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Written by: Jeanna André-Murdie


As meeting professionals, we not only produce conferences, we attend them, and are, self admittedly, the WORST critics. We look at everything with a sharper lens, especially when we zoom in on the quality and options for food and beverage.  

In the age of allergies, restrictive diets and the explosion of special preferences it is a challenge to keep to a budget while still pleasing the palate. However, I think there are many ways to make conference food memorable:  

  1. Quit the Carbs – Traditional hotel and convention centre breakfasts and breaks are carb heavy – cue the muffins, Danishes and cookies. These don’t make our brains or bodies work well. They are all high in sugar and will leave you with a crash later on, diverting delegate attention from content to the next hit to fill the void. Instead, go for protein-rich foods and items which encourage brain development.  If you ask your delegates, I’m guessing they would agree, ‘Please Sir, MORE!’
  2. Set Your Expectations – During the venue selection process, study current menu prices and then, to protect your budget, ensure you have a clause or wording that caps pricing at the time of signing. Otherwise, that budget you set now may not cover what you thought it could a few years from now.
  3. Go Off the Menu – Most venues have set group catering menus. However, when asked, my clients have worked with the in-house chefs to create memorable meals which stay on budget, incorporate local flavours and allow customization. Give your catering team the chance to really show what they can do, not just what is tried and true.
  4. Sponsored Meals – Some conferences are fortunate to work with sponsors. For example, agriculture or sports groups often request utilizing food or beverages from their valued partners. We have found most catering teams are excited to work with ideas a sponsor may supply and chefs are thrilled to have new products to try. Have the conversation with the host ahead of time on what can – and can’t – be allowed in. As excited as culinary teams are, some items may not be easily woven into the facility or could create a conflict with any exclusive supplier contracts.
  5. Find a Way to Give Back – Many facilities have agreements to assist conferences to give back to the local community. This giving back can range from donating leftover food to shelters, participating in a green or environmentally sustainable program, or some sort of matching donation to charity. Not only will your attendees have full bellies, so will some local families! Other inventive ideas are donating to a children’s breakfast program or during the conference creating jars of soup mix for donation to local groups.

There are many tasty, off-menu, on-budget F&B alternatives.

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