Following extensive research among the 400 members of the International Association of Conference Centres, the organization has released the following top food trends for the year.
1. Local is everything. 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 beverage 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.
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. Warm miniature house-made donuts, chocolate truffles, French macaroons, mini cupcakes and house-made cookies are top of the list for planners.
4. In with flavor, out with fats. IACC member chefs are working with new ingredients that are increasingly popular with attendees, 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. Culinary team building is red-hot today. 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.
6. Contrasting environments. Utilizing outside spaces to create a change in scenery and provide a casual dining experience can revitalize conference attendees, especially during multi-day meetings and events. IACC members across the globe are doing this for light receptions, breakout sessions and informal gathering times throughout the meeting experience.
7. Finale, not a gala. Gone are the days when meetings ended with an unimaginative formal gala. Today, planners want finales that create a dynamic and stimulating experience for their conferees, and that bring people together to celebrate and bond at the end of their conference. But note: 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 theater! A little drama is a good thing for ratcheting up the conference dining experience. Adding an interactive 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 slider.
9. Go micro for max effect. With the explosive popularity of microbreweries offering beers that appeal to all tastes, often with a localized appeal, conference planners are increasingly looking to chefs and sommeliers to provide pre-dinner receptions and specialty dining with microbrews on the menu.
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!