Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

3 Key F&B Trends for 2022

Now that in-person meetings and events are coming back in a steadier way, some people are rejoicing in “getting back to where we were in 2019.” But even as vaccination rates rise and COVID-19 cases decline, making it more feasible to hold in-person events safely, why not take the opportunity to reset and reimagine meetings and events, rather than go back to how they were being done pre-pandemic?

Take food and beverage, for example. There are some very real and lingering effects of the pandemic on group event F&B, including a shortage of staff, supply-chain challenges and difficulty in getting certain ingredients in a timely manner, if they can be purchased at all. There also are trends that started long before COVID reared its ugly head, from minimizing food waste and its associated costs, to incorporating health, well-being and inclusivity into the menu.

To find out more, MeetingMentor recently caught up with Tracy Stuckrath, president and chief connecting officer of thrive! meetings & events and an expert in all things F&B.

Staffing Issues Could Have Unexpected Effects

Tracy Stuckrath, president and chief connecting officer of Thrive Meetings & Events and an expert in all things F&B

The question of whether your group will have adequate staff, both in the kitchen and front of the house, is just the reality of what’s going on right now, Stuckrath said. “Have the conversation with your hotel and other venue and catering partners well in advance, because staffing levels will determine to a large extent how you design your menus — and how you design your events.” For example, instead of a typical awards dinner, it might make more sense to do an Academy Awards-type of program, with hors d’oeuvres before the ceremony, then a seated theater presentation of the awards, rather than the usual plated event.

She adds that, if your event is being held at a hotel, ask who is providing the culinary piece, because it may not be the in-house kitchen staff that planners used to be able to depend on. Some hotels now are outsourcing their F&B prep and cooking to restaurants, caterers or maybe even a ghost kitchen, all of which have very different ways of doing business than a typical hotel F&B department, she said. At some hotels, everyone from the general manager to the director of sales to the catering services managers have gotten their food service handler certifications so they can do the serving of food that was prepared by an outside caterer.

“It used to be that no outside food and beverage was allowed,” says Stuckrath. “Now meeting planners should ask if F&B is being outsourced to a restaurant or caterer and think about how the answer could affect their contracting in terms of F&B minimums and liability. You need to know where your food is coming from and who’s preparing it.”

She also advises planners to start planning menus further in advance than they used to to take into account both staffing shortages and possible difficulties in obtaining the necessary  ingredients. “Chefs have to order food and beverage a month out from your program, and they may not even be able to get what they ordered. You have to both think ahead and be willing to be flexible if they can’t get those carrots.”

Minimizing Food Waste Is More on-Trend than Ever

Pre-pandemic, the U.S. meetings industry spent around $48 billion on food and beverage annually. Then, and still now, an awful lot of that goes to waste both from those whose eyes are bigger than their stomachs and when meals go uneaten altogether when fewer than were guaranteed show up — something that is not uncommon nowadays as COVID continues to make guarantees tough to pin down.

As long as everyone follows food safety standards such as keeping the food temperature controlled and making sure it’s used within the appropriate time frame, these leftover foods are safe to donate with no liability under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act and the U.S. Food Donation Act of 2008. The number of food-insecure in the U.S. who could use those donations rose considerably over the course of the COVID pandemic, from more than 35 million people in 2019 to 42 million this year, according to Feeding America.

Stuckrath suggests talking to your chef ahead of time to find out how food is handled, and what unused foods can be donated, reused or recycled. She also advises planners to conduct a post-event food audit to take the guesswork out of knowing just how much uneaten and unserved food the event generated.

Health, Wellness and Inclusivity Are Even More Top of Mind

“During COVID, people focused even more on their health, including how what they eat affects their well-being, and they don’t want to let that go when they resume traveling,” says Stuckrath.

That doesn’t mean you have to cut out the brownie breaks entirely, she adds. “Just don’t make the brownies the main focus of the break, and make sure there are healthy options as well.” She cites a recent International Food Information Council Food and Health survey

Giving back to the local community and being inclusive with F&B also are still top of mind. She says that, according to the food and health survey, three out of four people said they made a real effort to help ease their community’s food and beverage challenges during the COVID crisis. For example, 44% made an effort to support local restaurants, 32% tipped more, 25% tried to buy from local farmers, 21% shopped and dined at minority owned restaurants and grocery stores, 20% donated to a food charity, 18% provided assistance to get food and groceries to local community groups, and 12% learned more about food-related social justice.

“That has to transition to our menus,” Stuckrath says, from paying attention to the quantities you order to taking steps up front to make donations of usable leftovers on the backend.

Being inclusive with F&B also means being mindful of people’s food allergies, she adds. Provide menus free of the top allergens and label all other foods on offer so people can avoid potentially dangerous allergens. “We need to make sure we don’t lose these people altogether or make them hangry because we haven’t provided food they can eat safely,” says Stuckrath.

Where pre-pandemic people may have been able to fulfill their dietary needs at restaurants or other food outlets near your meeting venue, many restaurants and other food outlets may now have restricted hours or be closed altogether. This makes ensuring that all can eat safely on site more important than ever, she says, as well asking your convention and visitors bureau and venue about local restaurants that can provide allergy-free foods either in their facilities or via a food delivery service such as Grub Hub.

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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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