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The delegate foodie

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Warwick Conferences uncovers the importance of food to delegates and the impact of catering on satisfaction.

food Warwick Conferences’ latest independently commissioned Value of Satisfaction study unearthed some interesting opinions on the topic, and some genuine conflict between bookers and delegates. Here, Head of Sales and Marketing Rachael Bartlett takes a look at the data:

We’ve observed a marked change in delegate tastes within the last three years, with organisers and delegates requesting more specific foods in line with the growth of a ‘foodie’ culture across the UK.

It can be argued that this demand has come from the popularity of TV shows such as Masterchef and The Great British Bake Off, which have turned food preparation into entertainment. We’re also more aware of what we eat, and better travelled than previous generations, with taste buds to match.

Bookers used to come to us for menu suggestions, but increasingly, they’re coming with a wish list of preferences. Locally sourced food is now a frequent request - it’s far higher up the booker’s agenda than a request for organic food, which has waned in popularity.

The rising number of food allergies or intolerances is also contributing to the number of special requests. According to Allergy UK, over one million people in the UK have a food allergy, while 20 per cent are now thought to have some form of food intolerance.

This increased interest and awareness has to be a significant contributor to the discontent expressed by delegates about the food they experience at off-site meetings and events.

According to our study, four in five delegates claim to have been disappointed with the catering they experienced at meeting venues in the previous 12 months. The most frequent reason for their disappointment is limited choice (47%), while just over one in five (21%) reported finding catering inappropriate for their dietary needs.

The study also sheds light on the knock on impact of delegate disappointment. More of those delegates who found catering not suited to their dietary requirements also complained about other elements of the catering, citing issues including ‘not appropriate for the type of delegate at the event’, ‘too heavy, leaving you feeling lethargic’ and ‘not flexible enough’, and 62 per cent complained of limited choice.

How a venue caters for delegates has a great influence on how well they respond to the event, according to the study. Three in every five delegates said the right catering is a key factor that results in event satisfaction, while 80 per cent of bookers rank it as their number one factor.

Venues have a responsibility to understand delegate requirements and help bookers understand the role catering plays as part of the event experience. Food is fuel for our brains and mealtimes have an important social function, helping delegates relax and re-energise before the formalities resume, so this responsibility should go beyond the venue’s contractual and legislative obligations. Quality, appropriateness and choice are what we should adhere to.

Legislation is set to bring about compulsory changes that will help those with an allergy or intolerance. Later this year, the EU Food Information for Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 will be introduced requiring food businesses to provide allergy information on all food sold unpackaged.
While the legislation will create clarity across the board, it won’t facilitate the issue of choice - that’s within the control of the booker and venue host.

And it’s this issue of choice that’s in part influencing the introduction of new dishes to venue menus. Shifting tastes and food trends have bought about a number of innovations; for example, the introduction of a ‘street foods’ option at Warwick Conferences.

Rise of the delegate foodie
So, are we truly seeing the rise of the delegate foodie? I think so.

The term ‘foodie’ is not necessarily about gastronomic excellence or gourmet cuisine, it applies to anyone with more than a passing interest in food. In this context, this is combined with an expectation of quality, choice, clear labelling, service and, for the booker - a fair price.

Price is perhaps the biggest influencing factor on events and its impact on the catering experience cannot be underestimated. It’s also not always reasonable to assume the blame for a negative experience lies solely at the door of the venue.

Our study showed bookers rate cost as their top criterion when selecting a venue (86%), and 64 per cent say an inexpensive venue is a key to satisfaction. Yet, just 12 per cent rank catering as a top three criterion despite four in five saying appropriate catering is their number one contributor towards satisfaction.

Furthermore, among bookers who rate quality catering as a top three selection criteria, 67 per cent would sacrifice tea/coffee breaks to lower the costs, and 33 per cent would sacrifice quality catering.

There’s an inherent conflict in these responses, which perhaps explains why delegate dissatisfaction with the food they find at events is commonplace. And that’s why it pays for the venue and booker to ensure they fully understand the expectation of their delegates early on in the booking process and weight their event budget accordingly.

After all, if the way to a delegate’s heart is through their stomach, why would you do anything else?

This was first published in the October issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor

30 Oct 14

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