February 08, 2019

If you want a better menu, talk to the chef.

That advice may seem obvious, but not all meeting planners make the effort to fully address food and beverage (F&B) concerns, according to Tracy Stuckrath, president and chief connecting officer at thrive! meetings & events in New Bern, North Carolina. "Even though F&B is one of our top expenditures, it's one of the last things that we focus on," she said. "It should be the first."

The benefits of a well-balanced menu are easy to recognize. Healthful food and drinks, after all, are proven to fuel productivity, engagement and creativity. The good news, according to Stuckrath, is that more planners are making healthy F&B a priority, and so are the venues where food and drinks are served. "It's hard to balance comfort foods with health and wellness and what people want to serve their clients," she acknowledged, "but it's definitely better than it was a couple years ago. Chefs are more in tune, and hotel chains are focusing more on what they're offering." 

Indeed, planners who want to maximize the potential of their menus should begin conversations early about their menu concerns and requirements, with both food and beverage managers and chefs. To assure that your menu goals are in line with a venue's capabilities, Stuckrath recommends asking to see sample menus from past events. Even standard menus can provide a glimpse at a venue's dedication to healthy cuisine. 

At Visit San Jose, the F&B team at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center is led by James M.K. Te'o, Director of Food & Beverage (and resident sommelier) and Executive Chef Michael Doyle. Together, the team creates menus tailored for each event so that restaurant-quality meals are paired with the right choice of beverages.

"We have carefully assembled a team of skilled chefs with experience in Michelin restaurants, luxury resorts and sophisticated catering. San Jose's caliber of food and preparation reflects that professionalism," says Doyle. "First time attendees are often surprised that our food is prepared entirely in-house with the freshest ingredients from California. Because this is San Jose, one of the most diverse cities in the country, our staff is continually adapting culinary techniques from different cultures and backgrounds to provide new and innovative offerings. That's where we can have the most fun with the menu."

James M.K. Te’o, Director of Food & Beverage (L) and Michael Doyle, Executive Chef (R) can create a variety of custom menu options at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center for meetings and events.

In addition, Chefs can be a valuable source of ideas during the planning process, Stuckrath added. "Talk to your chef about what's local and in-season, because that's going to help you produce healthier menu options," she said, as an example. "Think about adding local, sustainable products. That will add more nutrients to your food." 

When's the best time to start thinking about menus? "Planners need to approach the topic during the RFP process and address it at the forefront," she said, noting that menu requirements should be in writing. "Don't sign a contract until you've talked to that chef. You need to have those conversations." 

To learn more about the culinary possibilities at Visit San Jose, visit www.sanjose.org/meetings