Over the past decade or so, food and beverage
(F&B) choices have become a much higher priority for most
Americans, thanks to factors ranging from a renewed focus on
health and exercise to the growing popularity of cuisine-based
television such as the Food Network.
As a result, meeting planners are now responsible for
satisfying attendees who possess higher expectations for the
quality and diversity of event cuisine, as well as those who
need specialty diets, such as vegan and gluten-free. Demands
for sustainable, locally sourced, ethnic, and just plain
healthy food have also grown. Even in meeting breaks, fresh
fruit, yogurt, and granola bars have gained popularity at the
expense of cookies and muffins.
Not only does this require much more attention to menus and
suppliers on the part of planners, it costs more. Indeed, when
we asked the 215 planners who responded to the Successful
Meetings "2013 F&B Survey" between July 19-31, the single
most challenging aspect of managing the food and beverage for
their events was "managing costs." But there were also other
concerns about the difficulty of diversity.
Amanda Gonser, an event planner for Hillsboro, OR-based medical
device maker Acumed, says her biggest challenge is "finding
food that can feed all the different eating habits -
vegetarians, meat lovers, only-white-meat eaters, allergic to
seafood, allergic to gluten, etc. - and have it all still taste
Clearly, the trend toward healthy eating plays a big part. When
we asked our respondents to rate various F&B trends on how
likely they would be to incorporate them into a program,
healthy eating accounted for three of the top five priorities -
incorporating fruit and vegetable side items, using health
and/or nutrition as a culinary theme, and offering
half-portions or smaller portions to attendees at meals.
The other two of the top five were about one of the newest big
trends in dining: using locally sourced ingredients. These
were: Combining environmentalism (transporting food uses a lot
of polluting fuel) with the promise of higher-quality
ingredients; using locally grown produce; and locally sourced
meats and seafood.
But while more and more hotels and even convention centers are
working with their catering staffs to use locally sourced
ingredients where possible, it remains a challenge for
planners, according to our respondents.
Lynne Mealy, president and CEO of the International Association
for Human Resource Information Management (IHRIM) says that her
biggest challenge on the F&B front is that "working with
the individual hotel properties limits what we can do regarding
local produce and sustainable items - we are limited to what
And if locally sourced items are available, "they are usually
so costly it makes it not practicable," adds Lori Strong,
meetings director of Burk & Associates, a Washington,
D.C.-based business management firm for scientific
That said, locally sourced food and beverage also fall under
the heading of sustainability, in addition to addressing issues
of nutrition and quality. When asked about their sustainability
policies, nearly half (48.8 percent) of the respondents to this
survey said they usually incorporate food service vendors who
buy locally and recycle, while 40 percent say that they
distribute excess food to charitable organizations.