Destinations like Montreal have both the local specialties and the international breadth to scratch the culinary itch for meeting attendees.
A convention center or marquee hotel will likely host your keynote addresses, breakout sessions, and other major functions, but your attendees will be eager to get out and about in the host city for networking events, happy hours, special dinners, and general sightseeing.
Specifically, a city’s culinary scene is increasingly important to conference attendees. Everyone’s a foodie these days, and when traveling, who doesn’t like to sample the local specialties or check out the buzzed-about restaurants? (OK, some people don’t, so more for the rest of us!) And when attendees aren’t sampling the cuisine locally, meeting professionals are finding clever ways to incorporate the culinary arts into the programming onsite.
According to a 2016 survey from the World Food Travel Association, 59 percent of respondents think that food and beverage is more important when they travel than it was five years ago. In addition, 81 percent believe that what they eat and drink in a city helps them understand that area’s culture.
Meeting planners who build excursions, off-site gatherings, and even programming around a city’s best culinary options might find they persuade a few members who are on the fence about attending to pull the trigger.
“Food does play a significant role in the overall package a city can deliver,” said Roberta Kravitz, executive director of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) in Concord, Calif. “Providing diverse and easily accessible options for our attendees is important.”
Montreal: A Burgeoning Foodie’s Paradise
Take the classic French technique, add a focus on local ingredients, and mix in the city’s 375-year immigrant history, and you get Montreal’s superior culinary scene.
“Good eating is a way of life here,” said Lucy Mungiovi, director of convention services and hospitality for Montreal. “The city is renowned worldwide as a gourmet capital, and its culinary scene shines bright with seasoned stars and up-and-coming talent. From gourmet food trucks to open-air markets and pop-up restaurants, we keep our clients on top of the city’s latest culinary trends.”
Montreal is known for its smoked meat, raw-milk cheeses, and its eponymous bagels—smaller, denser, and sweeter than their New York cousins. Among its 6,000 restaurants representing 80 cuisines, it has top-notch fine dining options alongside well-known BYOB neighborhood spots.
Kravitz is always looking to balance the needs of her attendees, who hail from all points on the globe. Her association’s conferences rotate from Europe, Asia, the Western Americas and Eastern Americas, and Montreal is a good fit for her group (which is why ISMRM is returning to Montreal for a 2019 conference). After all, one of the best ways a city can show off its cultural diversity is through food.
Food in the Program?
Experiential education is a growing conference programming trend. After all, learning by doing is often superior to learning by listening. And C2 Montreal—a three-day immersive event that aims to transform the way business is done—offers some great experiential programming ideas to borrow, including a group cake baking session called Cake-Lab.
“The goal of Cake-Lab is to provide an intimate and profound brainstorming experience by bringing together a small group of participants in a known and comforting environment: a kitchen,” said Génifère Legrand, vice president of content and creation for C2. “While the hands are occupied with simple and repetitive tasks, the mind wanders more freely, and even when discussing divergent points of views, all participants are bound by a greater, collaborative goal.”
Each group prepares one layer of the cake, and at the end of the three-day conference, event participants get to sample the 11-layer cake, “creating a feeling of accomplishment, pride, and collective success,” Legrand said.
So whether you are looking to get attendees in the kitchen to cook up some great ideas—and a tasty bite—or simply want to tout the host city’s culinary options, focusing on food is not a bad way to both build buzz about your event and offer attendees a memorable experience.
Montreal has scored some major victories lately, including being named by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) as the best international destination in North America—yes, ahead of New York and Chicago—for hosting international conventions. For more information about planning your next amazing conference, go to mtl.org/meetings.