The Hospitality Connection: The dish on industry F&B best practices

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By Michael O’Doherty

While technological advancements have reduced the amount of face-to-face time we spend with each other, there truly is no substitute for being together at a live event in person — among your peers, your colleagues and your friends. And yes, I am biased, but let’s talk today about one of the most important yet overlooked parts of a successful meeting or trade show. I’m talking, of course, about the food.

The food and beverage offerings are a crucially important part of any meeting, conference or convention. Event delegates often rank networking atop their list of most important reasons for attending and industry event. And most of these conversations take place over meals, breaks or an opening/closing gala. Outside of networking, though, any event wants to have delicious food and friendly service. These are pillars of event hospitality, and also a key facet of our service offering here at Centerplate.

But first, let’s take a step back.

We are the food and beverage partner of about 300 venues throughout North American and Europe, a global leader in live event hospitality for more than 100 million guests annually. In Canada alone, we work in Newfoundland, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Whistler and more.

Our venues include prominent entertainment, sports and convention venues, and we have served 30 official U.S. Presidential Inaugural Balls, 14 Super Bowls, 22 World Series and a plethora of other marquee events throughout the year.

For me specifically, I am the General Manager at the Scotiabank Convention Centre (SCCN) in Niagara Falls, which is the region’s largest meetings and events facility.

The SCCN is part of a new class of “green” convention and meeting facilities committed to next-generation sustainability and community leadership. Since opening its doors in 2011, the venue has welcomed over half a million guests and visitors who come to enjoy Niagara’s many natural wonders, rich history, culinary delights and year-round cultural activities.

So, when it comes to hospitality, we know what it takes to manage and curate a modern hospitality operation. It must be guest-centric, more than anything. It must be authentic and carefully curated.

Here are a few best practices when it comes specifically to the food and beverage practice. Adhering to these five tips could mean redefining the connection to your guests, so that you make the time your guests spend together more enjoyable and more valuable.

1. Be a strategic partner, not just an order taker

At the core, it is important to act as a strategic partner. Everything we do is rooted in asking, “Does this best serve our client?”

Food and beverage providers must seek to enhance the communities they serve, since this helps their client as well. So, it is important to create positive relationships with local and regional producers, suppliers, and partners. And, it is key to grow the business and treat guests with an authentic, high-quality taste of the city you are in.

Plain and simple, this is an important imperative to always have in mind.

2. Connect people to places

Every venue today is competing for business and visitors from today’s vast global marketplace. The hospitality offering has the power to connect people to paces in a deeply engaging and personal way. When you design and prepare with the soul of the city in mind, each individual element becomes part of the overall aura of how a place feels.

Nestled between the shores of two Great Lakes and flanked by the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment, Niagara is a region blessed with the bounty of farms, orchards, and vineyards. With such rich agricultural surroundings right in our very own background, it is our imperative to connect guests to these bountiful surroundings. We do not want to people to leave here without having experienced a culinary connection to Niagara.

3. Set your city apart. Embrace its quirks, and what makes it unique

Led by Executive Chef James Price, our approach to food and beverage focuses squarely on producing seasonal menus that are distinctly Niagara. Presented always in the most creative ways, and bursting with regional flavours, the menu choices reflect our commitment to natural ingredients and housemade preparations.

For example, many know Niagara as Canada’s largest wine producing region, with more than 100 wineries and winery estates. So, we go to great lengths to incorporate as many local wines as possible. In fact, we only serve wines from the region.

We also have the unique opportunity to be surrounded by some of the richest soil in Canada. A perfect mix for growing vegetables, stone fruit and grapes. In the kitchen, we are careful to preserve so our guests will have something local to try, even if it’s winter and not necessarily prime season. We believe in using product from Ontario but we also recognize the bounty that Canada offers. So, whether it is our prized Niagara maple syrup, our world-recognized cheeses or our bountiful wines, we embrace what makes Niagara unique.

4. Support and be a catalyst for the local community

Here at the Scotiabank Convention Centre we work closely with all of our suppliers. And, every hospitality program should be sure to invest time and energy into curating similar relationships.

Let’s look closer though at three of our favourites here which give a boon to the local economy.

Woodward Meats – a company based out of Oakville, Ontario. We can source all our beef, chicken and pork from Ontario with the great people at Woodward’s. Brian Woodward started the company in 1985 as a family company, and has cultivated it into one of Ontario’s leading premium meat suppliers.

100km Foods – another important Ontario supplier for us, offering everything from produce to oils to canned tomatoes to meats and cheeses. This grassroots company started by Grace Manarano and Paul Sawtell has steadily grown into being a leader in Ontario for farm-to-chef supplies.

Pingue Prosciutto – Pingue provides most of our cured meats, and is used across Ontario’s finest kitchens. The company was started in 1975 by Mario Pingue Sr. and is still run to this day by his sons Mario Jr. and Fernando.

5. Embrace your talent and staff — they are what make the true difference

You have to be wholly dedicated to the craft of hospitality, and that means investing in top talent and providing the training/tools for success. It’s one thing to have high standards, but you also have to hold each employee accountable, everyone from the general manager to line-level culinary employees to catering sales directors.

And, on the topic of talent, it sure doesn’t hurt to invest in a talented chef!

I mentioned him earlier, but our chef in Niagara is James Price, a well-traveled chef, having spent time in kitchens across South America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Chef James made his way back home to Canada. His way of thinking about food is all about saying yes to new challenges and scratch-making as many ingredients as he can.

His menus consist of ingredients that are as fresh as possible from all around Ontario. Whether Local St. David’s peppers or greens from Trend Aqua Fresh, we can deliver the best value for events by using ingredients from right here in our backyard. And, when the season for a specific item dwindles, we will be jamming our local cherries, rhubarb and strawberries to cellar though out the year.

Michael O’Doherty is Centerplate General Manager, Food & Beverage, Scotiabank Convention Centre, Niagara Falls. For more information, visit centerplate.com.

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