October 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio October 1999 Current Issue
October 1999 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:



When Box Lunches Are on the Menu

New ideas for memorable (and safe) meals on the go

Lunch is a necessary break during the course of a long day of meetings. These days, many planners seek midday-meal options that offer attendees convenience and portability, allowing them to check voice mail, return calls or even take a quiet break away from the group. Traditionally, box lunches have been the answer. They let individuals take their lunches with them and eat on the go. Also, they give meeting planners more control over the length of the break, as there is no sit-down, serving element. Intensive training sessions, for example, might require a quicker lunch; by providing attendees with a portable lunch, planners can maximize their training dollar.

Box lunches no longer have to consist of the basic turkey sandwich, chips, apple and crumbly cookie. Menus have evolved to please sophisticated palates.

Although taste is always a top priority, safety cannot be ignored, especially with portable food. Portion-controlled packets should be used for perishable ingredients, like mayonnaise, and planners simply need to ensure the food is served quickly. But some creative alternatives are being introduced.

Small cold-packs can be placed inside a box lunch, providing enough refrigeration to allow items such as tuna- and chicken-salad sandwiches to be served safely. Insulated lunch bags or personal coolers also will keep things cool and fresh. These can be personalized with a logo.

Despite its name, a box lunch does not necessarily have to be packed in a plain old box. In addition to insulated bags and coolers, colorful handled boxes or themed packaging make great alternatives. Some examples: An Asian theme can be carried out with large, takeout-style white cartons. Seasonal food can be paired with seasonal colors; spring is a great time to feature bright boxes with light food. A practical package is a compartmentalized plate with a securely fastened, clear cover; this provides functionality and high appeal. High-end plastic silverware and napkins also enhance the presentation. As with the boxes, bright colors and innovative designs add a festive feel.

If safety issues are thoroughly observed, the sky's the limit on the types of food that can be served. Hyatt offers traditional box lunch options like sandwiches, chips and fruit, but a slightly creative approach can give all these items an unusual flair. For an Asian flank-steak sandwich with cabbage herb slaw, soy-marinated flank steak is seasoned with sesame and chilis, grilled and sliced thin, then served on a soft panini roll with garlic mayonnaise and a slaw of cabbage, ginger, mint and fresh coriander. For those who prefer lighter fare, a citrus marinade adds a unique zest to chicken sandwiches. A vegetarian option is a grilled portobello-mushroom sandwich with lemon fennel slaw; cumin- and scallion-marinated portobellos are grilled and served with a lemon and shaved fennel slaw on a potato-pepper bun.

Wraps and pitas offer further variations on many items. Unless served in a compartmentalized container, all sandwiches, wraps or pitas should be carefully wrapped in plastic to ensure their freshness and portability.

Fruit and chips are time-honored components of a box lunch. Whole fruit remains a popular choice, as attendees can save it for a midafternoon snack. Berries and tropical fruit are great in small containers and make a tasty complement to an exotic main dish. The wide variety of unique chips on the market, including sweet potato and beet chips, are a healthier alternative to traditional potato chips and add bright, attractive colors to a lunch.

Side salads and slaws are also popular options. Varying the greens used can make a tremendous difference; arugula, endive and romaine all add fantastic flavor to any salad. A spicy pasta side salad adds dimension to any meal combination, as does an Asian chopped salad.

Fresh-baked goods for dessert remain a box lunch constant. Soft cookies and brownies are the most popular, but welcome alternatives include Hyatt's linzer torte cookie, a new twist on an old favorite.

At the beverage station, the choices are limitless. Flavored French or Italian seltzers consistently please. "Power drinks" are a version of smoothies that add ginseng, vitamins and protein. "Frappucinos," bottled water and old-fashioned sodas are also fun choices.

Philip Kendall is vice president, food & beverage, at Hyatt Hotels Corp., based in Chicago.

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