Meetings & events

graciano-big

From food trucks to handmade chocolate, rooftop spaces to local breweries, hotels are taking meetings and events in completely new directions.

Los Angeles is one of the birthplaces of the food truck movement — one of today’s hottest culinary trends — so when JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE was looking to offer groups a truly “Angeleno” experience, food trucks were the perfect fit.

“We are seeing more meeting planners looking to incorporate local or destination-driven culinary experie

nces into their itineraries,” says Allison Williams, the hotel’s assistant director, food & beverage. “Event F&B is no longer just about serving delicious food, but also how to showcase regional flavors and trends for a unique meal.”

For its Gourmet Food Truck Lunch offering, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE’s events team works with meeting planners to determine which trucks to feature — participating trucks have included the Kogi BBQ Truck, Baby’s Badass Burgers and Get Shaved Shave Ice — and how many items to include per truck menu. Trucks park alongside the hotel’s convention center drive or adjacent event deck, and guests order from the trucks just as they would on the street. Williams says three groups have selected the food truck option since it debuted about a year ago, and one of the hotel’s sister properties in Austin, Texas, is consider a similar offering with trucks in its area.

“Hoteliers are really looking at meetings and catering differently,” says Corey Nyman, director of operations at Las Vegas-based consultancy The Nyman Group. “In the past, you could just roll out chafing dishes and have the same banquet menu 365 days a year. You can’t do that anymore.”

“Adaptability is very important,” notes Frank Kren, food & beverage director at Meliá Hotel Atlanta. “One of th

e most successful events we had required authentic Mexican food. We had the client wanting to bring product from Mexico, and we incorporated that.” In addition to peppers and cheeses from Mexico, Kren explains, the hotel used bilingual signs, Mexican beers and rustic picnic tables.

And the success of group business is more crucial than ever, Kren adds. “Groups are served more efficiently than masses of transient guests,” he says. “Both sets are very important, but your bread and butter — particularly in a trying economy — is groups and meetings and events.”

Destination dining

In the battle to be distinctive, many properties are taking their unique spaces and settings and pairing them with equally memorable menus. The Dorchester in London last year reopened The Ballroom following a restoration of its original 1930s design. In addition to design details such as new handmade Champagne-toned carpet and custom-made Venetian drapery, The Ball

room can provide à la carte dining for up to 500 guests — not to mention personal consultations with chefs from around the world. “We have clients who like to be able to speak to the chef himself to know he is familiar with a certain type of cuisine,” says James Partridge, The Dorchester’s director of groups and events. “So, for example, an Indian client may consult directly with our chef Uday Shankar to have a more personal experience.”

The PuLi Hotel and Spa in Shanghai also boasts a fresh events space — earlier this year, the hotel transformed its top floor into multi-functional space with an outdoor patio offering 360-degree views of the city. Similarly, Meliá Hotel Atlanta recently unveiled Sky Twenty-Five, a 25th-floor event space where besides panoramic views of the Atlanta skyline, groups can enjoy menu items such as tapas that draw upon both the brand’s Spanish heritage and the hotel’s location in the U.S. South. “One of our more popular tapas offerings is the mac and cheese and pulled barbecue pork served in a china spoon,” Kren says.
Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto caters to small groups with its executive suites, which each include a full kitchen where chefs can handle last-minute requests and create individualized menu selections. Plus, for both big and small groups, the hotel’s Chocolate Lab crafts one-of-a-kind confections, often to be paired with ice wines from the nearby Niagara-on-the- Lake region. “We’ve had some parties where the chocolate display has been nothing short of spectacular,” notes Director of Sales and Marketing John Bullock. “It takes over 12-ft tables filled with glamorous, individually made chocolates.”

Often playing up the best of the hotel’s destination involves a handson component. The Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia, offers a banquet menu that highlights the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay region, says Director of Sales Lindsay Curry, such as Rappahannock oysters, local fish and produce and Virginia wines. The hotel provides interactive programming as well, such as an herb tasting during dinner in which guests attempt to identify herbs from the property’s garden by their flavors and scents, or an oyster bake on the beach.

“Groups want to immerse themselves in the culture and traditions of the areas they are visiting,” Curry says. “We are happy to incorporate educational components into banquet meal events, such as a trip to the local wineries for a tasting, a farm tour, a crabbing cruise or an oyster-shucking class.”

Coming back to cost

The focus on quality and emphasis on innovative ideas for meetings and events can have a real positive impact on the bottom line as well. Local sourcing of seasonal items, for example — one of the most buzz-generating trends throughout F&B — can help control costs for group business. “You can’t cut out strawberries [entirely] — it’s just not possible in a hotel operation — but I’m not featuring them on our banquet menus in the wintertime because they are overpriced and the quality is not good,” explains Martin Pfefferkorn, executive chef at Hyatt Regency Atlanta. “It’s that way with a lot of ingredients. You’re giving your customers the best available product at the right time.”
Portion control and eliminating potential waste is another issue related to both cost and quality. Pfefferkorn notes that banquets used to feature an array of chafing dishes — perhaps as many as four proteins, three starches and three vegetables — but now are limited to maybe just a couple proteins, a couple starches and one vegetable. “But, our menus are changing much more, so people don’t see the same thing all the time,” Pfefferkorn adds.

“Small amounts of different types of foods help to keep costs and waste down, and can be a healthier option for attendees,” agrees Peggy Williams- Smith, senior corporate director of catering sales and event management for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sometimes menus that are both memorable and cost-efficient represent a blast from the past

. Pfefferkorn says instead of beef tenderloin, which can cost US$8 to US$9 per pound, he might choose braised chuck for a banquet menu, since it costs only US$3 per pound. “People are going back to how grandma cooked, and grandma didn’t cook beef tenderloin,” he notes.

Nyman also is an advocate of oldfashioned touches for events, such as cotton candy or popcorn machines. “These are low-cost things that get people excited, and also, they are very visual,” he says. “I’m a big believer in social media, and what’s hot right now? Instagram and Pinterest — two things that are image-based.”
Whatever the specific approach a property takes, however, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the goal is very much a moving target. “Meetings and events have always been important to the overall profitability of the hotel,” Williams-Smith says. “The piece that has changed is the customer. Meeting planners are very well-versed on trends and look to the catering and conference service team at the hotel to come up with creative ideas they haven’t seen yet. To stay relevant, catering must continually evolve.”

Healthy choice

A growing number of hotel companies are subscribing to the idea that healthy meetings business is linked to healthier menus. Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, Glattbrugg, Switzerland, earlier this year debuted “Food for Thought” menus as part of a new global meetings and events program. The emphasis is on seasonal items; local, organic or Fair Trade produce; adaptations for special diets; and overall healthier fare. “Consuming a fruit snack or a freshly made vegetable drink versus a jam-filled doughnut or fried snack keeps guests far more alert during meetings,” notes Peter Drescher, Mövenpick’s vice president, food and beverage, for the Middle East.

Alila Bangalore, India, follows a similar philosophy in distinguishing its meetings offerings, with breaks such as “Bananarama” featuring steamed banana and coconut dim sum and banana-and-caramel smoothies, or “Mango Medley” offering mango-and-nut crumble and green mango, cinnamon and shrimp samosas. “Our meetings breaks have a real edge of distinctive healthy fare,” says General Manager Pranav Patel.

Yet another example comes from Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, Zurich, which has implemented its Vitality Programme in several stages over the course of this year, including in the meetings and events area. Vitality menus

are based on the athlete’s diet formula that each dish consists of 20% proteins, 55% carbohydrates and 25% fat. For meetings in particular,

elements such as breaks take a wholesome approach with smoothies, fresh fruit and light finger food. However, there is some indulgence, too, as Swissôtel has also partnered with a Swiss chocolate brand for afternoon coffee breaks, albeit for chocolate selections not oversaturated with sugar, notes Executive Director of Food and Beverage Stephane Franchini.

“Basically, it’s fresh, it’s colorful, it’s simple and it’s straight to the point,” Franchini says of Vitality. “You don’t have to be complicated to surprise people. I think the big ‘wow’ is the simplicity of it.”

Better with beer

As part of a renovation last year, Hyatt Regency Atlanta debuted Twenty- Two Storys, a beercentric restaurant and bar. When Executive Chef Martin Pfefferkorn saw how successful the outlet was, he thought, why not expand the concept to meetings and events?

“Beer is the new Champagne,” Pfefferkorn says. “Beer is very much ‘in’ now, especially microbrews and locally brewed beers.”
Consequently, the hotel launched Beer Breaks for meetings about a year ago, with Pfefferkorn leading a 60-minute beertasting seminar that covers the brewing process as well as pairing food with beer. “It’s actually educational,” Pfefferkorn notes, adding that a wide range of groups have participated in the Beer Breaks thus far.

Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles International Airport also has spent more than a decade cultivating a reputation for its beer offerings and expertise, says General Manager Phil Baxter, and today features a menu of 100 beers of local, regional and international lineage. Recently, the property also added a group beer tasting option to its meetings programming, with a director of brewer relations available to work with meeting planners to customize tastings to various groups. Baxter adds the hotel is even looking to take the concept to the next level, working with a local brewery to bring groups in to brew beer onsite. “For us, it’s not about the beer,” Baxter explains. “It’s about the stories and the team building and the fun. Everything you can do to customize and make it memorable is where you want to go these days.”

On the horizon

HERE IS A SAMPLING OF PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT BIG TRENDS IN F&B FOR MEETINGS AND EVENTS:

“Coordinating the hotel’s catering menu with Pinterest boards so planners can be tantalized with what yo

u offer and how the presentation looks.”

– Joseph Richter, director of catering, Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC

“Every opportunity where you can stimulate the senses will be considered, especially in meetings.”
– Stephane Franchini, executive director of food and beverage, Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, Zurich

“We will continue to see requests for organic, fat-free and lighter options that utilize more creativity and variety.”

– Greg Biggers, executive chef, Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

“Everybody wants food to look more beautiful than it might even taste. The theatrics associated with food are only going to grow.”
– John Bullock, director of sales and marketing, Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto

“International offerings will continue to be on trend — examples like Moroccan, Indianfusion and Japanese.”

– Peggy Williams-Smith, senior corporate director of catering sales & event management, Marcus Hotels & Resorts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“Value for price paid will be the barometer. If F&B departments do not pay attention to that, they will not keep the customers they have or acquire new ones.”

– Frank Kren, food & beverage director, Meliá Hotel Atlanta

 

[Read on Original Source]

From food trucks to handmade chocolate, rooftop spaces to local breweries, hotels are taking meetings and events in completely new directions.

Los Angeles is one of the birthplaces of the food truck movement — one of today’s hottest culinary trends — so when JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE was looking to offer groups a truly “Angeleno” experience, food trucks were the perfect fit.

“We are seeing more meeting planners looking to incorporate local or destination-driven culinary experiences into their itineraries,” says Allison Williams, the hotel’s assistant director, food & beverage. “Event F&B is no longer just about serving delicious food, but also how to showcase regional flavors and trends for a unique meal.”

For its Gourmet Food Truck Lunch offering, JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE’s events team works with meeting planners to determine which trucks to feature — participating trucks have included the Kogi BBQ Truck, Baby’s Badass Burgers and Get Shaved Shave Ice — and how many items to include per truck menu. Trucks park alongside the hotel’s convention center drive or adjacent event deck, and guests order from the trucks just as they would on the street. Williams says three groups have selected the food truck option since it debuted about a year ago, and one of the hotel’s sister properties in Austin, Texas, is consider a similar offering with trucks in its area.

“Hoteliers are really looking at meetings and catering differently,” says Corey Nyman, director of operations at Las Vegas-based consultancy The Nyman Group. “In the past, you could just roll out chafing dishes and have the same banquet menu 365 days a year. You can’t do that anymore.”

“Adaptability is very important,” notes Frank Kren, food & beverage director at Meliá Hotel Atlanta. “One of the most successful events we had required authentic Mexican food. We had the client wanting to bring product from Mexico, and we incorporated that.” In addition to peppers and cheeses from Mexico, Kren explains, the hotel used bilingual signs, Mexican beers and rustic picnic tables.

And the success of group business is more crucial than ever, Kren adds. “Groups are served more efficiently than masses of transient guests,” he says. “Both sets are very important, but your bread and butter — particularly in a trying economy — is groups and meetings and events.”

Destination dining

In the battle to be distinctive, many properties are taking their unique spaces and settings and pairing them with equally memorable menus. The Dorchester in London last year reopened The Ballroom following a restoration of its original 1930s design. In addition to design details such as new handmade Champagne-toned carpet and custom-made Venetian drapery, The Ballroom can provide à la carte dining for up to 500 guests — not to mention personal consultations with chefs from around the world. “We have clients who like to be able to speak to the chef himself to know he is familiar with a certain type of cuisine,” says James Partridge, The Dorchester’s director of groups and events. “So, for example, an Indian client may consult directly with our chef Uday Shankar to have a more personal experience.”

The PuLi Hotel and Spa in Shanghai also boasts a fresh events space — earlier this year, the hotel transformed its top floor into multi-functional space with an outdoor patio offering 360-degree views of the city. Similarly, Meliá Hotel Atlanta recently unveiled Sky Twenty-Five, a 25th-floor event space where besides panoramic views of the Atlanta skyline, groups can enjoy menu items such as tapas that draw upon both the brand’s Spanish heritage and the hotel’s location in the U.S. South. “One of our more popular tapas offerings is the mac and cheese and pulled barbecue pork served in a china spoon,” Kren says.

Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto caters to small groups with its executive suites, which each include a full kitchen where chefs can handle last-minute requests and create individualized menu selections. Plus, for both big and small groups, the hotel’s Chocolate Lab crafts one-of-a-kind confections, often to be paired with ice wines from the nearby Niagara-on-the- Lake region. “We’ve had some parties where the chocolate display has been nothing short of spectacular,” notes Director of Sales and Marketing John Bullock. “It takes over 12-ft tables filled with glamorous, individually made chocolates.”

Often playing up the best of the hotel’s destination involves a handson component. The Tides Inn in Irvington, Virginia, offers a banquet menu that highlights the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay region, says Director of Sales Lindsay Curry, such as Rappahannock oysters, local fish and produce and Virginia wines. The hotel provides interactive programming as well, such as an herb tasting during dinner in which guests attempt to identify herbs from the property’s garden by their flavors and scents, or an oyster bake on the beach.

“Groups want to immerse themselves in the culture and traditions of the areas they are visiting,” Curry says. “We are happy to incorporate educational components into banquet meal events, such as a trip to the local wineries for a tasting, a farm tour, a crabbing cruise or an oyster-shucking class.”

Coming back to cost

The focus on quality and emphasis on innovative ideas for meetings and events can have a real positive impact on the bottom line as well. Local sourcing of seasonal items, for example — one of the most buzz-generating trends throughout F&B — can help control costs for group business. “You can’t cut out strawberries [entirely] — it’s just not possible in a hotel operation — but I’m not featuring them on our banquet menus in the wintertime because they are overpriced and the quality is not good,” explains Martin Pfefferkorn, executive chef at Hyatt Regency Atlanta. “It’s that way with a lot of ingredients. You’re giving your customers the best available product at the right time.”

Portion control and eliminating potential waste is another issue related to both cost and quality. Pfefferkorn notes that banquets used to feature an array of chafing dishes — perhaps as many as four proteins, three starches and three vegetables — but now are limited to maybe just a couple proteins, a couple starches and one vegetable. “But, our menus are changing much more, so people don’t see the same thing all the time,” Pfefferkorn adds.

“Small amounts of different types of foods help to keep costs and waste down, and can be a healthier option for attendees,” agrees Peggy Williams- Smith, senior corporate director of catering sales and event management for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sometimes menus that are both memorable and cost-efficient represent a blast from the past. Pfefferkorn says instead of beef tenderloin, which can cost US$8 to US$9 per pound, he might choose braised chuck for a banquet menu, since it costs only US$3 per pound. “People are going back to how grandma cooked, and grandma didn’t cook beef tenderloin,” he notes.

Nyman also is an advocate of oldfashioned touches for events, such as cotton candy or popcorn machines. “These are low-cost things that get people excited, and also, they are very visual,” he says. “I’m a big believer in social media, and what’s hot right now? Instagram and Pinterest — two things that are image-based.”

Whatever the specific approach a property takes, however, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the goal is very much a moving target. “Meetings and events have always been important to the overall profitability of the hotel,” Williams-Smith says. “The piece that has changed is the customer. Meeting planners are very well-versed on trends and look to the catering and conference service team at the hotel to come up with creative ideas they haven’t seen yet. To stay relevant, catering must continually evolve.”

Healthy choice

A growing number of hotel companies are subscribing to the idea that healthy meetings business is linked to healthier menus. Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, Glattbrugg, Switzerland, earlier this year debuted “Food for Thought” menus as part of a new global meetings and events program. The emphasis is on seasonal items; local, organic or Fair Trade produce; adaptations for special diets; and overall healthier fare. “Consuming a fruit snack or a freshly made vegetable drink versus a jam-filled doughnut or fried snack keeps guests far more alert during meetings,” notes Peter Drescher, Mövenpick’s vice president, food and beverage, for the Middle East.

Alila Bangalore, India, follows a similar philosophy in distinguishing its meetings offerings, with breaks such as “Bananarama” featuring steamed banana and coconut dim sum and banana-and-caramel smoothies, or “Mango Medley” offering mango-and-nut crumble and green mango, cinnamon and shrimp samosas. “Our meetings breaks have a real edge of distinctive healthy fare,” says General Manager Pranav Patel.

Yet another example comes from Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, Zurich, which has implemented its Vitality Programme in several stages over the course of this year, including in the meetings and events area. Vitality menus are based on the athlete’s diet formula that each dish consists of 20% proteins, 55% carbohydrates and 25% fat. For meetings in particular, elements such as breaks take a wholesome approach with smoothies, fresh fruit and light finger food. However, there is some indulgence, too, as Swissôtel has also partnered with a Swiss chocolate brand for afternoon coffee breaks, albeit for chocolate selections not oversaturated with sugar, notes Executive Director of Food and Beverage Stephane Franchini.

“Basically, it’s fresh, it’s colorful, it’s simple and it’s straight to the point,” Franchini says of Vitality. “You don’t have to be complicated to surprise people. I think the big ‘wow’ is the simplicity of it.”

Better with beer

As part of a renovation last year, Hyatt Regency Atlanta debuted Twenty- Two Storys, a beercentric restaurant and bar. When Executive Chef Martin Pfefferkorn saw how successful the outlet was, he thought, why not expand the concept to meetings and events?

“Beer is the new Champagne,” Pfefferkorn says. “Beer is very much ‘in’ now, especially microbrews and locally brewed beers.”

Consequently, the hotel launched Beer Breaks for meetings about a year ago, with Pfefferkorn leading a 60-minute beertasting seminar that covers the brewing process as well as pairing food with beer. “It’s actually educational,” Pfefferkorn notes, adding that a wide range of groups have participated in the Beer Breaks thus far.

Four Points by Sheraton Los Angeles International Airport also has spent more than a decade cultivating a reputation for its beer offerings and expertise, says General Manager Phil Baxter, and today features a menu of 100 beers of local, regional and international lineage. Recently, the property also added a group beer tasting option to its meetings programming, with a director of brewer relations available to work with meeting planners to customize tastings to various groups. Baxter adds the hotel is even looking to take the concept to the next level, working with a local brewery to bring groups in to brew beer onsite. “For us, it’s not about the beer,” Baxter explains. “It’s about the stories and the team building and the fun. Everything you can do to customize and make it memorable is where you want to go these days.”

On the horizon

HERE IS A SAMPLING OF PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT BIG TRENDS IN F&B FOR MEETINGS AND EVENTS:

“Coordinating the hotel’s catering menu with Pinterest boards so planners can be tantalized with what you offer and how the presentation looks.”

– Joseph Richter, director of catering, Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC

“Every opportunity where you can stimulate the senses will be considered, especially in meetings.”

– Stephane Franchini, executive director of food and beverage, Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts, Zurich

“We will continue to see requests for organic, fat-free and lighter options that utilize more creativity and variety.”

– Greg Biggers, executive chef, Sofitel Chicago Water Tower

“Everybody wants food to look more beautiful than it might even taste. The theatrics associated with food are only going to grow.”

– John Bullock, director of sales and marketing, Trump International Hotel & Tower Toronto

“International offerings will continue to be on trend — examples like Moroccan, Indianfusion and Japanese.”

– Peggy Williams-Smith, senior corporate director of catering sales & event management, Marcus Hotels & Resorts, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

“Value for price paid will be the barometer. If F&B departments do not pay attention to that, they will not keep the customers they have or acquire new ones.”

– Frank Kren, food & beverage director, Meliá Hotel Atlanta

Comments are closed.