One of the most influential food and beverage trends is driven by attendees, who are more sophisticated in food matters than they used to be. They seek a “dining experience” for even the smallest catered function. They are more demanding and exacting, more educated and knowledgeable about food. To keep attendees happy, planners must follow the latest “in” foods.
New trends seem to start on either coast, and work their way inland, jumping from city to town. Coastal cities tend to be the gateways for ancient foods from around the globe that are new to the U.S. Consider the evolution of sushi in the United States, which came from Japan to cities on the West Coast and eventually spread to all parts of the country.
To learn about food trends, help is as close as your keyboard. Check sources such as the Food Network, both on television and the Web (www.foodnetwork.com), Web sites like Epicurious (www.epicurious.com), and the plethora of food blogs (type “food blog” into Google for vast resources).
Healthful, Yet Special
Attendees want to eat in a more healthful manner, but when attending meetings, most still want “special” food. This has given rise to the increasing popularity of buffets, which can offer something for everyone.
Health trends include the organic foods, low-fat foods, low-carb offerings, sugar-free options, no trans-fats, no corn syrup, no carmine (type this into a search engine-you will be shocked) — and people want fresh anything.
There also is a trend toward “bad food with good ingredients.” Instead of doughnuts and Danish, order items that have nutritional components, such as blueberry muffins, zucchini bread, carrot cake, pumpkin pie, and banana nut bread. Avoid foods with trans-fats and/or corn syrup in their ingredients or preparation methods (such as frying).
Dark chocolate is actually good for you — and the darker, the better. It contains flavonoids, which keep cholesterol from accumulating in blood vessels, reduce the risk of blood clots, and slow down immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.
More Trends to Watch
FUSION: Blending cuisines is still a hot culinary trend. This involves carefully selecting foods from parts of the world not geographically close and combining those that go well together, such as Thai and French, American and Indian, and Southwest and Asian.
TASTINGS: Try several versions of the same food or beverage, such as cheese tastings, beer tastings, chocolate tastings, etc.
MINIATURE PORTIONS: Tapas, dim sum, and mini-desserts all allow attendees to sample more than one item. Smaller sizes mean you can use expensive ingredients such as lobster or white truffles. Offering small portions encourages attendees to try more eclectic items. Since it's only one bite, it's OK if they don't like it.
EDIBLE CENTERPIECES: Baskets of ethnic breads, such as pita, focaccia, tortillas, Indian puff-fry breads, olive bread, ciabatta, breadsticks, and flat breads such as lavosh make great centerpieces.
HAPPY ENDINGS: Always end the meal with a spectacular dessert — the last impression of a meal. If you start with a shrimp cocktail and end with a skimpy dessert, guests will have forgotten the shrimp cocktail. But if you start with a fruit cup and end with a fabulous, decadent dessert, they will forget the fruit cup.
PRESENTATION: Today's attendees don't just want their taste buds dazzled — they want their socks knocked off by the presentation. People truly do eat first with their eyes.
Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is professor and chairwoman, Tourism and Convention Administration Department, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. To learn more about her, visit tca.unlv.edu/shock.html, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to The Dish, our new column on all you need to know about planning food and beverage for meetings. Written by Patti Shock, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, industry expert, speaker, and co-author of several books, including Hotel Catering: A Handbook for Sales and Operations and On-Premise Catering, the column will tackle everything from consumption patterns for F&B to the psychological effects of room setups. Along the way she'll write about service styles, outdoor events — and much more. She kicks off her inaugural column with an overview of current F&B trends.For more on food and beverage news and trends, click here.