Food and beverage is a hot topic for conference centers, according to a panel of International Association of Conference Centers' member facility executives who met in New York City last fall to discuss trends in the conference center industry.

In the past, F&B “was a nonimportant piece” of a conference center's offerings, admitted Laura Neumann, vice president, Benchmark Hospitality, The Woodlands, Texas. “Now, when people book a meeting, F&B plays a large part in the decision-making. It's a very competitive environment, and we've learned a lot from our hotel competition.”

Guests are more savvy, and shuffling them through food stations won't seal the deal. Consequently, Neumann said, there are now fewer buffets and more food that is imaginative or “interactive” — the latter meaning that guests can watch the chef prepare dishes. She also noted that “a lot of people have different dietary needs. We need to gauge the customer's needs and be able to react.”