What makes the perfect conference cuisine?
However interesting your conference may be, truth is many delegates will spend much of it wondering what’s on the menu.
t Townhouse Hotel, in order to put minds - and grumbling stomachs - at rest we have a number of tried and tested tips that ensure satisfaction.
“A well-planned menu, with the right touches, adds strong appeal to your conference. Delicious food is almost always remarked upon by delegates and it promotes conversation and engagement, which in turn fosters networking and collaboration,” says Tracy Stewart, Events Manager at Townhouse Hotel.
Set in the heart of Cape Town’s city centre, the venue and its team have years of experience catering for hungry delegates and their unflappable, Michelin-trained chef, Stefan Schmidt is an authority on culinary best practice in the conference industry.
“Conference organisers can overlook the amount of time and effort required to feed a roomful of hungry delegates. And it’s this time that the chef and his team know all about.” Stefan suggests organisers work together with caterers, so that the chef can be clear on timings.
“Although ordering, preparing and serving meals en masse takes immense organisation, it’s crucial that every delegate is personally satisfied with what they’ve eaten,” explains Stefan.
So just how does a conference organiser ensure that the food achieves this? Tracy and Stefan offer their top tips for keeping delegates well-fed and focused:
Consider your clients’ needs
It might sound obvious, but often conference organisers select catering based on their personal preferences and not their clients’. “Firstly, respect their cultural beliefs around food choices and always make allowances for specific dietary preferences,” says Stefan.
Accept that some people are fussy eaters – and ensure that your caterers can manage this effectively. At the start of each day, ensure that you’ve spoken to any delegates with specific requirements so that these requests can be timeously passed on to the chef.
Conferences and events are the sum of the attendees. “A roast beef with traditional veggies and rich gravy might be just the ticket for one group, whereas for another, Eastern-inspired finger food hits the spot,” explains Stefan. Communicate with your clients, know their needs, and pass this on to your chef.
Furnish the kitchen with head counts and timings – and stick to them
When you place your order, as far as possible try and stick to the head count. Plus, remember that once the conference is in full swing, your kitchen is working to a tight schedule to produce your order. In addition to main meals, tea and snack times mean that the conference kitchen will never be idle.
Bringing forward the lunch by 30 minutes because a speech was shorter than anticipated puts your chef under undue pressure.
Wherever possible, opt for local, seasonal produce which is sustainably farmed.
It does mean that catering cannot be planned until a few weeks prior, however, as far as possible, working with your caterer to source and prepare food that is local means that you will be doing your bit for the environment.
Any seafood on your menu should be sustainably-harvested and bear in mind that any fish served will have been caught in the preceding 24 hours, which impacts on printed menus.
Have fun with the food and surprise your clients.
“You’d be amazed at how popular the child-like touches we incorporate into our menus can be,” says Stefan. “I’ve introduced marshmallows and kiddies’ chocolate puddings in the past and received huge compliments on these.” So strike a balance and don’t be afraid to do something a little bit different. Again, it comes down to hiring an innovative chef with flair and passion.
A well-fed client is a happy conference delegate. Your chef and the team are part of your organising brigade, so collaborate and communicate. A chef who feels valued will go the distance to produce mouth-wateringly delicious food. A great deal of networking and “soft skills” business networking happens over meal and tea times, so prioritise the food for a successful conference.
For more information about the Townhouse Hotel, please visit www.townhouse.co.za.