How food and beverage can influence a meeting’s success

In this post, we explore the final part of the IACC 2017 Meeting Room of the Future Report by looking at the impact that food and beverage services have on the overall experience — including break times.

Not surprisingly, the great majority of meeting planners in this year’s survey believe that “food and beverage is a key part of the meeting design and experience.”

It shouldn’t be just about providing culturally relevant food or boosting the wow factor with creative food stations. Food and beverage offerings seem to have a definite bearing on attendee satisfaction and the personalised experience. In other words, F&B really can influence the success of your meeting. Clearly, food is far more than just necessary “fuel.”

Allergies and personal eating plans

Most meeting planners agree that in the past two years, there has been an increase in the number of requests to accommodate allergies, personal eating plans or preferences. Many would like to see nutritional information displayed, or at least be available.

Planners also acknowledge that delegates’ energy levels are affected by the type of food served at different parts of the day. Some venues now offer delegates continuous refreshment break service throughout the day rather than set times for delivery.

When asked what frustrates them the most in terms of food and beverage offerings, these five items came top of the list:

  1. Lack of variety and creativity (including local options)
  2. Lack of accommodation for dietary needs (including labelling of food)
  3. High prices
  4. Lack of healthy options
  5. Menus are not bespoke enough

Andrew Taylor, Operations Manager of Warwick Conferences suggests “Diets based on allergens, intolerances and lifestyle are becoming ever more prominent, there is an expectation that there is a good choice for those with dietary needs. Soya milk, gluten free options are expected as standard, options that show a lack of imagination is viewed negatively.”

Healthy options important

Overall, meeting planners are looking for healthier, more creative food options. These could include creative food stations or simply more vegetables and less saturated fats. It’s likely the salad bar will keep growing in popularity with more delegates considering this as the focus of lunch rather than a side option.

Molly Marsh, Director of Education & Engagement at AMR Management Services comments “I think there is a variance from venue to venue in terms of willingness to work with the client. We continue to be told — by the industry — that we should be talking to chefs to tailor menus, tell them what we want and need and work together to create the best all-around experience. I have seen some chefs and venues work with us and others simply direct us to their established menus. That lack of “service” has meant a lot of times F&B gets disconnected from our other meeting design approaches just because we aren’t always seeing the partnerships we need.”

How long and how often to break for food?

Meeting planners agree that the format of break and meal times should change in the future. Some would prefer shorter, more frequent breaks, but others would like to see longer breaks and meal times.

Michael Pryner, Head of Advisory Services at ConsensusOnline.dk feels, “Lunch seating is time consuming and doesn’t support networking as good as reception style lunches (standing) and they shouldn’t be more than 45 minutes.”

Scott Dart, Principal, Scott Dart & Associates cites “I can tell the traditional plated meal is going away.  Probably continuous breaks (offered by many conference venues) will become more popular, offering individual attendees the ability to “break” whenever they need/desire, rather than schedule time points for everyone to do it simultaneously.”

Most survey respondents felt that breaks should be more frequent throughout the day, be lighter and healthier and in some cases, have little or no food available. The key is to create more environments for networking opportunities so that delegates will continue informal discussions on the meeting agenda topics.

Here’s a summary of the top trends in the format of breaks and meal times:

  1. More frequent, shorter breaks
  2. Longer breaks and/or meal times
  3. Healthier food & beverage offerings
  4. Flexibility in breaks/meal times
  5. Creative food stations as part of the overall experience creation

Meetings will be more successful with a good dose of inspiration and creativity in their overall food and beverage program.

Conclusion

Having invested time, money and skilled labour into planning meetings for your organisation, what do you want the attendees to take away from the experience? Will they remember the high-tech gear that delivered new information in innovative ways? Or will it be the layout and style of the venue? Or perhaps the food and beverages available during breaks? All these elements combine to produce a memorable experience, but ultimately they should work together so that the meeting achieves its business objectives.

Even over the course of just one year, the meetings industry has evolved under the influence of incoming generations, advances in technology, and experiential meeting design. The data contained in the IACC 2017 Meeting Room of the Future Report identifies some of the prominent trends seen among meeting planners.

Looking forward, venues should consider themselves curators of exceptional experiences and offer more advice and services in addition to the typical venue elements.

 

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