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April 4, 2008
By: Anon

Catering: Performance on the menu

The conference delegate has become a very complex reflection of a multi-cultural and health-conscious society, where ethnic choice is demanded and where weight and obesity issues are becoming a serious social concern. A real change is needed by caterers and venues with regard to the choice of ‘nutrition’ that is provided at conferences, not only from the point of view of delegates’ wellbeing, but also their performance.

Conferences are not often regarded as a place of work, but they are. Although generally viewed as a break from the office, they often result in delegates working longer hours than they would during a normal working day, in session and networking, not to mention social excesses in the bar! What’s more, with ever increasing pressure on organisations’ budgets, there is a greater demand for quantifying the benefits of organising and attending conferences than ever before, so it is even more important for organisers to ensure delegates can perform, be motivated and feel good. To contribute to these objectives, the nutritional balance must be provided to enable delegates to both maximise their input into and receive greater personal benefit from a conference, and organisers must demand that caterers and venues provide more suitable and timely nutritional support for delegates.

So who are our delegates? Linda Main, a consultant dietician, reported at last year’s ABPCO Food for Thought seminar that out of 100 delegates:

  • 8% will be overweight or obese
  • 24 women and 10 men will claim to be dieting and 22 will have metabolic syndromes (a complex set of risk factors for chronic vascular disease for instance)
  • 2 will have a food allergy
  • 5 people will be vegetarian
  • 25 will have missed breakfast

…and that’s in addition to ethnic and social preferences affecting food choice.

Research was carried out on 37,000 employed people by the Institute of Optimum in 2005 to understand the benefits of improving nutrition and eating habits, and how subsequent changes in diet and nutrition could affect productivity and efficacy. A statistic of concern was that of those surveyed, only 6% were deemed as being in optimum health. (This translates to only 12 delegates at a 200-delegate conference!) The rest were considered to be in either poor or moderate health, describing themselves as being stressed, depressed and burnt out. For delegates, this bears some resemblance to post-conference ‘dip’!

Those considered to be in optimum health said they experienced no lack of energy or feelings of depression or anxiousness – all good attributes for conference presenters and delegates alike.

When the diets of the survey participants were compared, it was found that those that included wheat, dairy, refined sugar, caffeine and red meat – most often provided by conference caterers and venues – appeared to have negative connotations. Yet vegetables, water, fruits and pulses had a positive effect on wellbeing, and it is these foods that caterers and venues need to provide as a choice in an easy form to eat during short intensive breaks between conference sessions.


Peter Mainprice

managing director

Index Communications Meetings Services

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