Curating Events: Taste, Toast, Engage and Explore

In the age of personalization, customization and bespoke products of all kinds, it’s tougher than ever to wow attendees. A new trend or craze rears its head every day, which attendees are constantly exposed to via Instagram posts and Twitter feeds, revealing the latest in ‘cool.’

How do you keep up? Where do you start? These are the questions that Lisa Russi, senior director of catering and event sales operations for the Americas at Hilton, answered in the latest Smart Meetings webinar: “Trends to Table: Curate Events That Allow Attendees to Taste, Toast, Engage and Explore.” Creating personalized experiences for attendees is no simple feat, but it can be made easier by designing your event to suit the palates of each attendee. Russi shared some tips that you can introduce into your next event.

According to Russi, there are six elements to a curated event. The implementation of which will make your upcoming events both memorable and Insta-worthy.

Personalize and Customize

Technology and on-demand services have created a culture that is accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it. The event planning world is not immune to these expectations. Russi noted several ways to make the food and beverage experience personal.

• Analyze:

– Profile top-10 attendees demographics for food and beverage preferences
– Focus on key meal periods—breakfast is of the utmost importance
– Request past event allergen and dietary information
– Request post-event information on what was most popular and what was left behind

• Research:

– Food and beverage, event marketing publications (such as Smart Meetings)
– Regional, food and beverage-specific websites and blogs
– Restaurant trends
– Travel, food and beverage inspirations websites and blogs, Instagram

• Allow attendees an array of choices

– Creative carts
– Family-style meals
– Flexible menus
– Multiple food options from one main ingredient

• Create food and beverage messaging

– Foam art in coffee
– Ice graphics
– Experiential messaging
– Food designs

– Couture cocktails

Culinary Engagement

“The chefs are the star of the show,” Russi said. She believes that planners should learn about the people who are creating the food their attendees will eat. Learning about the chef will allow you to create a culinary story around the food being made, giving the meal enhanced meaning. This can be done in a few ways.

• Reflect the location by using local ingredients and flavors
• Highlight cultural influences and trends in flavor profiles
• Add action and flair to your event

Russi doubled-down on the importance of showcasing the location in which the event takes place. Your attendees should know where they are, she said. “If they walk into a ballroom and they look at the buffet and stations, and it’s just a regular sandwich deli buffet, that could be anywhere in the world. You picked that location for a reason, showcase it.”

Beyond Healthy

“[Being] healthy is not only food and beverage, and what you’re consuming,” Russi said, “it’s also about movement and mental health.” She share a few creative ways to incorporate and promote healthy living in your events where attendees can get moving and eat healthy, such as boot-camp power bowls, where attendees can get in a workout and eat a fruit bowl before the event; yoga and yogurt; smarty plants, where the host introduces plants and teaches attendees about their many benefits.

The importance of labeling items cannot be overstated. Spelling out entrees and ingredients can inform and inspire. Subtle wording, for example, “gluten-free” and “no gluten added” are different, but have the potential to be mistaken as synonymous. Many companies use labeling to share the story of their conception and their cultural background. Tell the story.

Drink it Up

The beverage scene is something that has seen a boom in recent years, from teas and coffees, to craft beers and wines, there seems to be something for everyone. About 70 percent of food and beverage trends to come out in the past 18 months have been geared toward beverages, Russi said. There are several ways to incorporate beverages and make it fun for all involved.

• Focus on a variety of beverage options
• Source local coffees, craft beers, spirits and wines
• Incorporate low- and non-alcoholic options

• Mix it up with a creative cocktail experience

Bring the “ITY” to Life

The “ITY” is a huge part of the event planning world. There are four pillars of “ITY”: sustainability, community, corporate responsibility and creativity. As a planner, there lies plenty of opportunity to introduce and foster these small acts.

• Sustainability:
– No need to throw away that not-so-perfect fruit, it can be used elsewhere
– Zero food waste
– Get rid of plastic
– As seasons change, allow hotel flexibility in choosing food
• Community: Give-back activities
• Corporate Responsibility: Focus on culture
• Creativity: Bring the “ITY” to life

Trends to Table

Russi has seen plenty of exciting food trends be brought to life at events. She suggested numerous food and beverage ideas to consider when piecing together the next event.

• Fruit-infused sparkling water with fruit herb ice cubes
• Mezcal and a movie
• Engaging food stations
• Blind “burger” challenge
• Raw vegan lunch and learn

There’s even more customization to discover, listen to the webinar in its entirety here.

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