By Leanne Andrecyk and Remi Lefebvre
For generations, people have been gathering in groups to confer for myriad reasons — to share knowledge, exchange views, strategize, review practices and develop new solutions. Regardless of the conference or event goal, bringing a group of people together successfully requires more than just satisfying the hunger for knowledge. You don’t have to be a foodie to realize food is an automatic connector between people and can be the conversation starter in any group setting.
If you think about life’s many occasions and celebrations, food is always at the centre of each one. Whether it be a birthday, graduation or wedding it is the common denominator that gathers people around the table. Food facilitates conversation, preserves traditions and creates experiential memories. With such value placed on the breaking of bread with others, it should not come as a surprise to place food at the centre of your strategic event planning activities.
Feeding the Masses
Banquet food is the inevitable solution to feeding people at any large format event or conference. The culinary logistics of any large-scale event requires the duplication of a single meal for hundreds or even thousands of guests. Look at ways to elevate the banquet experience to give back the freedom of choice to your attendees and guests by emulating elements of a restaurant experience. Family-style service, make-your-own bars and dessert buffets provide opportunities for guests to craft a unique culinary experience that caters to their individual tastes and preferences.
One of the many great things about food is that it can be portable. Tasting plates, formerly called the grazing dinner, are upscale sample plates that provide guests and delegates the freedom to choose à la carte, but with smaller portions for greater diversity. Offered via chef-attended and self-serve food stations, this is the way to go. It not only reduces the cost of food per person it’s much more interesting and offers enhanced attendee interaction. Strategically placing food stations throughout the room can also help ease crowd-flow congestion and encourages guests to circulate, maximizing your use of the venue’s space.
Respect the Profession
Chefs are trained professionals that are proficient in the artistry of taste and presentation of food and passionate about their art. Lean on their strengths as food and beverage specialists and take their lead on what works best for the format of your event and the number of guests being served. Never underestimate the value of sharing your ideas with the culinary team. Make sure to include budget details as well as your creative desires. Sharing your big picture will help the culinary team assist you in crafting the ultimate food and beverage experience for your guests.
Fitness breaks are the new coffee breaks and better assist in fighting fatigue and re-energizing attendees. Getting people out of their seats will get blood flowing and generate a few laughs. Top off the activity with simple fruit-infused water and you have the recipe for success to ensure attendees remain focused with the continuing agenda. However, if a traditional coffee break is the chosen format, just remember: tea is the new coffee and strive to offer a variety of dairy and non-dairy milks for those who may prefer these to the traditional cream.
Setting Your Table
The visual appeal of your table setting can have a direct impact on the success of your meal. Look at renting dishes that elevate your place setting beyond the standard white plate. If you are in a banquet setting and the cost is prohibitive, consider renting just one element such as the platter for a family-style appetizer. Only requiring one per table allows you to bring this unique touch to your event at a reasonable cost.
Most people eat with their eyes first. Make sure to take the time and consider the visual plating of your meal components. When serving a buffet format, provide guests with a visual feast by taking advantage of tiered displays featuring bite-size morsels for their enjoyment. Adding strategic up-lighting and décor accents to the buffet tables will further tie-in any event themes with the food and beverage experience.
Learn more about the food being served and find out how to strengthen relationships with local and sustainable food producers. Local feature menu items, farm to table and the 100-mile diet have been trending for several years with many venues and caterers integrating these approaches into their supply chains. Even those with no formal mandate are usually open to sourcing specific meal components from a local provider and may even be willing to secure the entire list of ingredients from the local suppliers you recommend.
Try It You’ll Like It!
Dietary restrictions are on the rise. More than ever, we are seeing guest lists that include various allergies and limitations which can add a certain level of complexity to feeding everyone safely without sacrificing the quality of the meal. Consider serving a menu that is gluten-free by default or investigate opportunities to feature a vegetarian dish loaded with hearty local produce. These options provide a unique meal experience. The difference in ingredients is often subtle and many will not even realize that their meal doesn’t include what one may consider to be a standard protein and side.
A Nod to the Guest of Honour
What better experience than to taste a dish and have it transport you back in time to a childhood memory of occasions well spent with family and loved ones. Consider crafting a menu that incorporates personal favourites of your guest of honour or award recipient any time you are planning for such an event. Not only will this have a profound impact on your honoured guest but it also serves as an opportunity to share a story with all of your guests.
The final ingredient in your recipe for success is the most important one of all – communication with your guests. Without it, even the most brilliantly planned out menus will fall flat. Carb-free and containing zero calories, this ingredient is not found on the dinner plate. Without communication, there is no way to ensure your guests have understood your vision with success left to chance. Share the story of your inspiration through key messaging from the podium or as program content about the theme, as guests experience each thought-out component. This will ensure time well spent, no matter the reason that has brought everyone together.
Leanne Andrecyk is Managing Partner and Remi Lefebvre is Senior Producer, ZedEvents great productions. For more information visit www.zedevents.ca.