Meeting menus

The Hilton London Metropole event management team tells CN that its client event planners are increasingly looking for something new on the menu.

“Understandably, with the aim of making every event different from the last, the emphasis is what is different and on trend,” the hotel’s management says. “It is important to stay current, and stand out from the competition. This needs to be balanced with not being seen as throwing extravagant events, wasting profits.”

Hilton adds that it has re-launched its Meet with Purpose programme around some of these changes in booking trends, with more emphasis being around eating healthily and locally sourced food that can help to energise the delegates.

A bespoke menu as part of a ‘Mindful Eating’ element is the brand’s attempt to meet this demand.

“With plentiful fruit infused water on tap, the emphasis is now very much on balance, a far cry from heavy sugar and caffeine fuelled menus of days gone by.

Lorraine Thorne, head of sales for Peyton Events at IWM London expects raw food stations set to be the next big hit.

“Immersive food stations with a kitsch or a throwback quality will be in demand as people crave nostalgia,” Thorne says. “New serving options will include canapés suspended from fixtures, allowing another level of interaction between guests and food.” She advises organisers sourcing event catering to consider interactive food stations. “Bowl food and canapés keep guests rooted in one place, whereas food stations allow people to travel and help to break the ice,” says Thorne.

Thorne also recommends opting for the house wine. “There is a perception that it won’t be as good, but a sommelier will have selected the variety to ensure it makes the grade. Ask for a tasting if unsure.”

Louise Perry, director of Louise Perry Events offers an organiser’s view of what’s trending: “Theatrical food stations seem to be the order of the day as clients move away from canapés and formal sit downs. The emphasis is on finding different ways to serve food that is engaging and ultimately create a fond lasting experience. Clients are more health conscious and are requesting less carbohydrate rich foods.”

So, what does she look for in a catering partnership?

“A caterer should add value to the visual aspects of the event. It is a given the food should look and taste delicious, but what other enhancements can be made? Peyton Events suggests interactive elements that are a feast for the senses. For example: an interactive forest scape scattered with woodland inspired canapés and mini puddings suspended from trees for a secret garden themed party.”

Over at QHotels’ a fresh conference lunch menu is being rolled out and the group’s executive chef, Julian Prosser, says the biggest challenge for conference menus is producing dishes to suit a wide number of tastes and dietary requirements. “Historically conference food has consisted of two to three safe and standard options and as a result, across the industry menus have remained somewhat traditional. 

“So when we came to create the new QHotels menu our approach was to understand what our customers eat when they’re not with QHotels; what they’d choose at home or in a restaurant.” QHotels put together a steering group of chefs from its 26 hotels who checked out the high street offer, among other research.

“The rise of street food was by far the biggest development and proved to be the most popular in our trials with customers at conferences across the group,” Prosser noted. “The ‘do it yourself’ street food theme also means customers can play around with the key components and flavours to tailor their dish, exactly how they want it,” he added.

On the go

Sometimes the event pace is too quick for anything but a pit stop.

Teambuilding specialists Off Limits’ corporate events director Martin Stephens says he’s seeing a shift towards clients requesting ‘on the go’ food for their delegates during teambuilding or corporate events.

“Due to short time frame restrictions for rolling out conferences and teambuilding events, we’re seeing a demand for more mobile food stations. These stations work well with teambuilding events centered around employees socialising and interacting. The vans are easily accessible which means that delegates can mingle and relax in a less formal environment.

“Vintage food such as fish and chips, mini pies and burgers are popular requests due to their nostalgic connection. This also includes vintage pop up popcorn stands and using candy floss as fillers between shorter breaks.”

Stephens said a popular option for an event hosted last year for Nottinghamshire Country Council, included vintage food stalls as an easy, cost effective way for catering for a high number of delegates.

“Tapas style food is another popular request from clients as the small plates can be passed around. This casual style of dining has more of an elegant touch to vintage style food,” says Stephens.

ExCeL London’s team stresses that food is an enabler for successful events, providing a focus for people to interact and, with the right balance of ingredients and menus, it can have an extremely positive impact on a delegate’s ability to concentrate,” says the venue’s executive director James Rees. He adds that 80% of all food and drink purchased at the site is brought from UK companies.

Celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Bryn Williams have brought their brands to the venue, where there is an onsite bakery, E16.  And the street food trend is reflected in a special boulevard devoted to it at ExCeL.

The investment is continuing, says Rees. “Over 75% of the retail catering units in the venue have been redeveloped as part of a £15m investment, with more developments to come in 2017.”

Stamford Bridge, home to Chelsea FC, caters for thousands on match days, but is also able to offer a range of nine themed working lunch menus for meetings. Examples include: Classic British Fayre, Italian Diner, and Healthy and Engergising.

Paul Colston

Author

Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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