As meetings and events continue to shift back to an in-person format again, what will food and beverage (F&B) look like? The pandemic and the changing health restrictions on events (large gatherings) have been a huge struggle for the industry. It has forced many companies out of the business and those left standing have had to adapt, change, and innovate. Corporate Meetings Network asked two industry experts — Kori Gorman, director of events and catering, Eatertainment Hospitality Inc. and Shannon Boudreau, director of sales and events, Lazy Gourmet— about F&B trends and the challenges facing event planners in our unpredictable health and safety landscape.
What are some of the exciting food and beverage trends that you’re seeing?
Kori Gorman: Having not been able to gather has ignited renewed interest in the creative process – especially among food presentation and specialty cocktails. Clients are really focused on making an impression within all elements of their event, which allows us to flex our creative muscles! We absolutely love when guests embrace all that’s possible when you let your imagination run a little bit!
Shannon Boudreau: It’s been a interesting two years of pivoting how we do events. Our “gala in a box” has seen huge success and curates a unique at home experience for guests based on the event’s theme and meal choice. We have also seen a growing popularity of virtual cooking and cocktail classes where clients receives meal and/or cocktail kits delivered to their door and meet online on a virtual platform and partake in a fun interactive class.
For in person events, trends have been focused on unique individually portioned foods ( think charcuterie cones or mini skillets of personal paella cooked to order) Also, culinary experiences are trending towards celebrating small regions of countries ( ie Basque food) and storytelling through the meal. Since we haven’t been able to pack our suitcases and travel globally, this offers a culinary journey rich in culture and flavour for an evening.
What impact has the pandemic had on F&B?
Kori: Our industry is and has always been incredibly competitive – especially when it comes to pricing. The pandemic’s impact has allowed everyone in the event community to raise pricing to a realistic level. The dramatic increase for the general public has made our pricing more easily understood and accepted.
Shannon: In terms of pandemic safety protocols, this isn’t a one size fits all approach. Each in-person event we plan is completely custom and based on comfort levels of individuals and organizations. For some, this means, a plated meal in a much too large venue with guests seated eight feet apart and an abundance of table decor and candles to still make the event feel intimate. For others, this means staggered events and having the same event for 25 -50 people over multiple days.
With event planners working with even tighter budgets now, what are your tips to still get the best menu and experience?
Kori: Budget restrictions are no more common now than before. There are so many different ways you can adjust any event to meet budgets, from simplifying the menu to style of service, or length of event or style of rental items. In the end, any great events company is accustomed to working with any sized budget – and making it work.
Shannon: Make it memorable. Some people haven’t been to an event in two years, some people haven’t even gone to a restaurant. Food memories can last your entire life. Be honest about your budget. Spend the budget on a unique interactive culinary experience. We’ve been having a blast designing unique one-of-a kind branded cocktails/mocktails for companies. Guests learn to make them at an event and then receive kits each month to make again at home during their virtual happy hours with their colleagues.
What are the top challenges in planning F&B?
Kori: Time is always the greatest challenge when planning F&B. We have excellent solutions for dietary, allergies, and budget (per above), however receiving the information timely and clearly communicating data is essential to our execution. Not meeting deadlines while planning drastically impedes our ability to meet expectations.
Shannon: The top challenge currently is timeliness due to event restrictions changing frequently. We are finding more and more that people are waiting far too long to begin planning an event and then the venue isn’t available that date, or they are unable to get the decor they want and we can’t get specialty items or wines brought in on time.
What do you think is the biggest common mistake that will make an event fail?
Kori: Easy – communication! Lack of communication from the overall vision to budget, and all steps in between, can create some huge and sometimes unfixable issues. Without a timely, clear, and transparent exchange of information, the chance of one or more elements failing is almost inevitable. From start to finish, we are in constant communication with our clients, making sure expectations are not only met – but blown out of the water!
Shannon: The biggest mistake people are making right now is not having events at all. We’ve seen some clients cancel all events for two years and individuals come forward to plan something on their own with colleagues. We all crave connection and events bring exactly that. If you don’t have a huge budget during the pandemic, host a popcorn and trivia happy hour in person or on zoom. If you have the budget, use it – an engaged employee is happier and more productive.