Meetings & Conventions - World's Fare - April
What to expect when plannning group meal functions
By Lisa GrimaldiNearly every planner who has ever
meeting or incentive program abroad has experienced some type of
incident, humorous or otherwise, involving that most key element of
any event: the food. Given the many opportunities for mealtime
confusion in a foreign country names, translations, customs it’s no
surprise that ordering food and beverage without some advance
knowledge about eating habits, food preparation and local dishes
can be a recipe for disaster. Following are tips from planners and
F&B experts to make menu planning overseas as easy as apple
•Ask a lot of questions. Much can be
misinterpreted or wrongly translated when making selections from
menus in different countries. U.S. participants on a French
incentive program got stuck eating chocolate mousse for dessert
four nights in row, because planner Vicki Pritchard, account
executive at Reward Worldwide, a Mississauga, Ontario-based
incentive firm, didn’t get to see or taste the desserts prior to
the event. “When I was choosing the menu, all the different venues
called the mousse something else, like ‘chocolate surprise’ or
‘special dessert,’” she says. “It became a running joke.”
Conducting a tasting prior to the event or getting a full
description of menu items can waylay similar incidents.
•Call it what you will. Food names can cause
major confusion. The banquet menu at the Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in
Taipei, for example, lists dishes such as “Fall in Love with First
Sight” and “Lover Forever,” neither of which remotely reflects the
foods represented. In some cases, planners rename menu items
themselves. For a meeting in England last year, Carolyn Plant,
director, meeting and event solutions, at Philadelphia-based
McGettigan Partners, felt compelled to change the traditional
British dessert “Spotted Dick” to “summer pudding.” “I knew the
group would have just lost it if they saw that,” she jokes.
•Banish the language barrier. Unless you are
multilingual, make sure your F&B contact is fluent in English;
if not, hire an interpreter for important meetings (site and menu
selections, etc.). Have contracts written in both languages,
recommends Narelle Bailey, director of catering and conference
services at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, to accommodate all concerned.
It also helps to have menus written in English.
Reminder: The United States is just about the only country that
doesn’t use metric measurements. Elsewhere, liquor comes in liter
bottles, and shrimp is ordered by the kilo, not the pound.
Place to place
While F&B customs differ from country to country, some
generalities apply in various regions. M&C asked planners and
F&B professionals at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., Shangri-La
Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and
Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts to describe what planners can
•In Asia, the F&B contact at the hotel is
not always the convention services manager; it is often someone in
group sales who probably speaks English. Many chefs do not speak
English, however, so an interpreter might be necessary.
Most meeting- and incentive-caliber hotels in the East have two
kitchens, Asian and Western, manned by two separate chefs. The
Asian kitchen is set up to accommodate industrial-size woks and
often live fish tanks. For most meals, U.S. planners work with the
Western chef and kitchen staff.
Food is generally priced on a per-person basis; according to
hoteliers in the region, a deposit of 30 to 50 percent of the event
is required in advance for F&B functions. In China, unless
Western service is requested, hotels typically serve food
family-style normally 10 people to a table, with no individual
portioning, except for formal banquets. According to Kristy Lee,
director of catering and meeting services at the Pudong Shangri-La,
Shanghai, planners should specify whether they prefer Asian or
Western service, because the styles including elements such as
utensils, table settings and service are so different.
Service charges come in the form of a separate bill. In China,
expect to pay 15 percent on top of the quoted F&B price. In
Southeast Asia, service charges are generally 10 percent.
•In Europe, where many cuisines are familiar to
Americans, one key difference is dining times, especially in
Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Portugal and Spain; cocktail
and dinner hours are generally late by U.S. standards.
While most properties can adjust mealtimes at private events,
difficulties can arise at restaurants. “I had a group that wanted
to eat dinner right after a day tour, which ended at 6 p.m.,” says
Vicki Pritchard. “I had to tell them that this is Italy, and no
matter how much the DMC or I tried to get the restaurant to open
before 8 p.m., they wouldn’t.” As a compromise, Pritchard arranged
special snacks and cocktails for the group at the hotel prior to
Breakfasts tend to be lighter in Southern Europe (rolls, juice
and coffee) and more hearty in the Central and Northern European
countries (cheeses, cold cuts and pastries often accompany rolls,
hearty breads and cereals). In Turkey, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers
are often partaken in the morning, along with cheese, olives,
hard-boiled eggs and ekmek, a white bread served warm.
While Americans might be most familiar with the wines of France
and Italy, other countries produce local vintages worth sampling,
says Hotel Arts Barcelona’s Narelle Bailey. Hungary and
Switzerland, for example, have excellent wines, a well-kept secret
since they don’t export much.
According to Wayne Joseph Coté, director of banquets and
conventions at the Swissôtel Istanbul, it pays to try local wines
in Turkey, because the government foists surcharges of up to 400
percent on imported wines and liquors.
Most F&B prices quoted include a service charge as well as
tax. European properties typically require a partial payment for
F&B events prior to the event.
•In Latin America, a major concern of U.S.
planners is the safety of water, ice and local produce, says Karin
Salinas, director of sales and marketing, Swissôtel Quito. Planners
should find out if the property and/or facilities they select have
their own water purification systems and if produce is treated to
kill bacteria and potentially harmful pesticides.
When ordering F&B, planners generally work with a group and
convention sales manager, rather than a banquet manager. Advance or
partial payments are not always required.
For the past year
, European headlines have been
dominated by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more popularly
known as “mad cow disease,” and its human form contracted by eating
infected beef. How to safeguard Europe-bound attendees from risk of
this potentially fatal illness?
Avoid beef and beef products altogether,
advises the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Or, select solid pieces of muscle meat (versus
processed products such as burgers and sausages), which are thought
to have a reduced risk of contamination with the BSE agent. Milk
and milk products are not believed to pose any risk.
BSE is only one of the numerous food-or
waterborne illnesses planners need to be aware of. (Foot-and-mouth
disease, currently affecting livestock in the United Kingdom, is
not harmful to humans, although humans can be carriers.) To find
out more about other global outbreaks and warnings, call the CDC’s
Travelers’ Health Hotline, (877) FYI-TRIP, or visit www.cdc.gov.
Another site that regularly posts global food
and water safety information is www.medicineplanet.com.
WORTH A TRY
Here is a sampling of local delicacies to
consider offering a group.
Korea: Some variety of kim chee, the national dish
of spicy pickled cabbage and other vegetables, is present at
breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other favored specialties include
bulgogi (Korean barbecued beef strips) and galbi (braised spare
ribs in soy sauce and spices). Among the choices for native
beverages are rice wine and Makkolli, a fermented rice liquor.
Malaysia: Offer nasi lemak (coconut rice served
with chicken curry, anchovies, peanuts and satay), roti jala (rice
pancake served with curried chicken or fish), pie tee (flour cups
filled with shredded mixed vegetables and gravy) and bubur kacang
(a coconut milk dessert). For drinks, serve mango, papaya,
watermelon and guava juices; local beer, sugar cane juice
(alcoholic) and rice wine.
Ecuador: Breakfast consists of humita (corn
cake with cheese) and coffee. A typical lunch consists of ceviche
(seafood salad), fritada (deep-fried pork), llapingachos (fried
potato patty filled with cheese) and babaco (fruit) in natural
syrup; dinner is usually a hearty soup such as locro quiteno, made
with potatoes and cheese.
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