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October 6, 2006

Catering: Feeding hearts and minds

I was talking with an associate recently - a highly successful businesswoman. Her success is under-pinned by her steadfast pursuit of quality training for all of her staff and an unwavering ethos of customer service. We were discussing a training event that she had attended recently with a number of other employers in her sector - the head trainer had insisted that in order to keep their heads clear, attendees were only able to eat fruit until 4pm.

I can see where the pseudo-science might have come from to justify this idea - cleansing and pure and nothing to distract the body's processes from thought, memory and focus. But this is indeed pseudo- science. Our brains are the most energy sapping organ of the body. With no preparation, we can't expect them to function for eight intense hours on half a grapefruit and a slice of melon - lethargy and lack of focus are classic symptoms of a lack of energy and our minds are more likely to be focused on hunger than on the topics at hand.

People like to have different food and perhaps something a little naughty when they're away from their normal routine, but just because you are looking into providing something healthier, it doesn't have to be anything less than gorgeous and appetising. Food is an integral part of any event and should be a positive and enhancing addition to your offering.

There are some key words to consider when designing menus for events and conferences - balanced, light, colourful, fresh, textured, varied, interesting, enhancing! I could go on but I'm sure you get the picture.

It should give delicious, added value.

What does this mean in practical terms? All meals should be balanced - protein (vegetable and animal sources), carbohydrates (quality and whole rather than over-processed and stodgy), quality fats, vitamins and minerals. They should be light and easy to digest. Fresh ingredients and meals not loaded with salt, sugar and additives will give flavour and appeal to food. Fruit and veg add colour and vital vitamins and minerals - the worker bees of the human body.

Use new and exciting ingredients to enhance flavour, texture, "mouth feel" and satiety. It is crucial to feed what people are doing - don't dampen their energy with heavy carbs and fatty, glutinous, fried and baked goods, provide foods that give slowly released energy to sustain delegates and presenters alike.

If you start using these basics, you can cater more easily for the various needs that many providers see as a catering minefield - vegetarians, food intolerances, dieters, allergies and other diversities.

And of course, over-arching all of this is the availability of drinking water. Mild dehydration is frequently experienced but often goes unrecognised (and drinking more coffee only makes it worse!). Just like the "down" created by poor nutrition, the effects are a lack of concentration, lethargy and poor memory. Let them drink water.

Make your event more memorable for the right reasons. And just like the intellectual and technical content of the show, keep the food vibrant, refreshing, dynamic and easily digested.

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