Food Centred Event Traditions
Historically, events have always meant something special. Something that took us out of our routines, that brought us together with a select group of people who shared similar views or if not, were at least interested in the same topics. For these special occasions, since the olden days, people dressed up and strived to present themselves well in front of the group. While the occasion itself was charged with meaning, some events had the privilege to go above and beyond with lavish meals and entertainment (think Renaissance balls), including music, performances, but mostly – food.
Food has had a strong hold on us since… forever, we seek it in order to survive. Throughout the years, the meaning of food has changed. We have moved through different eras, from hunter-gatherers to agricultural societies. The availability of food for the different classes has also left a great mark in traditions we keep to date, or even in the way we think of food at events (even a family gathering over Christmas or a birthday celebration).
If we drill down to the meaning of the word ‘to cater’, it means to give our full attention to our guests, to give them the best that we can (one of the dictionary definitions is to provide or supply what is needed or gives pleasure, comfort). Again, we have today a tradition of treating our guests with many meal courses, and we all strive to provide a well-rounded and lavish experience, suited to our event.
The Great Expectations
Today, every person working in any sort of a company, in any industry, knows what to expect from the company event that they are invited to attend – food, lots of it, and as the tradition goes – all meal courses should be including wine and should be ending with something sweet. Just for a second allow me to again give a historic perspective of the tradition of a sweet desert. With the scarce resources of the past (speaking of the Renaissance time again), not everyone could have afforded to have more than just one meal that would satisfy their hunger, let alone to have a sweet treat at the end. This tradition is given to us through the generations (we begin all big milestones in life with a cake – birthday, wedding, etc.). I won’t go into our physical needs for sweet, but let’s just say that this is another reason for the tradition of desserts too. (Find out more on this topic here)
A desserts buffet for Royalties
Here we are today, building a menu for an event. We rely on our common sense, we rely on the expectations of our audience, and of course, we rely on our budget.
Today, we still have to cater and create that special glow or magic that we associate with events. At the same time, we live in a world full of food-related issues hampering our society. We have areas in the world, or certain classes of society starving, while we still plan for food to be in large quantities for our events. We mostly see food as just food – something to put on a plate (even if by a renowned chef), but we rarely see beyond it – what does it actually bring to our bodies? As event planners, we seem to be fine with wowing guests with food presentation, combining tastes, presenting local flavours or presenting the familiar in lavish and unique ways. Is this a problem?
A buffet to make you feel hungry
Catering for the Events of the Future
Almost everyone has faced food related issues in their lives. Directly or through family and friends, and people are now much more conscious of what they put on their plates.
Have you noticed that more and more restaurants show allergens in their menus? If you think about it, the smart restaurant managers have finally found a way to avoid having their waiters being driven crazy by all those people that just want what’s on the menu but done a bit differently. With this new simple technique, they have avoided complicating the work of their staff and further, have shown understanding to those that have reasons to avoid certain ingredients, by providing alternative choices already built in their menus. Thus, they win twice – once for understanding our societies’ issues and then for catering to them in a sensitive way.
In the same way, requirements to event planners pile up for specific food choices, as our delegates want to feel their best in order to fully experience our conferences. While food was (and still is) a good ice-breaker at events that facilitates networking, food is a concern to many in order to make it through the event healthy and happy.
PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2017 found the way to lead the industry to the catering of the future. After getting nearly 600 dietary requests from all 4,000 delegates in 2016, PCMA sought a way to make it easier for both participants and the organising team, by identifying the common pain points of all requests. By addressing the “big eight” food allergens, PCMA managed to reduce the number of requests in half in 2017, while still keeping to traditions and catered for each and every attendee by providing a number of interchangeable choices (you can read what they did in details here).
One of the main dishes served at PCMA CL 2017
While PCMA really invested themselves in finding a new catering formula for events that would fit all of their delegates, there are other conferences and events that try to solve the complex issues of food with the alternative options to satisfy those with diverse needs. The only issue with most common smaller scale solutions, is usually that the alternative options often taste quite inferior to the original menu, hence missing the point with these delegates, who at the end still don’t feel satisfied.
Which way should we take it from here? As the food industry has shown us, together with the great example of PCMA – the future of event catering is found in adhering to the needs of our modern audiences, building the correct expectations and finally disconnecting ourselves from the past. The evolution comes from small incremental changes. We have a direction, tried and tested, now let’s look around for the next small change that will bring us to our next destination – meaningful events complete with mindful choices – from the education to the food.By Magdalina Atanassova, Marketing Communications Manager