Meeting Mentor Magazine

May 2020

How to Satisfy Your Attendees’ F&B Cravings

Devin Burns, vice president, rooms and food and beverage, with Omni Hotels & Resorts

Every December, top food outlets release their food and beverage (F&B) trend predictions for the coming year. Rather than trying to translate what some chefs say the general public is looking for, MeetingMentor asked someone who knows group F&B from the inside out: Devin Burns, vice president, rooms and food and beverage, with Omni Hotels & Resorts. Burns, who shared his expertise earlier this year at ConferenceDirect’s CDX event in Louisville, Ky., told MM what he is seeing now in terms of group F&B and what he expects to see more demand for in 2020 and beyond.

MM: Healthy options are at least being talked about a lot in meeting planning circles, even if attendees still really want their bacon and pastry breaks. How are you incorporating more healthy ingredients while still keeping the sugar-craving/caffeine-addicted/nothing-I-eat-on-the-road-counts attendees satisfied? How are you using spices to enhance healthiness as well as deliciousness?Burns: We are working to offer menus with indulgent flavors and healthy benefits. Along these same lines, we are currently featuring a “Season of Spice” menu at Omni Hotels & Resorts across the brand this holiday season. The menu features some traditional and familiar holiday spices, including apple spice, cardamom and ginger, among others like Szechuan peppercorn and hot chili, incorporated to give an unexpected twist to menu items such as ravioli, seafood, mousse and cheesecake. All of these spices have healthy benefits, including improved energy, immunity and digestion. As our guests are looking for both what’s tasty and what’s good for them, it is our job to find ways to offer both.

MM: What “lifestyle eating” trends are being most requested by groups, and how are these dovetailing with the healthier option trends?
Burns: Keto, vegan, gluten free, low salt, low sugar and high protein are the most popular requests right now. And we see these sticking — so much so that our chefs automatically account for a certain amount of “menu real estate” for these items. Again, the final menu items are time- and place-specific, but you can count on all of Omni’s menus covering these lifestyle eating basics.

MM: Are there any ingredients that we can expect to see being integrated into more menu items? Are there any that you think will catch on the way, say, kale did (please don’t say crickets!)?
Burns: Global ingredients continue to be hot; specifically, ingredients from Africa and Asia. Kimchi from Korea and coconut-chili sauces from East Africa are huge right now. And it’s funny you should say it, but cricket flour is probably going to be a food staple of the future.

A Sobering Trend
MM: Another trend that seems to be gaining ground is toward non- or low-alcohol beverage options. Is this really becoming a “thing” for groups now that it is catching on at restaurants and bars?
Burns: Mocktails and low-alcohol-by-volume (ABV) cocktails are the “in” thing for bars and banquets alike. Our guests continue to look for more ways to celebrate and imbibe without the downside alcohol can bring. Mocktails, which are simply cocktails without the alcohol, should have all of the layered complexities, flavors and fresh ingredients that are found in a craft cocktail — all of the taste without the buzz. Low-ABV cocktails have a lower percentage of alcohol by volume compared to regular cocktails, meaning you can sip two low-ABV cocktails instead of consuming the same amount of alcohol in one regular cocktail. Low-ABVs are a great option for an event that lasts for hours.

MM: How would you work a mocktail menu into a group reception?
Burns: Mocktails are best worked into any bar or event menu by listing them alongside the regular cocktails. You want those interested in mocktails to be just as comfortable ordering a mocktail as an alcoholic beverage. They should also be served in the same stylish glass with the same garnishes as their cocktail counterparts.

 MM: Do you think this is going to be one of those trends that just becomes a standard offering that people will expect to see, similar to how gluten-free and vegan food options (among others) now have become normalized?
Burns: Absolutely yes. Healthy drinking is here to stay, just as is healthy eating. That said, it is person-, time- and place-specific. There may be a time and a place for a delicious mocktail, just as there is a time and a place for a whiskey or for sipping tequila on the rocks.

Sustainability and Giving Back
MM: Omni’s Say Goodnight to Hunger program, which launched in June 2016, has resulted in nearly 16 million meals being donated to Feeding America, which provides nutritious meals for food banks to feed children, families and seniors in communities across the United States. Are meeting planners interested in talking about food donation options for their group F&B functions?
Burns: Our corporate and leisure groups are often looking for a “give back” or “community footprint” option. Omni Hotels & Resorts’ Say Goodnight to Hunger program, which is part of our Omni give-back culture, often resonates with the culture and philanthropic interests of those who book their business and personal travel with us. It is a natural tie into their program and creates awesome synergy between us.

MM: How does Omni work with groups to reduce food waste and/or find ways to use the excess to feed the needy (or compost or reuse for energy sources, etc.)?
Burns: We give our groups the option of donating the leftovers from their catering and banquet events to a local charity or food bank. This is a complete win-win-win-win for Omni, the group, the charity and the environment.

MM: How does your “minis” menu play into the growing interest in curbing food waste?
Burns: More and more, guests are looking for flexible eating options that match nontraditional eating wants and needs. The Omni Minis menu, for example, gave our guests the opportunity to experience big and bold flavors via mini (tapas-sized) menu items. Our guests loved it because they could have variety, without being bogged down ordering an entire entrée, which was great to satisfy their cravings without blowing their calorie count or wasting half of the food on their plate.

MM: The trend for the past few years has been toward farm-to-table, using local farm products as much as possible, and paying attention to how the food is grown (organic, free-range, humane, etc.). Could you talk a bit about how sourcing works, the challenges and benefits? Are there times when it makes more sense environmentally to not use local sources, and if so, are you ever asked to justify the choice?
Burns: Guests care now more than ever about having unique dining experiences with local inspiration. All elements of our hotels and resorts bring together the local color and local flavor of each destination they are in. You will notice it in the design, artwork and, of course, the food and beverage programs at each hotel. For example:

• In Louisville we have a modern urban market and food hall called Falls City Market that offers Louisville’s own Heine Brothers’ Coffee. There are elements all throughout the property that are inspired by the rich history of the city, including Lewis + Louis, a bourbon retail and tasting room.

• Omni La Costa Resort & Spa’s beehives are home to 60,000 bees that support honey production for on-property restaurants.

• The Omni Grove Park Inn offers a Wild Food Foraging Tour, where guests take a guided tour through the mountains of Western North Carolina to gather different seasonal ingredients to take back to the property and create a dish with the culinary team.

• And Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort has “The Sprouting Project,” a state-of-the-art greenhouse, an expansive organic garden, a large collection of beehives and a barrel room, allowing guests to enjoy a true farm-to-table experience. — Sue Pelletier

 

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ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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