For the last 10 years, the annual meetings survey commissioned by the MIA has shown the number one cause of complaint from delegates is food and food service.
London’s Royal Garden Hotel recently hosted a roundtable forum with event industry professionals to discuss the shift in menu selections for events. Also discussed was how event catering can be used to communicate brand messages and to reinforce brand positioning in a more experiential approach.
Guests included Jane Baker, Associate Account Director at experience marketing agency George P Johnson; Steve Munkley, Executive Chef at the Royal Garden Hotel and Vice-President of the Craft Guild of Chefs; and Banqueting Manager for the Royal Garden, Jon Nixon.
The hotel is due to finish its £45m refurbishment, which included a complete refit of the conference and banqueting product, in May this year and used the forum to look again at its food proposition for the conference and event market.
“Market challenges over the past couple of years have meant we have had to be more flexible, responsive and we have changed how we responded to the market,” Nixon said.
For Baker, food ranks third behind content and networking in the minds of the creative agency’s clients. “Our clients invest a substantial amount of money in food and beverage and expect this element of their event to be good value and to stand apart from their competitors’ events.”
The forum also noted that more spend was coming back into the market, albeit across fewer events. It was said organisers are looking to be bolder with their spend.
“Food costs can average at a sixth of the budget and behind content, it is one of the most significant parts of the total event spend. However, food is often presented as a necessary part of the event itinerary, something we need to do and have to budget for without really exploring what it can bring to an event,” she added.
Baker stressed how important it was for the organiser to build a relationship with the chef and his team. “Clients want to work directly with the hotel and the chef in building the meal from the very beginning. They like that interaction,” said Baker.
Munkley noted some organisers are hesitant with letting a client liaise with the chef personally and would prefer a middle man. “We need to break that down and for organisers to trust that we can work with the client alone,” says Munkley. “A big frustration for us is not being about to find out from the initial talks what the client is trying to achieve with the event.”
Delivering brand messages through food has been an age old custom for event organisers. Subtle or not, forward planning can deliver a strong brand presence at an event. Baker says delivering messages through an event is important to her clients such as Cisco and IBM. “It all comes down to what the objectives of the event are and how that objective is met with the event. It is about the value for the attendee, why they come to the event and if people are giving up two or more days out of the week so the value-proposition of it is a big deal.
“Obviously this includes the value of the content and the networking but also the right kind of experience, food and service.”
The debate continued on the subject of quality. “You can use food to make a really forceful point about a brand, but if you get it wrong, you’re actually doing the exact opposite. Delegates will remember you for getting the food right, but they will never forget, or forgive, you for getting it wrong,” Baker added.
The same was said for service: “For us we want to create brand ambassadors; we want them to understand the agenda of the night. We want them to be an extension of the organising team.”
Munkley noted the way an event can be transformed by the way food is presented. “Once you start looking at food as more than a necessity but a tool, you’re making better use of your budget, and actually looking at ways to show creativity and quality. Food can be content too,” he added.
Food, it seems, can be the defining factor on whether or not an event succeeds in its aims. As event budgets increase to their pre-recession levels, brands and clients are able once again to shout out about their merits in the form of an event.
It is evident clients do not mind spending big for an event that delivers the right message but they do stress the importance of getting what they asked for.
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