybe 1 in 300 people request a plant-based protein,” says Page O’Neill, director of catering and convention services at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center. “Now it’s more like 30 to 50. Gluten-free, vegan, lactose-intolerant, dietary restrictions and healthy preferences are leading the way in F&B. Our chef is creating some beautiful dishes using veggies like cauliflower and beets and adding spices to make it taste as great as it looks.”
New forms of protein and healthier options are even making their way into desserts and coffee breaks.
“Vegan and gluten-free desserts are certainly a trend right now,” says Sebastien Rondier, executive chef at BRABO and BRABO Tasting Room at Kimpton Lorien Hotel & Spa. “Even coffee and refreshment stations include super food additions like protein powder, turmeric, matcha and coconut oil.”
The popularity of new protein sources also speaks to the trend of more people looking to try emerging spices and embrace a little food adventure. Emily Klassen, event sales and marketing director for Alexandria Restaurant Partners, says they see diners and meeting planners gravitating to more globally-inspired dishes and spices they are not familiar with as well as different types of meat. “We offer duck meatloaf and a wild boar burger at Virtue Feed and Grain, and our Avocado Toast with Za’atar spice is a hit at The Majestic.”
Annee Gillett of Alexandria, Virginia’s Eat Good Food Group says she has also seen a rise in international flavors. “We use emerging spices and international flavors to make even vegetarian dishes taste like a treat. You never want the vegetarian to feel like they are getting the leftovers.”
Think Regional, Think Local
Regional influences are a top trend for 2018 and in some locations, like Alexandria, those influences come from our own backyard and meld seamlessly with the ongoing local food movement.
“We have such amazing sources in Virginia—the farms, the waters—and we spend a lot of time securing our product,” says Executive Chef Dan Fisher of Society Fair. “Good food requires an expert hand from start to finish and if you start with a great local product and handle it well, people will always taste the difference.”
Chef Rondier of BRABO adds that proper hospitality businesses have been practicing the farm-to-table “trend” for many years. “If fresh, good quality, locally-grown vegetables and meats are available to me, then I don’t bother looking elsewhere. Locally-grown cauliflower prepared as a gratin with a delicious peppery béchamel and nutmeg is perfect on a winter day. It’s a great dish to serve for large parties as well.”
While people are expanding their taste bud horizons and eating less like their parents, they still find themselves drawn to comfort food, making classic dishes and throwback foods a major trend for 2018.
“Comfort food is daily life here at Society Fair with classics like Beef Bourguignon,” says Chef Fisher. “Our dishes often harken back to childhood, but now they are elevated to embrace today’s more exotic tastes.”
One way to bring a little “comfort” to your next event? Find that special connection that is bound to bring a smile to every attendee’s face. With the right information, chefs are sure to create a one-of-a-kind F&B program for your group.
“I just love cooking and connecting with my guests, and I’m happy to learn more about the meeting planners and meeting attendees,” adds Chef Rondier. “If they want to share a memory with me or their favorite foods, I want to make that connection through my food. Is there a childhood memory of your grandma making a great strawberry pie? Then my team can make mini strawberry pies for the group!”
Insider Tip: International flavors and healthy influences are also working their way in to the cocktail scene this year. Add a little adventure to your event with mango, habanero chili-infused margaritas at Virtue Feed & Grain or perk up the vitamin value with fresh, house-pressed cranberry juice in your vodka at PX Lounge. The team at Visit Alexandria is happy to connect you with the venues offering the latest trends in their F&B programs.
Header image by Jeremy Brandt Vorel