“The days of crockpots on a table and linens with ruffles are gone,” says Patrick Berwald. “Long gone.” He should know, too. As vice president of food and beverage for Benchmark Global Hospitality with 20 years of experience under his belt, he oversees all aspects of food and beverage strategy and direction for the collection’s 80 diverse properties. But that doesn’t mean he simply responds to what meetings and groups are looking for out of their food and beverage; he studies the ways that he – and the rest of the organization – can transform meals into something more impactful and experiential in the meetings and events space.
Enter “The Banquet Playbook,” a 130-page highly visual guide that Berwald created to help give the properties an edge when creating appealing and highly engaging food and beverage experiences. Think layouts, decor, specific products (from partners like American Metalcraft, Cal-Mil, D.W. Haber, Fortessa Tableware Solutions, and Southern Aluminum), as well as step-by-step instructions for putting it all together. “The end result is a food and beverage experience that stimulates thought, prompts creativity, and ultimately drives value for the price,” he explains. “Because that is the level of expectation from groups.” In fact, it was so well received, it won the 2019 Stella Award for Benchmark. Here’s how meeting planners and event caterers can take a page out of his playbook to not just provide fuel for attendees, but unique gastronomic experiences overall.
Presentation That Is Memorable
It’s no secret that plating and presentation has a major impact on a customer’s perception of food. But sometimes when putting a buffet together for, say, 200 people, the presentation can fall to the wayside. “It’s all about how you elevate it and put the food and beverage on display,” says Berwald, who loves elevations, risers, and shelves from Fortessa Tableware Solutions and American Metalcraft to attractively present the food (not hide it). “It also should feature some design elements and accents, but not too much. You don’t want a garage sale of pieces.” Berwald himself likes driftwood and succulents, fresh herbs still in their pots (which can also be used in the final dish itself), and platters and trays made from petrified wood – all of which make for a natural and more modern look. One of our favorite design treatments in the playbook is the crudités presentation, which literally brings the garden indoors with the use of potting soil, grass beds, wooden platters, and terra-cotta pots.
Responsible Sourcing & Sustainability
According to CWT Meetings & Events’ M&E 2020 Future Trends Report, sustainability will be more important to events than ever before – especially as the next generation of attendees doesn’t just want it, they expect it in their programs. And food and beverage is a great way to embed and showcase responsible business practices in a meeting. Yes, that means replacing disposables with reusables (china, glassware, and cutlery), the eradication of plastic straws and coffee stirrers, as well as recycling anything you can. But it also means considering the equipment itself. “You won’t see chafing fuel, blowtorches, or oil baths, which produce smoke, fumes, and oil waste,” says Berwald. “Everything uses induction heating, an environmentally friendly alternative that burns clean and reduces energy use.” As for limiting food waste, Berwald suggests plating smaller portions or offering “micro-plated bites,” so that attendees can opt for seconds, which is undeniably better than only offering a plate with a larger portion that an attendee can’t finish, resulting in waste. And lastly, consider sourcing your ingredients and food responsibly by choosing seasonal, organic, and locally sourced food and beverages, which leads to the next point.
Sharing the Story Behind the Food & Beverage
Now more than ever, people want to know where their food is coming from – not just from a sustainable standpoint, but a health perspective too. “You have to be conscious about what you’re feeding your guests because they are already conscious of it themselves,” says Berwald, who suggests annotating the menu or, better yet, having the chef speak about the dishes personally during the program. “It can also serve as a way to help them get to know a destination when they hear a bit about the purveyors who provided the ingredient or the meat.” To take it to a whole new level, Berwald has even put QR codes on labels among the items. “When scanned, the QR code takes them to a page that breaks down the nutritional info, as well as providing a bio and backstory about the ingredients. It’s a unique way to share the journey of the dish.”