When you plan meals for your attendees, taking cultural considerations into account as well as trends is key to creating an interesting menu that appeals to many. A well-planned menu can overcome any intimidation that may come with eating in a different country or locality. Knowing your audience is crucial in menu planning for the masses. I would always encourage any planner to incorporate local dishes, vegetables, fruits and baked goods into any meeting menu. However, to take away the intimidation factor of eating in a new location, I would incorporate food items that are from your attendees’ region.
On a recent trip to Seoul, the InterContinental COEX had the most culturally and locally aware breakfast menu I have ever experienced. It was an amazing spread. I was able to pick from various kimchi, abalone porridge, seaweed salad, salmon and lox, scrambled eggs, yogurts, cereal, assorted pastries and breakfast breads. It was the most cross-continental, culturally aware and trend-conscious menu I have seen in a long time. I had the opportunity to try certain breakfast items that I might have otherwise been unsure of trying, but I was comfortable knowing I could get a standard toast and jam if the abalone porridge didn’t suit my taste buds. Food is as much a psychological choice as it is a cultural one. If you think you have choices, you are more willing to try new food items. While region and locality influence the types of food items you may incorporate into your menu, food trends also play heavily into the planning process.
Defining Your Menu Needs
The first challenge when outlining your menu is to determine what you need to provide for your attendees. If you are serving breakfast, what kind of breakfast? Buffet style where you serve a large variety, or will you be serving a basic continental breakfast? Will you be serving lunch, and if so what kind (how heavy is your meeting schedule after lunch?), at what time and for how long?
If you have a large international group, what can you include to make them feel comfortable? Attendees from the US or Canada could be served a traditional breakfast buffet with eggs, toast, hash browns and bacon or sausage; with a European demographic, you could include assorted pastries, sliced deli meats, cheese and various spreads. Determining what types of meals you are serving is your first consideration, before you even start to look at what is trendy in the food world.
Trends vs. Trendy
Differentiating between trendy and a trend is helpful when deciding where to place your food items. I would place trendy food options in a reception-style menu, which has a variety of food selections, offering attendees a choice. A passed appetiser is a great way to include a nice, new, high-quality trendy food item without breaking your budget. This gives the attendee the choice, freedom and psychological comfort level of trying something new without it being forced as the only meal option.
Some trends have evolved from trendy beginnings. The entire eco-friendly, sustainable food trend actually started out as a grassroots, hip movement. It proved to be both ecologically worthwhile and psychologically friendly. Another very popular trend is serving regional, seasonal foods. This is a great way to introduce your attendees to new foods, and can be done in any meal: breakfast, lunch, reception, dinner or even breaks. The newest trend is portion size. More people are paying attention to what they eat and how much. Offering attendees variety and smaller portion sizes allows them to maintain control of their dietary needs and try new food items.
Menu planning for meetings does take consideration, budget and planning. However, when done properly it can be very rewarding for your guests. A well-planned menu nourishes, satisfies and hopefully exposes an event’s attendees to new and interesting foods.
Katja Morgenstern, CMP is senior project manager at Meeting Consultants, Inc. located in Atlanta, handling the company’s food and beverage management. She can be reached at email@example.com