As the business events world slowly returns to hosting live meetings, the International Association of Conference Centres (IACC) has released a series of guides to help event planners and venue operators manage F&B service for Covid-safe meetings.
Based on three months of discussions with event planners and F&B managers, the guides outline food trends and creative catering ideas for post-pandemic networking and lunch breaks. Here are our top picks:
Tea breaks: Less is more
IACC members noted that the shared break station — until now "a pillar of the conference venue approach" — is under threat. Instead of sumptuous grazing tables, individually-wrapped snack boxes are seeing a resurgence. This reduces queues while eliminating risks associated with a 'high touchpoint' buffet table.
A recent event at Sigtunahojden Conference Hotel in Sweden saw attendees taking their boxed snack and consuming it outdoors, which would not be possible with a non-packaged food service.
Considerations for the refreshment box now also include dietary needs and presentation — such as events company Chateauform's ready-to-eat meals using new containers like boxes, bowls, bentos or jars (pictured). Eco-friendly solutions are still important, including avoiding single-use plastics as much as possible.
And when it comes to the location of break stations, the report noted two trends: (1) attendees will look for some evidence of how things were, such as tablecloths and cutlery wrapped in napkins, so be sure to communicate changes to your dining approach/layout; and (2) there is a preference to segregate delegates into smaller groups or bubbles for reduced infection risk, at least for the next 18 months. Outdoor breaks are also increasingly popular, with more groups also taking to advance ordering, especially for large-scale events.
To curb queues and avoid confusion, IACC recommends a clear information flow to delegates, such as food timings, hygiene, bathroom locations — all in advance. And when it comes to communication, the role of the meeting organiser is more crucial than ever — sharing key information such as safety reassurances from the venue, sanitation procedures to delegates, and why one group might be adhering to one set of measures while another behaves differently.
Just like refreshments, planners and operators should consider advance ordering and segregate groups — be prepared for cross-property, multiple lunch areas rather than food from one centralised location. To minimise contact, menus will also be redesigned to QR codes and food and beverage services separated, while presentation remains an area to tinker with since delegates are now no longer taking food out of buffet trays.
According to the report, preferred lunch service formats include: Self-serve buffets which are favoured by bubble groups such as sports teams; staff-served buffet; time-slot allocated meals; packaged lunch boxes; exclusive lunch prepared by a private chef; self-serve mini stations; and the classic table service meal.
Interestingly, the meeting room service — previously frowned upon — is now a serious option for groups to avoid intermingling. IACC notes that "venues will need to carefully weigh up the cost/benefits over the next two years".
Bautahoj in Denmark, for instance, came up with a meeting-room break station using recycled materials. Another cost to consider is the rise of delegates asking for privately prepared meals, even private chefs and a dedicated service team for that perfect marriage of risk management and providing a true wow factor experience.
To read the full report, click here.