Add to attendees positive meeting experience by ditching the boxed meal and turning to healthy dishes that boost attendees’ energy.
Meeting planners who underestimate modern cuisine in non-coastal cities like Indianapolis would be making a mistake. Not only are places like Indy exceeding food expectations, they often offer delicious meals that are more affordable than in cities such as San Francisco or New York. Plus, you’re in the heartland—food is often locally sourced, with chefs and restaurateurs developing relationships with local farmers and producers.
“Some consider Indianapolis a fly-over city; they don’t expect good food here, but that’s changing,” says Lauren McGraw, event manager for the acclaimed Indianapolis restaurant Bluebeard. Bluebeard Chef and Co-Owner Abbi Merriss has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation chef award for four consecutive years: 2016–19. And when Bluebeard opened in 2012, it became a James Beard Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant in America.
The day of a meeting attendee often has two extremes: sitting for long hours in meeting sessions, mixed with lots of walking around the convention center, to and from hotels, and throughout exhibit halls. Days start early and often end late, all the more reason attendees deserve good, healthy food.
“Having unhealthy, greasy chain food is going to make you feel worse,” says Maddy Barnas, marketing director of Patachou restaurants in Indianapolis. “You will feel better when the food and the food quality is higher.”
To Barnas, this means fresh, locally sourced, seasonal, organic food options—the types of foods Americans are searching for more and more. A new report shows that 46% of shoppers purchase “green” items—a 5% increase from 2016, according to a new report from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association, which will hold its annual show in Indianapolis in May 2020.
The Patachou family of restaurants illustrates the delicious, healthy food that Indianapolis can offer. “You get more a taste of the local culture if you’re eating at a local restaurant,” Barnas says.
Meeting planners can make it easy when attendees need to hunt for meals on their own by promoting the best local cuisine and easy-to-walk-to restaurants. You can also partner with local restaurants to provide better food that caters to a particular group of attendees, like for smaller meetings of committees or chapters.
Merriss and her team create meals that cater to each client. When Indianapolis hosted the 2019 USA Volleyball Girls Junior National Championships in June and July, Merriss created meals for teams that focused on a lot of salads and lighter food for lunch because the girls had to go back and compete. Similarly, when the American Association of Nurse Practitioners held its conference in Indianapolis in June, Merriss created healthier options for attendees.
In 2018, Bluebeard hosted 178 private events. Merriss can provide more than a delicious meal. One room holds 18 people in a more intimate setting, allowing her to prepare food in front of guests, talking about the food and explaining as she goes. “It’s more like we’re coming to your house,” McGraw explains.
Patachou restaurants have a variety of local and organic offerings, with plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Patachou Inc. Restaurant group was started in 1989 by Martha Hoover, who was recently named one of “50 Badass Women of 2019” by InStyle, and consists of 13 locations and six concepts, ranging from contemporary American to French-inspired. The company has three convenient downtown Indy locations: Cafe Patachou, Napolese Pizzeria and Public Greens.
The flagship restaurant location of Cafe Patachou, just celebrated its 30th anniversary and bustles with convention goers weekly. It serves breakfast and lunch, closing at 3 p.m. each day. Everything is made from scratch. The bread is made in-house, and the eggs are organic when possible and locally sourced. There are several vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. It’s a great option for meeting attendees to stop by before their day begins or head out with small groups at lunchtime.
Napolese is an artisanal pizzeria with several pizza options or endless toppings to “freestyle” your own creation. There is also an array of salads, plus sandwiches made on housemade artisan focaccia buns. The website includes a list of the local farms and purveyors the restaurant uses. Napolese can seat large groups.
Public Greens is a cafeteria-style farm-market concept. Nearly 100 percent of its offerings are locally sourced, especially in the summer. The menu rotates monthly based on what is available locally and features locally grown produce, humanely raised proteins and housemade desserts. It too has several vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. Public Greens will rent out the entire restaurant and can reserve large tables.
Public Greens has two more non-downtown locations, and a significant portion of proceeds from the three locations go to the Patachou Foundation, which feeds at-risk and food insecure children in the Indianapolis area. The foundation was started in 2015 and now provides about 2,000 meals a week to children, feeding kids from eight local schools afterschool meals five days a week. Meeting planners looking to add a service project to their event should know the foundation enlists volunteers to serve meals to the children.
At Bluebeard, meeting planners can reserve two private event spaces for lunch or dinner. Lunch is often more casual. “For lunch, family style creates a little bit more conversation,” McGraw says. The menu changes twice a day based on what Merriss has on hand. For dinner, meeting planners can choose from a variety of options: family style, a three-course plated option, a five- or seven-course prix fixe menu, or heavy hors d’oeuvres for a reception.
Food is an integral part of a convention or meeting. Don’t disappoint and frustrate your attendees by providing the same boring boxed lunch or blah chicken breast dinner. Instead, add to their positive meeting experience by highlighting incredible local restaurants and providing delicious, healthy options that boost attendees’ energy.
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