Mr. Dolce

Group Meetings

Food & Beverage: Five Hot Trends in the Meetings Industry

By Andy Dolce, Founder, Chairman & Managing Partner, Dolce International

While food trends may come and go, meeting planners always need to feed their attendees. With travelers' tastes expanding to more global flavors, today's successful meeting hotels must go above and beyond the typical banquet fare to wow today's finicky groups.

While traditional fare is still in vogue in some markets, hoteliers must keep abreast of culinary trends and changing palates. Did you know that some popular themed dinner buffets at the moment include Thai, Indian, Latin and Caribbean accented meals? Anything spicy, ethnic, bold or organic is sure to create a stir among attendees these days.

As hospitality leaders, we have a responsibility to address health and nutrition concerns of our guests. In addition, we need to ensure that we are purchasing items from local vendors when possible and selecting items such as organic meats and sustainable fish.

Aside from providing sustenance, culinary experiences for groups can be great team-building activities in both "Top Chef" and "Survivor" scenarios. The value of bonding over a home cooked meal cannot be underestimated. Read on to learn about five hot food and beverage trends in the meetings industry.

1) Broadening Our Horizons - The Most Requested Ethnic Meals

For meeting organizers, planning a meal that appeals to the exotic and ethnic tastes of attendees is growing in popularity. Planners are now inquiring about Indian-fusion and Japanese cuisine, while the more adventurous are pursuing Korean and African foods. In addition, interest in flavors from North Africa like couscous is spreading across the country and Olympic hype from Beijing will surely boost cravings for Chinese food. At Dolce International, our chefs are using many imported items such as Moroccan harissa, Thai curry sauce from Hong Kong, Malaysian tamarind, imported Truffles from France, lemongrass oil, fish sauce from Vietnam, and 100 year old balsamic aged vinegar from Tuscany.

Although classic "American" BBQ and steak and potatoes are still requested consistently, planners are asking for meals from their country of origin, with an emphasis on cuisines in which the property is located. Rotational cycles for CMP menus are starting to offer a variety of unique ethnic themes from all over the world, such as Luaus and Oriental themes to Tex-Mex and everything in between. To build excitement, properties such as Dolce Atlanta Peachtree boast Luaus and Caribbean themed events complete with everything from laying down white sand to supplying traditional island dancers and fire walkers.

2) Health & Wellness - Meeting Planners are Requesting Healthy Options

An estimated fifty percent of planners identify dietary restrictions for their participants, as well as preferred healthy choices for breaks and private events. Today's popular breakfast and break offerings include energy bars, the Kashi food and snack line, steel cut oatmeal, Life Waters, SoBe beverages, vitamin drinks, smoothies, fresh fruit and nuts.

Many CMP cycles menus are encompassing multiple vegetarian selections, such as couscous, quinoa, legumes, beans, polenta, pasta and brown rice; and steamed, roast, grilled vegetables are offered daily. Organic greens and other produce are at the top of the list when a client wishes to offer healthier fare. In addition, properties are offering guests more choices in how they would like their food prepared including light dressings and sauces on the side as well as "Light and Natural Healthy" buffet selections.

Clients are asking for the best local products to be served: fresh fish, seasonal vegetables from local farmers, and organic vegetables. Some hotels have added on-property herb and vegetable gardens and many others are partnering with local agricultural producers for organic produce and meats as well as sustainable seafood. For example Dolce's restaurant Orlo's offers local, all-natural meats and poultry such as San Joaquin County Wild Boar Loin (100% all natural), "Creekstone" Certified Genetic Angus Beef, and Free Range Chicken, as well as sustainable seafood.** **

3) Going Gourmet - Catering to More Sophisticated Palates

Food quality within meeting environments is starting to mirror what is offered daily to ala carte restaurant guests as the freshest ingredients, classic recipes and the latest techniques are used at meeting venues.

Meeting planners can now accommodate any catering client's vision with personalized menus featuring clean, vibrant flavors using the freshest of local and organic/sustainable ingredients. Chefs are using the very best infused oils such as Manni olive oil from Italy as well as sauces and condiments like Blood Orange Syrup, fruit infused Balsamic, Herb Oils and Pomegranate Coulis.

Today's attendees are dining on exotic cuts of beef such as Kobe beef, Wagyu beef, Kurobuta (Berkshire Pork), pork belly, Peking duck, Brandt beef from California, craw fish from Louisiana, corvine fish from the gulf coast, sea bass from Chili, and Jamon Ramon Serrano ham from Spain.

Orlo's at Dolce Hayes Mansion provides guests an infused mix of cultural flavors, with top-selling selections such as Lavender Crusted California Rack of Lamb with candied garlic and minted Pinot Noir Jus, Moroccan Spiced Free Range Breast of Chicken accompanied by a Lemongrass Coconut Curry Cr`eme and Crab, Salmon & Avocado Mango Tower with fresh Dungeness crab, Plum Wine Ginger-cured Salmon, Avocado and Mango with Sugar Beet & Sweet Chili Sauces.

4) Spice It Up - Growing Popularity of Bold Flavors

Along with their more sophisticated taste palates, today's meeting attendees enjoy spicy and bold fare.

In addition to the exotic and ethnic tastes, meeting planners are asking our chefs to "kick it up a notch" with bold flavors and spices. At Dolce, we have found that Asian and Pacific Rim spices and flavorings are very popular with curries, ginger, lemongrass and a variety of Indonesian seasonings leading the way.

Executive chefs are now preparing more items with rubs - using spices rather than traditional marinades, like Moroccan seasonings and others to create uniquely bold and distinct flavor options for guests. The most popular items from our catering menus are Thai Ginger Beef Sate with a Spicy Garlic Chili Peanut Sauce as well as Pan Seared Diver Sea Scallops with a Chipotle Orange Glaze.

5) Unique Trends - Be On the Lookout For These

Meeting planners never left the "meat & potato" center plate - they have just become more aware that portion size, menu balance and fresher, lighter preparations make the difference between healthy and a heavy, less memorable dining experience. For example, desserts are back and more popular than ever, but offered with more appropriate portion sizes at the forefront, such as samplings and miniatures.

Chef's tables are becoming an integral part of the Dolce meetings culture for team building options. The most exciting trend that we have experienced is the interactive Culinary Team Building Events a.k.a. Thrill of the Grill and Mystery Basket events. We host interactive Chef's tables, with our most popular being "Live" chef demos and dinners paired with international wines. Chef's Tables are offered upon client request. A recent "Survivor"-themed gathering showcased some very unique offerings, including: Locally grown Sweet Peas, Radicchio, Frissee, Micro Greens, Celery Root, Sun Chokes, Baby Vegetables, Hamachi, Ahi Tuna, Octopus, BBQ Eel, Guinea Fowl, Venison, Buffalo and exotic Asian items such as Duck Bill/Tongue, Pork Feet/Head, Braised Chicken Feet and Thai River Larva.

Tapas menus are very trendy at this moment; also the assorted rice buffet (from Paella to Fideu'a, including many different types or cooked rice including also risotto, etc.). T Burke's, our lounge in May of 2008 will feature global tapas offerings in conjunction with a modern brasserie interpretation of comfort food favorites. House smoked bacon and our own house cured smoked salmon are two of the many items we prefer to create in house ensuring superior flavor.

Andrew (Andy) J. Dolce founded Dolce Hotels which has become the world's leading conference hotel company by providing environments where people can meet and learn. Dolce is at the forefront with properties in the U.S., Canada and Europe. He has been named one of the "25 Most Influential Executives" in the meetings and travel industries by both "Meeting News" and "Business Travel News". Mr. Dolce has been a board member and president of the IACC. He is on the board of NYU's Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration and serves on Iona College's Legal Board of Trustees. Mr. Dolce can be contacted at 201-505-5906 or andy.dolce@dolce.com Extended Bio...

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