6 Tasty Trends In Conference Food And Beverages

The latest dish on food and beverages at conferences.

When it comes to conference feedback, attendees comment most on the content covered. In second place? The food. If it’s awful, meeting planners are sure to hear about it. Then again, if it’s great, the whole experience is elevated and regaled long after the closing session. We asked meeting planners and catering executives to share their observations on how meeting fare has transformed in recent years.


1. Evolving food IQ.

Thanks to the Food Network and a multitude of television cooking shows, meeting planners and attendees are more knowledgeable about food than they’ve ever been before. However, the hottest trends don’t always work when serving 5,000 guests.

“We still have to educate planners in that arena,” said Stacey Rowland, Executive Director of Catering at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. “Items that may look really cute in a cup or a cone may not translate when serving large-size groups.”


2. Small plates.

One trend that works well for large groups is small plates.

“One of the best things that happened in the convention world was the popularity of small plates,” Rowland said. “We’ve taken that concept and incorporated the international inspirations and presentation styles. It allows for a lot of flexibility in food choices and budgets.”


3. Afternoon happy hour events.

As the day is winding down, International Sign Association’s Brandon Hensley says one way he keeps attendees engaged is with daily happy hours from 4 to 5 p.m.

Open bars are set up around the room and Cirque-style performers and other entertainers circulate among the guests.

“People love it,” Hensley said. “It’s a way to keep the attendees engaged and on the show floor and, once again, create that experience and environment. The idea is: It’s the end of the day, let’s go out with a bang, and we’ll see you tomorrow type of thing.”

[quote_meet]People’s expectations are higher in everything. years ago, if we had two lunches, we’d do chicken one day and pasta the other day. you can’t do the pasta anymore, and people just aren’t that crazy about chicken—there are too many jokes about it. The chefs at MGM Grand are always happy to work with us to do something a little bit different. We’ve done an entrée salad with a protein on it. People want to eat healthier, and we try to accommodate that. — Debra Moss, Vice President of Operations, International Franchise Association, Washington, D.C.[/quote_meet]


4. Beer and wine tastings.

The craft beer craze has hit conventions as well. MGM Resorts has certified cicerones (beer experts) and sommeliers who can create beer, wine and food-pairing events for dinners and receptions.

“It encourages interesting conversations and networking as people compare the differences between the beers, the wines and how well they may complement the food selections,” Rowland said. “It also allows clients to keep their guests in the exhibit hall longer because they’re enjoying what they’re doing.”


5. Decadent dishes for dietary needs.

For those who require vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free meals (just to name a few), the days of steamed veggies and buttered pasta as the only choices are long gone. Resort chefs are putting lots of effort into creating beautiful dishes that match their “regular” dining options. Don’t be surprised to find “curried tofu cutlet with roasted butternut squash blinis, parsnip puree and coulis” on a Mandalay Bay conference menu, Rowland said. The resort also labels food items that are wheat-free, vegetarian, dairy-free and contain nuts.


6. More and better options, on demand.

One of the biggest challenges facing meeting planners is accommodating those special dietary needs on the spot.

“They can be accommodated, but they can’t always be easily accommodated,” said International Franchise Association’s Debra Moss. “What we found this year was almost militant celiacs. They want a really good, hot [gluten-free] meal. And they expect to get it. They had not notified us in advance about it, but their expectation is that we would be prepared for it. Going forward, we will be.”

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