There’s a lot to love about in-person meetings — the travel experience, personal connections and, of course, the food. When artfully chosen, prepared and delivered, F&B creates memorable moments that spark conversations and lend a feel-good vibe to the event.
“Food-and-beverage time is your most social time,” says Courtney Lohmann, CMP, director of corporate social responsibility at PRA Business Events, which hosted 195 live events in 2020. “That networking is so critical to event ROI. That’s a piece you don’t want to take away.”
With new health-safety protocols among other considerations, planners are taking a fresh look at menus, seating, service and more. Following are the latest F&B trends for 2021. For safety tips, see the latest CDC guidance on events here.
Nothing to Hide
First and foremost, communicate safety requirements for food functions, and be completely transparent about how food is prepared. Consider an open kitchen, where guests can watch and ask questions. This builds trust and also adds a level of excitement to the meal. If the rave ratings of shows like The Great British Baking Show are any indication, people love to watch cooks in action.
“We’ve gotten really good feedback on having an open kitchen,” says Regina Key, senior director of marketing and creative services for Destination Concepts Inc. “It elevates the comfort level when attendees can see that all safety measures are being implemented.”
New Seating Layouts
Seating guests at a standard round is not only boring, but might make some attendees uncomfortable. Since guests will be unmasked while eating and the risk of contagion rises the closer people are to each other, you must ensure proper distancing during mealtimes.
“Clients don’t want to lose that ability to network, but with four people around a 72-inch round table, it might be difficult to have a conversation and still feel safe,” says Lohmann.
Instead, offer new seating options that accommodate varying comfort levels. For one client, PRA designed a table with plexiglass partitions, separating it into four quadrants. The plexiglass barriers put diners at ease conversing during the meal. To elevate the design, centerpieces and candles were placed in the corners of the barriers.
Destination Concepts has used a mix of seating options to set people apart, including high-boy tables for one, eight-foot tables with two seats at either end, and large communal tables with chairs spaced at least six feet apart in a zigzag pattern on either side to give each guest some extra space.
“If your comfort zone was just to be all by yourself, then there were some smaller tables for one person,” says Brynne Frost, CEO of…