The International Association of Conference Centres (IACC), the peak body for around 400 conference venues around the world, including Australia, has had a look at where the hospitality side of corporate gatherings is going this year, releasing the 10 conference food trends it expects to see in 2015.
Party pies are out. Chia seeds and kale are in and just like restaurants, small portions, share plates and the “locavore” vibe are in.
The organisation spoke to a number of meeting planners to identify trends and CEO Mark Cooper said the push is on to get healthy, rather than hitting the drinks.
“There has been an enormous shift towards health and the impact that food can have on concentration and productivity,” he said.
The good news is that if you do need a drink, the cocktails are getting really interesting, using tea. Here’s what you can expect to see at your next conference.
1. Local is everything
The importance of adding a local feel to meetings has been identified as a major trend by IACC members. Attendees want to experience as much as they can about the destination they are going to for their meeting or event — and this includes locally-sourced ingredients for food and beverages consumed during their conference.
2. Network your heart out
Small plates of food items, continuously served in a reception format, add a welcome diversion to an extended meeting event and help maintain energy levels. Hosting networking-friendly dining receptions midway through an event is particularly effective as this provides a great way for guests to pause and meet up in a causal environment, initiate or build relationships, while recharging with exceptional food and beverage.
3. Small is the new big
Bite-size desserts have overtaken larger portions in popularity – if for no other reason than conferees are watching their waistlines and cholesterol levels. Conference guests have turned their backs on generous sugary sweets, heading instead for easy-to-handle, bite-size desserts that satisfy without packing on the pounds. Warm miniature house-made donuts, chocolate truffles, French macaroons, mini cupcakes and house-made cookies are top of the list for planners – taste and pleasure without the calories!
4. In with flavor, out with fats.
Healthy choices don’t need to resemble rabbit food. IACC member chefs are working with exciting new ingredients increasingly popular with conferees – including protein alternatives (quinoa, amaranth, tofu, beans), whole grains, leafy green vegetables (especially kale and spinach), low fat selections and low sugar substitutions. The result: healthy cuisine that sustains conferees through the meeting experience, appeals to the eye and satisfies the palate.
5. Making and breaking bread together
Nothing brings a team together more than food. Having the opportunity to cook alongside colleagues can create a whole new appreciation for the hidden talents within an office environment or at a company outing. Culinary teambuilding is red hot today as it has all the ingredients to cook up a winning team while bringing out the hidden chef in every conferee.
6. Contrasting environments
Using outside spaces to create a change in scenery and provide a casual dining experience can breath new life into conference attendees, especially during multi-day meetings and events. IACC members across the globe are rediscovering these hidden exterior gems and using them for light receptions, breakout sessions and informal gathering areas for conferees throughout the meeting experience.
7. Finale, NOT a gala
Gone are the days when meetings ended with an unimaginative formal gala. Today, meeting planner professionals want finales that create a dynamic and stimulating experience for their conferees, which bring people together to celebrate and bond at the end of their conference. Creativity, room or venue selection, seating layout and dining style are as important to the success of the finale as the menu and beverages served.
8. That’s theatre!
A little drama is a good thing for ratcheting up the conference dining experience. Adding an interactive cooking station accompanied by a highly personable chef can highlight the menu, underscore locally-sourced and freshly-prepared ingredients, as well as invite guest interaction in the creation of unique takes on selections such as a panini, clubhouse or sliders. Interaction with the chef also engages conferees in focusing on health choices, such as gluten free options on the menu.
9. Go micro for max effect
With the explosive popularity of microbreweries offering brews that appeal to all tastes – often with a local appeal – conference planners are increasingly looking to chefs and sommeliers to provide pre-dinner receptions and specialty dining with microbrews on the menu. Raise a glass to that!
10. Infused tea cocktails
The English are known for their love of it, and increasingly its health benefits are being embraced globally, but drinking tea has never been more fun than with the current trend of tea-infused cocktails. So after raising a glass of microbrew, ask your mixologist for a hibiscus tea martini!