Upscale food & beverage events are within reach even of the budget-conscious, says Julie Holmen, a member of the FICP Hospitality Partner Advisory Council and director of sales, corporate and incentive, for Tourism Toronto. In this InFocus Q&A interview, Holmen shared insights on F&B with us.
Q: How can cost-conscious planners create upscale food & beverage events?
A: Even grocery stores have upped their game when it comes to the products they carry and the customers to whom they are catering. A simple cheese platter that previously came on a plastic tray now has upgraded options to be served on a locally-designed ceramic plate. A cheese expert can help you select cheeses from around the world, assist with wine pairing and label menu cards with cheese origins. This service is often complimentary.
Often times, planners can also access these experts to attend their events at little to no charge to add in an educational or catered component.
Q: Are there any hands-on food & beverage experiences that planners can integrate into programs?
A: Yes, some hotels have relationships with local farmers markets where they can invite conference attendees, meet with local growers and chose their own produce to be prepared for them at each meal.
I also have found that many hotels are adding in their own gardens. Clients can learn more about how to pair herbs with their meals and how local produce thrives in a particular climate.
Another property here in Canada also has its own bee aviary and makes its own honey. Clients can arrange a visit to this area of the hotel to see how the culinary team does this, and what amazing meal options result from this local, homemade honey.
Q: Where does the “wow” factor come into play when it comes to food & wine? Has this changed over the past year?
A: In general, people love fads that roll out each year, such as specialty donuts or tacos. There is merit to sticking to something simple that brings out many flavors with basic, fresh ingredients. People seem to be more “wowed” with that these days. Also, keeping it simple implies that they can also try making the dish at home for their own friends and family.
Q: Has the farm-to-table food & beverage trend changed our perceptions of upscale dining?
A: No, it seems instead that people don’t just go to fine dining restaurants for the food—they also focus on the service and specialized attention received while there.