Multi-Cultural F&B

Changing demographics are pushing planners and banquet chefs to embrace exotic and creative meal options

Chef Andrew Edwards

Planners designing food-and-beverage programs for groups have been hearing a consistent request of late: "Make the meal more interesting." Attendees seem to be getting more adventurous in the dishes and cuisines they want to try at events, and their expectations for "authenticity" when it comes to regional and ethnic dishes have risen. The average attendee's tastes are evolving as preference grows for a wider variety of spices and flavors.

"As many clients have been reaching out and expanding their audience globally, I certainly have to take into account details that weren't always on our radar," says Mazda Miles, CMM, president of Perfection Events Inc., a Philadelphia-based company that specializes in meetings and event design. "For instance, accommodating Kosher and Halal meals and knowing the difference is becoming quite common."

At the same time, attendees are expressing a growing interest in regional cuisine throughout the U.S. Whether it's a Louisiana crawfish boil or tamale-making activities in San Antonio, food from a particular place is also becoming as a popular way to experience a domestic destination.

But even as attendees' appetites have become more adventurous, planners must keep a few best practices in mind.


A Changing Workforce
Helping to drive this culinary adventurousness is the growing number of Millennials in the workplace. Dubbed "The Foodie Generation" by the Center for Culinary Development, workers born between 1981 and 1997 stand apart from others in the workforce in their relation to food. Specifically, the Center for Culinary Development found that Millennials are a more globally oriented, well-traveled generation; they are eager to share interesting food via social media and other outlets (which drives them to seek out new dining experiences); and they are also more concerned with the ingredients and health properties of their dishes than their parents or grandparents. More important to planners, the Foodie Generation is also making up a growing portion of attendees at events. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020, Millennials will make up 50 percent of the workforce -- up from a third of the workforce today.

Multiracial Americans are also growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole, according to Pew, making up 6.9 percent of the adult American population. According to the U.S. Census, this group will account for the majority of U.S. children by 2020. The overall population will follow about 20 years later.

With an ever-widening blend of cultures in the workplace and at intenational conferences, as well as a growing proportion of adventure-seeking foodies, planners are realizing that they are having to get more creative with their menu planning. Instead of the same old eggs benedict, they are offering Enchiladas Montadas (a New Mexico twist on traditional enchiladas, topped with fried egg) when hosting events in the southwest. Generic "Chinese food" is being replaced by hot-pot dinners and dim sum brunches.


Embrace the Destination
As properties and planners tie in international offerings, they are also taking more steps to feature regional dishes as well.

 

During Successful Meetings University -- Florida, a Northstar Meetings Group hosted-buyer event in August, a dinner reception held at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa included a build-your-own-mojito station with fresh Florida fruits.

Sean Van Ness, a banquet chef at the resort, adds a touch of Florida to almost all his dishes. A kale-and-quinoa salad surprised with smoked pompano on top, a South Florida paella included rock shrimp, clams, lobster, and mussels, and rice pudding included the preserves of local Florida fruit.

Jambalaya and crawfish etouffee or other Cajun specialties are expected during New Orleans-themed meetings and incentives. Cheesesteaks and pretzels should be part of a Philadelphia menu and salmon, shellfish and other fresh seafood for Pacific Northwest gatherings. "I always like to embrace the destination we are in, giving it the flavor of where we are," says Tina Gaccetta, vice president, client services and marketing, Aimia, based in Minneapolis. "That goes for an incentive as well as a meeting."

"We make it a full experience. For example, we built a sushi bar inside the Asian market, complete with sake tastings," she adds. But Gaccetta also stresses that planners be sensitive about what region and cuisine they are working to capture, ensuring that "you and the caterer and chef know the difference between Indian curry and Thai curry so you are providing the correct style."

When searching for the specialties of a local region, the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) or destination management organization (DMO) is an advisable place to start. They are a meeting professional's partner.

"However, we have to remember that not all items will translate, so there's a bit of an art to being rounded and diverse while knowing what may prove more of a challenge than an opportunity," says Miles. "I've planned meetings on almost every continent, and every single country, city, or small town has its own local favorites."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the September 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.



Going Global
Hyatt's Global Summit was held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando in July, bringing together a group of 800 general managers from 51 countries. Cultural food items that each attendee enjoyed back home in Dubai, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia, and the Middle East were offered.

"It's all about personalizing the guest experience," says Cornelia Jung, senior director of events at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, a property that has 315,000 square feet of meeting space, 1,639 guest rooms, and is connected to the Orange County Convention Center. "It's important to make what [attendees] eat at home available, as well as local foods."

Throughout the Global Summit, a pop-up shop in the middle of the hotel's event space offered favorite snacks from each of the attending countries. "We contacted assistants and colleagues to find out what they would best enjoy," says Jung. "We had snacks from Australia, items that you can only get in China, and surprises from Germany in there."

For Australians, Vegemite with crackers and Tim Tams (chocolate cookies) were available. Called Regency Express, the pop-up encouraged attendees to bring their favorites back to the their guest rooms.

Breakfast each morning included traditional American, European, Asian, and other breakfast items. Lunch featured sandwiches from around the world and in the center of the room, there was a massive selection of worldwide condiments. The event also occurred during Ramadan and a dedicated menu was created for attendees in observance that was available in the property's 24-hour restaurant.

"It is most important for us to understand our audience and offer choices that would make them feel at home and encourage them to connect with each other over different tastes," says Megan Licata, Hyatt Regency Orlando's marketing manager. "Our chefs take great care when customizing meals for our guests."

One of the factors that led to the success of the F&B component of the Hyatt Global Summit was a focus on understanding the audience.

 "It is important to have a good hold on the preferences of attendees, including religion and culture," says Perfection Events' Mazda Miles. "They may prefer certain foods because that is what's indigenous to their country, and we have to be sensitive to these preferences so that everyone can feel considered."


F&B Is Even More Key
Paying attention to the senses -- including the foods selected, what guests see, hear, taste, and feel -- is more important than in years past, according to Yvonne Szikla, founder and principal of Events With a Purpose, an event-planning firm in Poway, CA. And the tastes of attendees have changed significantly from the "past vanilla" of decades ago.

"Hotels and venues, for the most part, are now making a point of showcasing their catering options with locally sourced items and point out with pride their familiarity with international dishes," says Szikla.

As all-inclusive properties have worked to court meeting groups, several brands have launched a major effort to enhance their F&B offerings with a more regional touch. At the beginning of 2014, Sandals introduced its "Discovery Dining" program. Even though international cuisine has been a key part of the brand's on-site dining for a long time, this initiative gives its 140 restaurants throughout Sandals' 15 Caribbean resorts a more local flavor.

 

For example, instead of providing visitors with "Italian" cuisine, Sandals has refocused each of its Italian restaurants to offer specific dishes for a particular region. Fine-dining restaurant Armando's specializes in the Campania region, boasting a vast Antipasti bar, as well as dishes such as Spaghetti Puttanesca (with anchovies, olives and caper) or M'pepatella Di Cozze (mussels with parsley and lemon).

Oasis Hotels & Resorts has followed a similar path, and in the past year has opened six new restaurants at its all-inclusive Cancun complex. Among these is Maria Bonita, a gourmet Mexican restaurant that has taken steps to create an authetic experience, even bringing in a hand-carved bar from an old hacienda that dates back to the early 1900s. Its menu strives for a similar local specialization, with dishes like huitlacoche (a corn fungus considered a delicacy in the area, sometimes called a "corn truffle"). Burritos and tacos this is not.

 

Another property innovating its F&B is the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, which features five kitchens and a well-traveled staff. Executive Chef Andrew Edwards worked at Pacific Islands Club Resort & Spa in Guam from 2003 to 2007 and his Peking duck, dumplings, and chicken satay skewers are flavored with spices from this exotic locale. A recent trip to Spain inspired Edwards to create a pan-Mediterranean tapas menu.

Enjoying these international cuisines is far from a passive experience. The Wyndham buffet also includes action stations, each focused on different cuisines, presented by personable chefs.

Diversity Has Become De Rigueur
"With the rise in popularity of the Food Network, food shows, and celebrity chefs, we see an increased interest in, and request for, diverse food offerings. Palates are more sophisticated and people are eager to incorporate ethnic dishes and unique flavoring," says Yvonne Szikla, founder and president of Poway, CA-based Events With a Purpose, a full-service event-planning firm.

It is now common to see South American or Asian fusion menus as well as locally sourced items on a buffet. Tapas are all the rage and items like couscous or quinoa are now commonplace items on a menu.

"Planning regional food specialties is, for me, one of the highlights of the planning process," says Szikla. A popular menu she has used for out-of-towners that is also enjoyed by natives is a "Taste of California." It features food specialties from different regions of California paired with regional wine.

According to Szikla, when it comes to food and beverage at meetings, attendees want:

 Diverse food choices.
 Exotic flavors.
 Locally sourced, fresh produce/seafood.
 Interesting and novel presentations: appetizers on a stick, bites on a spoon, "mini" anything -- sliders, dessert samplers artfully arranged in unique containers: wood plates, marble slabs, mini cups, and edible spoons
 Healthy, but with flavor.
 Small plates. They allow for more diverse tastings and are easier on the waistline.
 Beverages have moved to the forefront. Think signature drinks at upscale events.  Edible hibiscus flowers in champagne flutes make for an elegant presentation. Skewered berries, fruit, and colored sugar rims add to the look and can complement a theme.

F&B That Rocks
Aimia's Channel and Employee Loyalty, U.S. division, plans hundreds of global incentives and meetings every year. Tina Gaccetta, Aimia's vice president, client services and marketing, shares a few strategies to be incorporated into what she calls, "F&B that Rocks."


Understand the Local Street Scene
Give guests a flair for local food yet accommodate different ethnicities and cultures. Have one event focus on the food of the given location. Have another offer something familiar to the guests or combine both within functions.


Keep It Real
Fancy is not always better received. People often want an authentic experience like street food or demonstrations of in-home cooking.


Go Where the Locals Go
Arrange for your group to visit local establishments or bring them in-house by recreating them. Have local chefs at off-site functions or bring in food trucks that feature local specialties.


Location, Location, Location
Hold events in iconic settings and seek exclusivity. Use a winery in South Africa, Burj al Arab in Dubai, the Vatican in Rome, or Statue of Liberty in New York City.


Going Global
Hyatt's Global Summit was held at the Hyatt Regency Orlando in July, bringing together a group of 800 general managers from 51 countries. Cultural food items that each attendee enjoyed back home in Dubai, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, Australia, and the Middle East were offered.

"It's all about personalizing the guest experience," says Cornelia Jung, senior director of events at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, a property that has 315,000 square feet of meeting space, 1,639 guest rooms, and is connected to the Orange County Convention Center. "It's important to make what [attendees] eat at home available, as well as local foods."

Throughout the Global Summit, a pop-up shop in the middle of the hotel's event space offered favorite snacks from each of the attending countries. "We contacted assistants and colleagues to find out what they would best enjoy," says Jung. "We had snacks from Australia, items that you can only get in China, and surprises from Germany in there."

For Australians, Vegemite with crackers and Tim Tams (chocolate cookies) were available. Called Regency Express, the pop-up encouraged attendees to bring their favorites back to the their guest rooms.

Breakfast each morning included traditional American, European, Asian, and other breakfast items. Lunch featured sandwiches from around the world and in the center of the room, there was a massive selection of worldwide condiments. The event also occurred during Ramadan and a dedicated menu was created for attendees in observance that was available in the property's 24-hour restaurant.

"It is most important for us to understand our audience and offer choices that would make them feel at home and encourage them to connect with each other over different tastes," says Megan Licata, Hyatt Regency Orlando's marketing manager. "Our chefs take great care when customizing meals for our guests."

One of the factors that led to the success of the F&B component of the Hyatt Global Summit was a focus on understanding the audience.

Mazda Miles, CMM
president of Perfection Events Inc.
Mazda Miles, CMM president of Perfection Events Inc.

 "It is important to have a good hold on the preferences of attendees, including religion and culture," says Perfection Events' Mazda Miles. "They may prefer certain foods because that is what's indigenous to their country, and we have to be sensitive to these preferences so that everyone can feel considered."


F&B Is Even More Key
Paying attention to the senses -- including the foods selected, what guests see, hear, taste, and feel -- is more important than in years past, according to Yvonne Szikla, founder and principal of Events With a Purpose, an event-planning firm in Poway, CA. And the tastes of attendees have changed significantly from the "past vanilla" of decades ago.

"Hotels and venues, for the most part, are now making a point of showcasing their catering options with locally sourced items and point out with pride their familiarity with international dishes," says Szikla.

As all-inclusive properties have worked to court meeting groups, several brands have launched a major effort to enhance their F&B offerings with a more regional touch. At the beginning of 2014, Sandals introduced its "Discovery Dining" program. Even though international cuisine has been a key part of the brand's on-site dining for a long time, this initiative gives its 140 restaurants throughout Sandals' 15 Caribbean resorts a more local flavor.

 

Sandals Resorts launched a brand-wide
initiative to refocus its restaurants
(such as Armando's) on regional fare
Sandals Resorts launched a brand-wide initiative to refocus its restaurants (such as Armando's) on regional fare

For example, instead of providing visitors with "Italian" cuisine, Sandals has refocused each of its Italian restaurants to offer specific dishes for a particular region. Fine-dining restaurant Armando's specializes in the Campania region, boasting a vast Antipasti bar, as well as dishes such as Spaghetti Puttanesca (with anchovies, olives and caper) or M'pepatella Di Cozze (mussels with parsley and lemon).

Oasis Hotels & Resorts has followed a similar path, and in the past year has opened six new restaurants at its all-inclusive Cancun complex. Among these is Maria Bonita, a gourmet Mexican restaurant that has taken steps to create an authetic experience, even bringing in a hand-carved bar from an old hacienda that dates back to the early 1900s. Its menu strives for a similar local specialization, with dishes like huitlacoche (a corn fungus considered a delicacy in the area, sometimes called a "corn truffle"). Burritos and tacos this is not.

 

A Hong Kong-style dim sum station
at Wyndham Grand Orlando
Resort Bonnet Creek
A Hong Kong-style dim sum station at Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek

Another property innovating its F&B is the Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek, which features five kitchens and a well-traveled staff. Executive Chef Andrew Edwards worked at Pacific Islands Club Resort & Spa in Guam from 2003 to 2007 and his Peking duck, dumplings, and chicken satay skewers are flavored with spices from this exotic locale. A recent trip to Spain inspired Edwards to create a pan-Mediterranean tapas menu.

Enjoying these international cuisines is far from a passive experience. The Wyndham buffet also includes action stations, each focused on different cuisines, presented by personable chefs.

We Are Family
A dinner function that treated everyone like family during Hyatt's Global Summit at the Hyatt Regency Orlando in July made the biggest impact on the group. "It was created on the premise that this group of 800 was gathering in someone's home for dinner," describes Cornelia Jung, senior director of events at the Hyatt Regency Orlando.

An assortment of tables was strewn throughout the ballroom, and a pantry was set up in each corner with wine on one side and breads including olive and rosemary loaf, sourdough boule, French baguette, and rolls, spreads, and munchies on the other. Each table that sat 18 had a carving board, utensils, and a kitchen towel on it. Tablemates had jobs. Some selected the wine to be served with dinner; others tossed the salad, created the bread baskets, carved the meat, and served the entrees.

"People immediately started talking and interacting. They completely got into it," says Jung.

During dinner, the breads and toppings were removed from each pantry and replaced with desserts, including long chocolate pavés that had to be sliced and served.


Embrace the Destination
As properties and planners tie in international offerings, they are also taking more steps to feature regional dishes as well.

 

Fresh Florida fruit was served
during a Hyatt Global Summit break
Fresh Florida fruit was served during a Hyatt Global Summit break

During Successful Meetings University -- Florida, a Northstar Meetings Group hosted-buyer event in August, a dinner reception held at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa included a build-your-own-mojito station with fresh Florida fruits.

Sean Van Ness, a banquet chef at the resort, adds a touch of Florida to almost all his dishes. A kale-and-quinoa salad surprised with smoked pompano on top, a South Florida paella included rock shrimp, clams, lobster, and mussels, and rice pudding included the preserves of local Florida fruit.

Jambalaya and crawfish etouffee or other Cajun specialties are expected during New Orleans-themed meetings and incentives. Cheesesteaks and pretzels should be part of a Philadelphia menu and salmon, shellfish and other fresh seafood for Pacific Northwest gatherings. "I always like to embrace the destination we are in, giving it the flavor of where we are," says Tina Gaccetta, vice president, client services and marketing, Aimia, based in Minneapolis. "That goes for an incentive as well as a meeting."

"We make it a full experience. For example, we built a sushi bar inside the Asian market, complete with sake tastings," she adds. But Gaccetta also stresses that planners be sensitive about what region and cuisine they are working to capture, ensuring that "you and the caterer and chef know the difference between Indian curry and Thai curry so you are providing the correct style."

When searching for the specialties of a local region, the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) or destination management organization (DMO) is an advisable place to start. They are a meeting professional's partner.

"However, we have to remember that not all items will translate, so there's a bit of an art to being rounded and diverse while knowing what may prove more of a challenge than an opportunity," says Miles. "I've planned meetings on almost every continent, and every single country, city, or small town has its own local favorites."



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the September 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.