by Jonathan Vatner | November 20, 2019

Historically, food at meetings has been heavy and the alcohol plentiful. As the thinking went, even those who eat light at home would want to treat themselves when away, and those who didn't were sure to indulge -- or overindulge. That thinking is history. This year, the shift toward wellness in F&B is cresting.

In line with trends in the restaurant industry, banquet chefs are experimenting with plant-based proteins and low- or no-alcohol drinks. These changes match the way attendees are eating at home, and the healthier approach bolsters brain power to maximize the value of meetings.

Following are several ways these ideas are manifesting in group dining at top hotels and resorts.

Vegetables Take Center Stage

Just a few years ago, meatless meals were considered too risky for a crowd. But the outsized carbon footprint of meat has driven planners and attendees to find plant-based options.

Those who want beef on the plate might be satisfied by the Impossible Burger (or Beyond Burger), plant-based "meat" that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. (Impossible is made with soy protein, Beyond with pea protein.) Benchmark, a global hospitality company based in The Woodlands, Texas, serves Beyond's meatless sausage and bacon, which Patrick Berwald, vice president of food and beverage, says is popular and delicious. "People are asking for it," he says. "We'll do slider bars with Wagyu beef, short rib and a meatless option." Benchmark also mimics meat in a more natural way with jackfruit, a nutrient-rich Southeast Asian fruit that can be processed to resemble pulled pork -- and subs well in stews or even at the center of a plate.

Not every meat substitute has to taste or feel like meat, however. When a financial group in the healthcare sector was visiting the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City, Utah, the catering staff worked with Sue Gordon, CMP, partner of Epic Meetings and Events in San Diego, to create an heirloom tomato-carving station, a vegetarian alternative to the prime rib station. Local tomatoes in a rainbow of colors were cubed to order. Among condiment choices were extra-virgin olive oil, a balsamic reduction, pistou (like pesto minus the pine nuts) and exotic salts -- including one sourced locally. Mozzarella cheese was available for protein.

Read 5 more sustainable food trends at NorthstarMeetingsGroup.com