The old adage states that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but the same is true for meeting and conference attendees. How many times have you planned or attended an event and although the content was stellar, the food and beverage is what really stuck out, either good or bad? In reality, food and beverage can make or break your event. The following ideas are not new, but everyone needs a reminder now and again.
Know Your Audience – you may not know the likes and dislikes of everyone in attendance at your meeting, but do your homework on the group as much as possible. If it’s a meeting that has history, dust off old BEO’s and invoices to see what was offered and which items were the most popular. If there’s no group history, base your menus on considerations like demographics or geographic location of your attendees and meeting type. Your registration site is a valuable tool for helping you capture some of this information, including any dietary restrictions.
Make Food an Experience – this doesn’t mean an interactive chef demonstration is needed at each meal, but people tend to eat with their eyes. Presentation is an important item to discuss with a hotel or venue, but if can forgotten in the midst of all the planning details. Nowadays there are so many creative ways to present your buffets or stations so they stand out. If you can’t do a site or planning visit, ask for pictures of the banquet setups. Something that is visually appealing will not only add free décor to your meeting, but can be a conversation starter.
Quality, Not Quantity – everyone is familiar with the terms farm to table, local, sustainable and organic, but the price tag that usually accompanies these trendy items can be quite a bit more than your meeting budget allows. Your entire menu does not need to check all the boxes of local, organic or from the farm next door. Check with the hotel or venue on where some of the banquet items are sourced from and be sure to list those locations on your food labels. Research has found that 62 percent of those who eat healthy only do so if the food tastes good.
Partner Partner Partner - partnering with the hotel’s chef or food & beverage manager on creative ideas that are within your budget is something that is often overlooked. Make it clear that you are looking for options NOT on the menu. This is also where knowing your audience is important. The more guidelines and ideas you can provide to the hotel will help them tailor a menu to your liking.
The Role of Food & Beverage is Often Greater Than Making Your Stomach Happy – food brings people together. If you think about the Italian culture, food is not the only part of the meal that is meant to be enjoyed—the company is, too. Longer mealtimes allow people to speak to one another, have meaningful conversations and enjoy the experience together. Often times this is taken for granted at meetings as we are constantly trying to squeeze in more content.
At Aetna, we strive to put these ideas in motion for each meeting. By doing so, we’ve been able to provide attendees with a memorable experience at even the most ordinary meeting and in turn we’ve seen an increase in attendee satisfaction scores. You don’t have to tackle all of these changes at once, but even the smallest change can have great impact.
Heather Calabrese, CMP
Senior Project Manager, Meetings & Events
FICP Education Committee