In a world in which nearly all of our events happen online, a chef's tasting, dine-around tour of a city or elaborate awards dinner can feel like a distant memory. But rest assured it is possible to creatively incorporate F&B into your virtual meetings. Here are some tips from the experts.
Virtual Cooking Classes
A cooking demo run by a professional chef can serve as a break from traditional education sessions, or as a networking event in itself. Each attendee receives the recipe (something simple with ingredients attendees are likely to have in their pantry) and a chef working from his or her kitchen can walk viewers through each step of the preparation, answering their questions live. Numerous organizations offer such classes, among them Life at the Table and Uncorked Cooking, but planners might be best served by reaching out to their own hospitality partners. For instance, if the virtual event is taking the place of a cancelled face-to-face meeting, perhaps the chef at the original venue would be available to present the lesson.
Virtual Cooking Kits
Take the cooking-class experience to the next level by sending out full prep kits. 12th Street Catering, a full-service catering company based in Philadelphia, has begun offering a Virtual Cooking Class kit for groups looking to mix things up "after one too many Zoom meetings during quarantine," as Genna Viozzi, director of events for the company, puts it. The kit includes all necessary ingredients and can be picked up or delivered to each attendee. "We have received great feedback from clients and enjoy being able to enhance their Zoom meeting experiences with a delicious treat," says Viozzi.
Multi-Course Meal Delivery
For smaller groups in which members will be in close proximity to each other, planners can arrange with a local caterer or restaurant to share in something more elaborate. Bill Hansen Catering, based in Miami, offers special virtual-event meal delivery that provides attendees with elaborate three-course meals, complete with champagne pairings, to groups in the South Florida region. For example, its Bubbles & BBQ menu gives each attendee a choice between dishes such as barbecue duck, short rib or lobster, plus a side, dessert and glass of champagne. "By incorporating these into Zoom events, it's almost like a virtual backyard barbecue," says the catering company's chef, Dewey Losasso.
From awards dinners to shared birthday cake in the break room, group celebrations are a lot more challenging in the work-from-home environment. But with some planning and creative gifting, there are many ways a group can acknowledge special occasions or triumphs, whether over ice cream, cake or pizza. 12th Street Catering offers Celebration Boxes, which use inventive menus and beautiful individualized packaging to guarantee participants feel special. "Guests enjoy a beautifully curated box of appetizers, a duo entrée and dessert. All they need to do is warm it in the oven and enjoy," says the caterer's director of events Genna Viozzi. Many clients even add corporate branding to the dessert and provide programming or marketing material to add to the box.
For those virtual meetings that start early, planners can provide a morning pick-me-up to attendees. For example, you can send H&H Bagels through Goldbelly, or a cup of coffee through the Nack app — or just forward every attendee a $5 gift card for Starbucks. For something a bit healthier and more interactive to help attendees get their day started, Bill Hansen Catering chef Dewey Losasso suggests antioxidant-laden smoothies — with a twist. "Every participant must do a close up of their fridge, and the other Zoom guests can pick one surprise item to add to the smoothie."
Virtual Happy Hour
This has proven one of the easiest and most popular ways for planners to add an F&B experience into their virtual event, setting aside some time for attendees to join in an informal networking chat over a favorite drink. While attendees can just select a beverage of their choice from their own kitchen, planners can also send them a drink recipe so they can procure the ingredients and make it at home just before the meeting convenes. "To keep guests engaged, plan some exciting games or trivia for folks to play along with," suggests 12th Street Catering's Genna Viozzi.