Recently, there has been an enormous shift toward health and the impact that food can have on concentration and productivity during conferences, according to Mark Cooper, CEO of the International Association of Conference Centers. Following extensive research among the 400 members of the IACC, the organization released its Top 10 Conference Food Trends for 2015, which are influencing meeting planners across the globe.
“Planners are always looking for new and interesting ways to nourish and invigorate their conference attendees, as food has become so much more than just fuel,” Cooper said.
Here are 10 trends that will help meeting planners deliver a productive experience to healthy dining for conferences.
1. Local is Everything. The importance of adding a local feel to meetings has been identified as a major trend by IACC members. Attendees want to experience as much as they can about the destination they are going to for their meeting or event—and this includes locally-sourced ingredients for food and beverage consumed during their conference.
2. Network Your Heart Out. Small plates of food items, continuously served in a reception format, add a welcome diversion to an extended meeting event and help maintain energy levels. Hosting networking-friendly dining receptions midway through an event is particularly effective as this provides a great way for guests to pause and meet up in a causal environment, initiate or build relationships, while recharging with exceptional food and beverage.
3. Small is the New Big. Bite-size desserts have overtaken larger portions in popularity—if for no other reason than conferees are watching their waistlines and cholesterol levels. Conference guests have turned their backs on generous sugary sweets, heading instead for easy-to-handle, bite-size desserts that satisfy without packing on the pounds. Warm miniature house-made doughnuts, chocolate truffles, French macaroons, mini cupcakes, and house-made cookies are top of the list for planners.
4. In with Flavor, Out with Fats. Healthy choices don’t need to resemble rabbit food. IACC member chefs are working with new ingredients that are increasingly popular with conferees—including protein alternatives (quinoa, amaranth, tofu, beans), whole grains, leafy green vegetables (especially kale and spinach), low fat selections, and low sugar substitutions. The result: healthy cuisine that sustains conferees through the meeting experience, appeals to the eye, and satisfies the palate.
5. Making and Breaking Bread Together. Nothing brings a team together more than food. Having the opportunity to cook alongside colleagues can create a whole new appreciation for the hidden talents within an office environment or at a company outing. Culinary teambuilding is red hot today as it has all the ingredients to cook up a winning team while bringing out the hidden chef in every conferee.
6. Contrasting Environments. Utilizing outside spaces to create a change in scenery and provide a casual dining experience can revitalize conference attendees, especially during multi-day meetings and events. IACC members across the globe are rediscovering these hidden exterior gems and using them for light receptions, breakout sessions, and informal gathering areas for conferees throughout the meeting experience.
7. Finale, Not a Gala. Gone are the days when meetings ended with an unimaginative formal gala. Today, meeting planner professionals want finales that create a dynamic and stimulating experience for their conferees, which bring people together to celebrate and bond at the end of their conference. Creativity, room or venue selection, seating layout, and dining style are as important to the success of the finale as the menu and beverages served.
8. That’s Theater! A little drama is a good thing for ratcheting up the conference dining experience. Adding a chef interactive station accompanied with a highly personable chef can highlight the menu, underscore locally-sourced and freshly-prepared ingredients, as well as invite guest interaction in the creation of unique takes on selections such as a Panini, clubhouse, or slider. Interaction with the chef also engages conferees in focusing on health choices, such as gluten free options on the menu.
9. Go Micro for Max Effect. With the explosive popularity of microbreweries offering brews that appeal to all taste—often with a localized appeal, conference planners are increasingly looking to chefs and sommeliers to provide pre-dinner receptions and speciality dining with microbrews on the menu.
10. Infused Tea Cocktails. The English are known for their love of it, and increasingly its health benefits are being embraced globally, but drinking tea has never been more fun than with the current trend of tea-infused cocktails.
Photo credit: Desserts via Bigstock.