We’ve all heard it, the fastest way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. We can all agree that a great food and beverage (F&B) program will not only impress your meeting attendees, but also drive attendance to your events again and again. When planning an event, it’s always smart to learn about the latest trends and head to your first F&B meeting with some savvy ideas of your own. A great place to start your research is the Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants’ Fourth Annual Culinary and Cocktails Trend Forecast. But discovering that meat alternatives are going mainstream is only one step in designing the perfect culinary program. Time to turn to the experts!
In part one of this two-part series we’ll share expert insight on how to dish up a F&B event your attendees will never forget. You’ll learn about what’s trending and get advice on how to really wow your crowd.
Experiential & Educational Dining
Today’s diners are knowledgeable foodies who want to know more about the food they are eating and interact with the chefs preparing it. This makes experiential dining a top trend for 2018. Attendees expect more out of a restaurant or caterer than the food alone. Basic buffet lines and generic sit-down dining are on the decline. Attendees want less structure, with more time to mix and mingle and be entertained.
Annee Gillett of Alexandria, Virginia’s Eat Good Food Group says the number one request regarding F&B she receives is to make the program more interactive. “Planners want their guests to be entertained, not just fed,” she says. “Chef recently paired a four-course meal to music, with the score arranged by our event partner Gourmet Symphony. We have also provided sommeliers on hand to explain the wine paired with each course, or a fromagier to describe the cheeses on the board.”
Interactive stations where attendees move around the room, choosing what they prefer to eat and chatting with the chef watching while their food is prepared, are also popular according to Executive Chef Dan Fisher of Society Fair. “Chef and cocktail demos are also trending, where guests not only get to eat and drink fresh offerings, but they also learn something about how it is made.”
Image Credit: Virtue Feed & Grain
Attendees and planners not only want unique presentations, but they also want one-of-a-kind offerings made especially for their group. One way to get inspiration about how to take your event to the next level according to Emily Klassen, event sales and marketing director for Alexandria Restaurant Partners, owners of Alexandria’s popular Virtue Feed & Grain and Vola’s Dockside Grill among others, is to look to your event space for inspiration. “For instance, if you hold your event at Virtue, its historic architecture makes it perfect for a speakeasy theme, featuring fun signature cocktails. Or, go nautical at Vola’s Dockside Grill and feature fresh oysters and seafood.”
Some of the custom creations Alexandria Restaurant Partners has done for groups include offering signature cocktails using the group’s logo as inspiration and partnering with wholesale bakeries and other local businesses to create take-home gifts personalized with the company’s logo.
As planners strive to create unique, custom events that will wow attendees they are doing so with the challenge of having smaller budgets.
“Planners are definitely looking for ways to save money,” says Page O’Neill, director of catering and convention services at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center. “At the same time, they want something special for their attendees. We work with the planners to provide the best of both worlds. They may cut back on the complimentary bar time, but we’ll help them serve a standout breakfast the next morning.”
Gillett of Eat Good Food Group says she has seen more people saving money by having daytime events at the office rather than the big nighttime affair at an outside venue. She says clients who transition to daytime events will splurge by adding a wine tasting or a signature mocktail.
Instagram culture and social media are here to stay. Look for dishes and drinks that offer socially shareable moments, incorporating imaginative and artful visual elements.
“It is more important than ever to make sure the food looks as good as it tastes,” says O’Neill. “With people taking so many photos and sharing them via social media, the visual presentation of each plate has to rise to the occasion as well.”
In part two, we’ll dish on the flavors and ingredients that are trending and get more fresh ideas from our experts for you to use to transform your next event.
Insider Tip: Having your event in Alexandria? Bring a little local flavor to your event venue with food truck favorites. Attendees will rave about the eggrolls with multiple personalities from Meggrolls or the White House White Cheddar popcorn from Popped Republic. Of course, no event is complete without a taste of the city’s locally-crafted brews. Port City Brewing Company’s Beer Guides on Demand program will add a tasty, fun and educational component to your event.
Header image by R Kennedy for Visit Alexandria