These days everyone it seems is a foodie, or at the very least more aware about what they are eating and drinking. In fact, meeting attendees may very well be Instagramming their food plate at your next conference, and it's likely not some off-the-shelf chicken dinner that's caught their eye. Try vegetables and grains.
Vegetables' now-leading role tops the list of recent culinary trends, including more spice and heat (think za'atar and harissa), and seasonings like ginger, maple and citruses. Sprouted grains and legumes are now "little rock stars," says Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides, a trends forecasting company for the food industry in Portland, Ore. Regional cuisines like Hawaiian are making a big play this year, and hyper-regional cuisine breaks down regional cuisine even further, according to Badaracco. Take the Deep South. "It's been one of the hottest regions for years, but it's transitioning, and you've got, specifically, New Orleans cuisine, Ozarks, Low Country," she says.
Chefs have embraced the movement to wild sustainable seafood as a sourcing strategy in recent years, and their menus reflect that commitment. But cultivated oysters have been an exception, according to Kevin Appel, associate culinary director at Sterling-Rice Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based research and branding firm. "Cultivated oysters are an exception, " says Appel. "They taste just as good as wild oysters and actually filter the waters where they are grown." SRG's 2016 Cutting-Edge Culinary Trends Report calls out the popularity of oyster bars, and not just because of their aqua-cultured benefits and increased supply. "Millennials are on a journey of discovery for new food experiences, textures and flavors," says Appel. "They are also drawn to a connection to the foods they eat and the story behind the origin of foods and ingredients."
Of course, locally sourced and seasonal remain the name of the game. Even a traditional steakhouse like Thoroughbreds Chophouse and Seafood Grille in Myrtle Beach, S.C., appreciates its importance. "Being right next to the Atlantic Ocean, we get a lot of requests for local seafood and local produce, which we do offer; whatever's in season, whatever we can get locally, we will take advantage of that," says David Amend, Thoroughbreds' general manager, who also recognizes that vegetables are taking a starring role. "People are used to seeing normal proteins, but fresh takes on vegetables and side dishes, in my opinion, are what helps make a complete restaurant."
When it comes to F&B, knowing your destination's current dining scene as well as its culinary heritage can go a long way to creating a sense of place for your attendees. Do a "taste of the city" with local chefs, mixologists, craft beer or wine-makers at your venue. Or break free of the standard banquet room space and set menus. "People are getting motivated by having events in different spaces because when they come to town for an event, they want to get out and see places," says Andrew Freeman, president of Andrew Freeman & Co, restaurant and hospitality consultants in San Francisco. He knows clients who've rented subway stations, art studios, private residences and breweries. How does a local food truck sound for a lunch break, or a culinary tour of the destination that helps attendees get to know each other?
"Sometimes, a planner will say my group really won't care about that, and I always challenge," says Freeman. "At least 25 percent will, and the others will benefit from it because it's better food and a better experience." Maybe even an Instagrammable one.
Visit Myrtle Beach to create trendsetting culinary experiences for your next meeting.