While discussion is a large part of the annual advisory council gathering, attendees also collect ideas for their own programs based on what they experience at the host property. For example, seating for this year’s general sessions was at rented boardroom tables with upholstered boardroom chairs, a comfortable change fromthe typical banquet round.

Each break and meal involved creative cuisine, of course, but beyond that, attendees were impressed by the relentlessly clever presentation and service as well. For example:

• An airline-themed break featured one banquet server outfitted as a pilot and another as a flight attendant alongside two aircraft service carts filled with beverages, tins of roasted almonds, baguette slices served with tubes of paté in paper boxes with the local airport codes stamped on top, plus homemade cookies in rustic paper packaging labeled with handwritten tags and tied with twine.

• A golf-themed break featured a spread of snacks in the back of a beverage cart and included grilled shimp on chopstick “tees” popping out of a “grass”-lined tray, which had beef tartare in savory cones teed up for guests as well. If all that wasn’t enough for guests to talk about, the break featured putting contests as well.

• At breakfast, individual cereal servings were packaged in Mason jars, and a smoothie station offered healthy, colorful “power shots” arrayed in shot glasses for attendees to mix and match with juices into customized blends

• A baseball-themed lunch featured burgers and brats, plus desserts in disguise: chocolate corndogs with raspberry “ketchup” and macaroon sliders and hot dogs

• Signage sealed the themes: At the airline break, the snack station labels were typed onto a sheet of paper that looked like an aircraft manifest; at the baseball lunch, food items were identified by labels written on baseballs; at the golf-themed break, descriptions were written on score cards

• A true locavore experience during dinner found attendees watching the fish they were about to eat make its way up the beach from fishing boat to fillet table. There, Executive Chef Dwayne Edwards demonstrated his knife skills, and then the fresh catch hit the outdoor grills.

F&B Supervisor Zachary Wendel jumped in to lend a hand getting this red snapper (and many other fish) from boat to shore to grill during The Ritz-Carlton Insurance Advisory Council opening night dinner.

• An appetizer of fish, fruit, and compotes was presented on the plate as a colorful arrangement of balls and polka-dots as part of a circus-themed dinner

The uniqueness of each F&B event got attendees talking—it’s a great way to keep the networking going at conferences. And it was a reminder to planners to work with chefs and event staff to go beyond the banquet menu. Ask for examples of creative choices they’ve made for other groups, or what local cuisine excites and inspires them.

Kimberly Payne, the company’scorporate director, event management, meetings, and special events, spent time reviewing Ritz-Carlton’s new online Culinary Arts and Events menu. This is a brand-wide framework for catering orders that will include local adaptations based on each property’s specialized offerings. Planners using the online menus choose meals and breaks and put them into a “shopping cart,” then work with on-site event staff to customize their selections.

This type of online shopping also is available for other ancillary services such as audiovisual.