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Looking for some new ideas to freshen up your food and beverage offerings? Read through the following trends that can help you make a lasting impact on your conference center guests.
1. Local Meats, Eggs, and Seafood-- More and more consumers want to know where their meats, eggs, and seafood choices come from, and they even want the opportunity to visit those farms. Local food benefits the community, the diners, and also the business. Make it part of your property's CSR strategy and contract with local farmers to get the freshest products available.
2. Half Portions -- Offering half-portions of salads, sandwiches, and entrees can be a great win-win for both diners and businesses. Some pros of this strategy include diners eating more reasonably-sized meals (can help lead to healthier weights) and less food goes to waste. A creative marketing blitz showcasing smaller portions could lead to great business.
3. Mini Desserts -- I personally have received many requests for mini desserts and cookies at various events and receptions. It seems that guests would rather have a little sample of multiple types of desserts rather than a bigger portion of one type of sweet.
4. Great Grains -- Break out of the basmati and brown rice mindsets and provide more varied grains as side items. Quinoa, Asian noodles (such as soba or rice noodles), and farro are all interesting and healthy items that can catch diners' eyes.
5. Food Truck and "Street Food" Appetizers -- By this, I mean more casual and ethnic-themed appetizer options. What do you see offerred on the streets of NYC? Falafel, kabobs, tacos, Korean barbecue. Food truck popularity has also risen magnanimously in the past year. Use the energy behind that trend and try to incorporate classic food truck or street food appetizers into your menus.
6. Superfoods -- Acai, blueberries, and goji berries have all been labeled "superfoods" or "superfruits" in the past. Diners like seeing them because they offer an immediate association with health, vitality, and vitamins.
7. Local, Artisinal Cheeses -- Check out your local farmers market to see what specialties small farms have. You may discover some fabulous goat cheeses (even a goat gouda!), and can then sell a locally-sourced cheese plate as an appetizer.
8. Creative Vegetarian/Vegan Entrees -- Grilled portabello mushrooms get boring after awhile. Try to surprise and elate vegetarians (or those that just wish to eat less meat) by offering unique vegetarian and/or vegan entree options. There are many amazing cookbooks available that may be useful to chefs with limited experience in these realms, such as Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan.
9. Nutiritous Options for Children -- Startling research about childhood obesity and Mrs. Obama's campaign to combat the disease will continue to affect food and beverage operations nationwide in 2011. Make sure to stay on top of this trend by offering whole grains, fruits and vegetables as side items for children's meals. Also, think about offering special salad entrees for children.
10. Beer and Food Pairings -- If you already offer wine-and-food pairing dinners a few times a year, think about supplementing with beer-and-food pairings. The market for craft beers has exploded in the past couple years, so you have a good chance of finding a local brand of beers to provide alongside locally sourced dishes. There's even an iPhone app to help you Find Craft Beer!
11. Gluten-Free Options -- Providing a gluten-free menu or a list of meal choices that are conscious of food allergies will impress and relieve guests that worry about what to eat when they go to conferences. Celiac disease affects more than 3 million Americans (1 out of 133 people), meaning you will probably have guests with celiac disease or gluten-sensitivities stay at your property. Even Subway is testing two gluten-free products at some restaurants.
Written by: Meghan Bollenback Food & Beverage Manager R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center