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April 4, 2008

CATERING: A matter of taste

There are four relatively new but inter-related influences that are impacting on the provision of Food and Beverage for events. They are:

  • Globalisation
  • Health awareness
  • The social revolution
  • The quest for ROI.

Globalisation has impacted our taste buds in a number of ways. Delegates’ personal knowledge of food and dishes is no longer regional or national, it is global, and their expectations are therefore high, wide and rising.


TV food programmes and celebrity chefs have shown us what is possible, and we want it. An increase in international delegates has demanded a fresh look at menus and how and when food is served. Many more people now cook (as a hobby) and know what to expect and what ingredients are available when.


Health awareness is also a global trend. People, today, are much more aware of the effect of food on health and try to monitor and regulate what they consume both in terms of quantity and variety. A fear of illness caused by eating the unfamiliar or the uncooked has become almost universal, and life is made harder for the chef by a general increase in food allergies and intolerances. Meanwhile, diets are becoming almost universal; some dictated by health factors others by fads and fashions; and it is a brave banqueting manager or meeting planner who ignores them.


But perhaps it is the social revolution that is having the greatest impact on event catering. Formal entertaining is increasingly seen as anachronistic, neither suitable nor necessary for optimum networking and enjoyment. So formal dinners are being replaced by buffets and more informal functions.


In a democratic world where choice is a fundamental right, meals and menus can no longer be dictated by an organiser or chef. Delegates now decide what, when and where they eat. And it is social factors that have caused the growth in vegetarianism and the demand for organic produce.


Financial constraints have always played a part in menu choice, but today, there is an obsession with return on investment (ROI). Now that the kitchen has been demystified by popular culture, organisers are looking for ways to nourish delegates without being over generous – nor appearing mean. Venue caterers are under intense pressure to be creative with smaller budgets.


Today, the challenge facing the conference organiser, the banqueting manager and the chef is to plan healthy and appetising meals that suit the individual needs of an increasingly disparate constituency, while working within budgets that are getting tighter. It is not an impossible task for catering professionals who harness technology, adopt a creative approach and work closely with their clients, as we will see at the ABPCO Seminar ‘Food For Thought’ on Friday 30 June.


For more details of ABPCO's Food for Thought seminar, visit www.abpco.org/cgi-bin/events/list_events

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