It’s physiologically given that we need food to survive. Food primes our organic engines, and much like animals in the wild, if we don’t eat, we die.
But how we differ from our animal counterparts is what we eat is more than a means to survival. Food also offers an emotional connection. You probably have great memories of sitting at the kitchen table and eating a tasty snack with a sibling or parent. Or you could recall the warmth of gathering around the dining room table for a delicious meal with family and friends.
That is why it’s baffling that, when it comes to planning conferences, meetings, or events, the role of food is an afterthought. In reality, a little planning and creativity can turn your food and beverage offerings from “meh” to memorable!
Where We Are Now
Raise your hand if this event/conference/meeting food presentation is familiar.
Round tables with seating for 8 to 10 people (most of whom are strangers to one another) are set up in a standard ballroom or banquet hall. At each seat are a plated salad, dessert, and a glass of water. Stone-faced waitstaff serves the hot food (typically some variation of chicken.)
Or, there’s the buffet, another common method of food presentation. Here you have the usual protein (again, most likely chicken), various salads, vegetables, rolls, and dessert. The stone-faced waitstaff is again evident, this time operating the food stations.
In either case, the food might be perfectly all right. But if you were to quiz your attendees, later on, they might not have any lasting memory about what they ate or how it was presented. If you aim to ensure a memorable event, taking a casual approach to the eatables is not the best plan.
Let’s think of a few ways in which you can make the food at your event a more notable experience. We talked about the mediocre chicken that doesn’t typically turn a head but there are many ways to upscale your food while staying budget friendly.
If food is being served at your event, be aware of the manner in which it’s being presented. By creating a unique presentation that is exclusive to your event’s brand, you are sure to turn some heads. You can do this through the food’s layout or even by incorporating some different serving platters/utensils.
Understanding the Eating & Emotional Connections
Religious and historic texts consistently tie food with hospitality. The focus involves inviting friends, family, and even strangers into a home and breaking bread with them. That link between nutrition and hospitality continues today for the following reasons.
It creates memories and warmth
Most people are familiar with the Norman Rockwell painting, “Freedom from Want.” This iconic oil canvas depicts a family at a Thanksgiving table, happily eyeing a large turkey held by grandma, created in response to President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address. This painting symbolizes family, food, and peace. It also depicts the importance of get-togethers during meals.
The emotional connection of communal eating goes beyond a Rockwellesque interpretation. Peer-reviewed studies note that eating with others leads to higher levels of sharing and communication. As such, breaking bread with family and friends generates positive emotions.
It supports cultural and religious identities
Food is essential for connecting us with our heritage and background. Preparing, presenting, and participating in food-related rituals is vital in reminding us of where we all come from. Different types of eatables are also connected with various religious festivals and observances. For instance:
- Feasting and sweets are important during the Hindu holiday of Diwali
- Meat (especially lamb) is a staple offering during the Muslim observance of Ed al-Adha
- Devout Catholics eat fish on Fridays and many times, during Lent
- Latkes, or fried potatoes, are regularly consumed throughout the Jewish holiday of Chanukah
It can boost physical health
Research indicates that loner eating can lead to bad habits. Let’s face it; dining alone, in many cases, can be depressing.
On the other hand, eating with friends, colleagues, or family can help slow the rate of food consumption. While dining, interactions with others means people eat more slowly and savor what they put in their mouths. And, unless you are with argumentative people, breaking bread with people you like can also be relaxing. This, in turn, helps with digestion.
Finally, sharing a meal with others can lead to mutual ideas and stronger ties while building lasting relationships. If you think about it, this isn’t too different from the goals and purposes of conventions, meetings, or events.
Putting Food First
The takeaway is that an event’s food and beverage offerings are as crucial as its content and presenters. To help ensure that your meeting or conference stands out in the area of edibles, consider sourcing locally. Contracting with local food vendors can be an excellent idea for the following reasons:
It improves sustainability. The “farm-to-table” and “sea-to-plate” focus means fresher foods. Protein and vegetables don’t have as far to travel and require fewer resources, meaning a smaller carbon footprint.
It highlights the locale. Local meals and recipes can make cuisine fun for attendees. For example, crabs or clam chowder can be a tasty addition to your Boston conference. And consider serving Vienna beef sandwiches or Chicago-style hot dogs at that next Chicago event.
In addition to this, consider the following suggestions for food offerings.
Change the Environment
A large dining hall, conference room, or ballroom may have the capacity needed for your event but many times lacks in personality and charm. The absence of windows and yellow overhead lighting can often feel more incaving than inviting. Rather than setting mealtime in that dull, large ballroom, look for other options. Temperature and weather permitting, outdoor spaces can be great for casual dining (and gives meeting participants a much-needed breath of fresh air).
Or rather than hosting a lengthy hour-long buffet in a grand ballroom, consider taking over a cozier hotel bar and serving bite-size finger foods to be consumed at small tables. This can reduce the “heaviness” of larger meals, while the modest-sized tables can help with more personalized networking efforts.
Personalize the Offerings
Swap out indifferent servers for personable and friendly waitstaff. Or, if you’re planning a buffet, hire outgoing, extroverted servers and “chefs.” Encourage these individuals to make your participants feel “at home” with welcoming conversation or asking questions about their wellbeing.
Make it Interactive
Earlier, we mentioned that food preparation can be just as important as consumption. Take this idea a little further by encouraging meeting attendees to take an active role in planning. This can be done either with a cooking demonstration (with meeting participants eating the results), or your event can offer hands-on cooking classes if the time permits.
Serve It Family-Style
Rather than plating each meal separately, place an abundance of food on platters, put them on the table, and have attendees serve themselves. Family-style meals are great icebreakers, as their friendly vibe can break the ice, encouraging conversation.
Boosting Your Event Connections
While the goals of any meeting or conference you produce might involve networking and education, another overall objective is to encourage your participants to talk with one another. When handled properly, food and beverage can help in this endeavor. People forge great connections by breaking bread with one another. Bringing this idea into your planning can help create a memorable event. Let our seasoned team here at eShow help you create a unique event, one that is both tasty and impactful!