What You Need to Know About Culinary Trends at Meetings Right Now

Meeting F&B priorities mirror social values leading up to—and resulting from—the pandemic.

Environmental consciousness, holistic wellness and community-driven solutions: The largest and most durable trends in meetings F&B track right along with social and personal values that are at the forefront of the cultural conversation.

While priorities such as sustainability and health consciousness had long been gaining importance among event organizers and guests, experts say the pandemic sharpened the focus on delivering culinary offerings with these themes—a result of both ideological shifts and business necessity.

Here’s a closer look at the state of meetings F&B right now, with input from Beth Williamson, district manager for Centerplate catering operations at the LEED-certified Virginia Beach Convention Center.

Local and Sustainable

Williamson explains that natural resource conservation and environmental stewardship have long been a concern among meeting professionals. “But now, we’re really seeing a focus on local and seasonal, and supporting regional and small businesses,” she says. “People are wanting to support at the local level. We’re going to our major suppliers, but we are also looking regionally and locally for solutions.”

Indeed, the pandemic, “sharpened the focus on sustainable business practices for both our clients and our guests,” she says. “As people continue to work from home and business travel is still limited due to the pandemic, there has been a noticeable shift to venture out regionally for a better understanding of what is available in communities and how to offer support both personally and professionally.”

Virginia Beach has also long had initiatives that support small businesses, women-and minority-owned businesses and disabled veterans, says Williamson. “So we are always actively out working and making calls and trying to find all kinds of vendors.”.

The Supply Chain Effect

If local, seasonal foods had already been an established and ever-growing priority, the supply chain disruptions wrought by the pandemic only accelerated the trend, forcing professionals to find local solutions as a practical matter in addition to a philosophical one.

“We see sustainable menus as a welcome solution to some of the supply chain issues we currently face,” Williamson explains.

She adds that she and her counterparts at venues all around the country “are all reporting different challenges with a supply chain. You have to research other outlets, and it changes rapidly from one week to the next.”

For some outlets, local means very local: The Virginia Beach Convention Center has raised garden beds onsite that inspire executive chef Desiree Neal and her team to create sustainable menu items which vary by season. The team works with a master gardener to grow crops based on what matures best during seasons throughout the year. Herbs in bloom here year round include sage, parsley, mint, oregano and thyme, plus fresh bay leaves from a tree on the property. 

Health Consciousness

Health-conscious requests have been on the rise in recent years, with gluten-free fare becoming “a really popular thing,” Williamson says. “We’re always getting requests so we make sure that that’s readily available.”

And while certain diets may prove to be fads that come and go, the overall attention to health-conscious fare within meetings F&B is likely here to stay. This was underscored when the pandemic foregrounded the importance of staying healthy at work, on the road and at home.

“I don’t think it’s going away,” she says. “We always offer something healthy now— and it’s not okay just to have standard fare, you need a good variety.”

Right now, the broader focus on wellbeing and the unique business challenges of the current climate are driving meetings’ culinary focuses, Williamson notes

“As the concern for health and safety remains of paramount importance, we are facing more immediate challenges with both labor- and supply-chain continuity,” she says. “With that said, we strive to ensure the food and beverage offerings are as creative and locally inspired as possible, while adhering to any special circumstances.”

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