by Loren G. Edelstein | November 01, 2016

What is the industry buzzing about? M&C found out during on-site interviews at the IMEX America trade show in Las Vegas this past October. Top trends are incorporating technological advances, innovating F&B experiences and maximizing outdoor spaces. Following are insights from MGM's Michael Dominguez, Hyatt's Steve Enselein and IACC's Mark Cooper.

Michael Dominguez (above), senior VP and chief sales officer, MGM Resorts International, shares his views on F&B, WiFi needs and more. 

What trends are you seeing in food and beverage for groups?

We're seeing a lot of small plates and reception-style settings, with small tables and seating areas in a more casual atmosphere. We are doing fewer banquets. People want to mingle and network. We're also bringing more family-style dining experiences to groups.

What have you done lately for a group-F&B event that has been particularly unique?
For a group of 800, we created a color-coded "neighborhood" event, with six entirely different menus, each assigned a color. Red was seafood, for example, and if you wanted seafood, you went through a red door to a room set with red décor and lighting. Blue was Italian, and so forth. When people registered, they had to indicate their favorite cuisine. It was very labor intensive, but it was so well received -- it really made a huge impact.  

How about team-building events? What's popular?
F&B is really leading the trend for team building, too. We do a lot of cooking experiences and contests. We are going to have groups making pizzas -- that's a new one. We have so many options with all of our restaurants for groups to go into the kitchen and work directly with the chefs to create something fun. They really enjoy it. 

What are you concerned about with respect to the future of our industry?
Nobody is prepared for the technology needs we have today. We installed state-of-the-art systems four years ago; those are long since retired. We need to rewire the buildings to significantly upgrade our WiFi bandwidth. We are going to spend $20 million to $25 million over the next two years to build a new platform. Most facilities across the U.S. just aren't prepared for that.  

I think it's a complicated topic for planners as well as suppliers.
I agree. We're all ignorant enough to cause problems. As an industry, we have to do a better job of educating ourselves. I just sat at an executive meeting and told my boss we need to spend at least $20 million to upgrade our systems, and I started explaining what gauge wiring was required and so forth. He stopped me and said, 'Just tell me why. What are we going to get for that?' And I said, "twice the bandwidth of anyone else." And he said, "OK."

How can planners become better educated on their WiFi needs?
Planners should be requesting a "bandwidth-usage report" after every meeting. There should not be a property out there that cannot give that to you. They get those reports from their providers; they can see how much was used and where and when.

How do you manage WiFi on the property side?
We have a WiFi command center that is staffed by nine people. They are constantly monitoring our WiFi signals. We want to be able to fix a problem before we hear that WiFi is down in one area or that a signal is weak. They can be monitoring where it is needed. So, for example, if all the guests in one tower are now in the meeting rooms, we can redirect the bandwidth from the guest tower to the meeting spaces. That's where we should be heading as an industry.