Brand Connection

The Case for Treating Your Event Like a Culinary Experience

/ Sep 1, 2017 (Handout photo)

Three ways to use your attendees’ obsession with good—and local—food and drink to elevate the meeting experience.

Have you ever wondered why the United States has recently became so obsessed with food and the people who prepare it? According to food writer Eve Turow, we have millennials to thank for this new national obsession.

“We have formed into a society that’s so accustomed to sitting in front of a screen and typing, for the vast majority of the day,” Turow said in an interview in The Atlantic. “And the truth of the matter is that it’s not exciting all of our senses. Through interviews over and over again, I kept hearing that people want something that’s tangible, that they can see and feel and smell and taste and that [millennials] are the guinea pigs of growing up in that [digital] world.”

However it happened, there’s no denying that restaurants across the country are taking local proteins and produce and turning them into some very tasty meals—and that’s great news for your meetings. Not only can your attendees look forward to their dinners out on the town, but you can use local food and beverage talent and trends to add excitement to onsite networking events and meals.

Here are three ideas for making your event more foodie-focused and engaging.

1. Put chefs front and center.

One of the top conference food trends noted in a 2015 IACC report was that attendees want to interact with the chef. That’s still relevant in 2017.

Jolene Ketzenberger, editor of EatDrinkIndy.com and host of Eat Drink Indiana Radio on WFYI, said that Indy chefs are holding more special dinners—often pop-up events or dinner series or pop-up dinner series—than in the past. And people can’t seem to get enough.

“Chef demonstrations can be really interesting, and we are just going to see more chefs doing that,” Ketzenberger said.

Whether at a private, offsite event space or at the meeting venue, consider hosting an event where the chef is front and center. It could be a tasting menu with the chef walking attendees through each course, a presentation of how to make a tasty local favorite, or simply a Q&A session about local food and restaurant trends.

2. Book a bunch of food—and adult beverage—trucks.

Why have food trucks taken off across the country? Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold has a theory: “At a time in America when finances are shaky, yet even modest big-city restaurant spaces involve multimillion-dollar build-outs, when consumers have wearied of giant chains but still demand food that is novel, inexpensive and fast, food trucks are the new incubators of culinary innovation,” he wrote in Smithsonian Magazine.

And it only seemed a matter of time before the food truck craze expanded to adult beverages of interest. Ross Bailey, owner of Tastings Wine Bar in Indianapolis, also runs a wine truck. A really cool wine truck: It’s a fully customized 1952 International Harvester Metro that can serve more than 1,000 servings of six different wines (renters choice).

3. Celebrate local craft beers at a networking event—and boost mixing and mingling with tasting stations.

If your conference is in a city with a strong craft beer scene, set up a bunch of different tasting stations and then set your attendees free to sample them. You can invite the brewers to give a spiel about their beers beforehand, or just have short descriptions at the tasting stations.

“Craft beers are huge, and I don’t see any sign of the trend easing off,” Ketzenberger said about the booming beer scene in Indy. In fact, there are so many breweries that they are differentiating themselves in new ways. For example, one gives away 5 percent of its profits to animal organizations and allows patrons to bring their pooch to the tap room.

And holding a tasting event provides a great a conversation starter for networkers. Bailey offers wine tasting stations at his restaurant, and he gets a lot of feedback from patrons about “how much they love the space because it allows people to mingle and interact,” he said.

Wherever your meeting is, playing up the local food and beverage trends in your networking and dining events is a no-brainer. You will be giving your attendees an experience—not to mention a meal or a tasty beverage—they are craving.