by Barb Ward | August 29, 2016
Food-and-beverage programs are always a hot topic. When F&B exceeds attendees' expectations, it creates a memorable experience. However, if F&B suffers, so does your meeting. Great care and attention is needed to ensure F&B is both exciting and impressive. Before you plan your next meeting, here are three things to remember to ensure your F&B is not just delicious, but impactful.  

1. Everyone is Special. Gluten free, dairy free anyone? In this era of complicated food allergies and preferences, planning and execution of F&B for all has become difficult. There are many ways to tackle this, but the size and scope of a program needs to be taken into account. Personalized meetings with the chef, providing menus on an app in advance, or something as simple as hosting a vegan meal buffet that would appeal to most are all ideas my company, Aimia, has successfully deployed.

2. Attendees are Not Cattle. We have all experienced this reality: noon strikes, meeting room doors fly open, and attendees rush into the large convention space with seven buffet stations. Each attendee pushes to the front of a disorganized line and then decides to interpret the flow of the traffic on their own. Not only is this non-conducive to a welcoming and relaxing environment, aesthetically, it is plain ugly. Instead, many convention centers and large banquet facilities are now moving toward enhancing the look and feel of their buffets. For instance, serving food in enamelware instead of traditional chafing dishes, providing small plates that have more intricate food items (such as flavored butter, ceviche, or an antipasti), using alternate buffet tables such as exposed wood and iron, more active chef stations, even to the setup of the buffets creates flow. In this era of "foodies," people want a dining experience. Yet, we often need it to be fast and efficient so that we can start meetings on time. Developing a good marriage between these needs/desires is important.

3. Budget, Shmudget = Wrong Answer. Making your guests happy does not require you to fly-in fresh caught seafood when you are in Minneapolis. The budget is in place for a reason. Finding ways to incorporate local and seasonal ingredients can work in your favor as long as they are sourced responsibly. Making sure you have a conversation around the F&B budget prior to planning is vital. This is an area that can easily be overspent if the budget isn't considered from the beginning.

F&B can make or break a meeting. By planning ahead, you can give your attendees a memorable experience through superb F&B options.

Barb Ward is senior director of program management for Aimia, the leading data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company. Contact her at barbara.ward@aimia.com or (763) 445-3262.