Trends in Meetings & Events: What We Learned Writing Our September Issue
Hotel F&B's upcoming September magazine is meetings and events themed, which, when food and beverage are added to the mix through breaks and catering, is big business--profits from in-house groups can be like lump-sum payments to a property's bottom line. Conversely, when group gatherings slow down or stop altogether, like they did after 9/11 and during the financial crisis a decade ago, it can take years to rebound from the lost revenue.
Because the financial stakes are high, competition is fierce for group business, with hotels and resorts looking for every advantage to book and hook clients and reap those revenues. With that in mind, here's some of what we learned writing our Meetings & Events issue:
1) Don't ignore social catering because you're focused on the "big catch" of corporate groups: One hotel company we talked to revamped their entire social catering program to compete with freestanding restaurants that book local groups in the 50-to-80-person range, which are sometimes ignored by hotels. That meant eliminating good/better/best "tiered" menus--a staple in hotel catering for decades--and only offering one menu with premium products at a higher price. "Social groups aren't looking for a stale hotel banquet experience," says the person behind the program. "Restaurants don't offer tiered menus, and neither should we if we want to compete."
2) Sourcing locally can save face: One hotel we feature was built in the middle of an artisanal community that didn't want a big brand spoiling their homegrown vibe. The hotel played good neighbor from day one by incorporating F&B from those artisans--craft brewers and distillers, bespoke snack makers, and more--into their meeting breaks, and invited them to give presentations about their products to visiting groups looking for a local experience. "It's helped us become part of the tight-knit community here," says the F&B director.
3) The road to outdoor event wisdom is paved with concrete: If you have an outdoor event space that's off property, give your staff and transport equipment a break by budgeting for a paved surface to ease logistics, like one property we feature that uses a nearby farm for fetes. "Our biggest challenge was trying to wheel Queen Marys and carts down a dirt path," says the executive chef. "That didn't work well at all."
4) The Caribbean can actually be a place to cool off in the summer: Another resort we feature perked up their typically slow Caribbean summer season by appealing to guests in a scorching southern state with a series of week-long "getaway" event packages, transporting some of that state's top chefs and music talent to cook and perform, and boosting business with "heads in bed" at a time when they're scarce.
5) Holiday party planning begins in July: One hotel we feature holds a gala in July for holiday party prospects, showcasing the property's F&B and décor capabilities, then follows up with personalized thank you notes and photos from the gala for each attendee. "Follow-up is crucial because the goal is to be the first venue they think about when their holiday party planning begins," says the hotel's GM.
6) Chef's tables are for closers only: Another property transformed unused storage space into an intimate chef's table with a show kitchen (and some design help from HGTV's John Gidding) for client tastings and contract closings. "It has become our closing room for a lot of business, and our conversion rate from site visits is about 85% now," says the hotel's director of events and catering.
7) Adults enjoy Big Wheels too: Unrelated to meetings and events, we feature a resort that rewards staff with Big Wheel races around the concourse under the property, with cash prizes. That's one way to alleviate the ongoing labor crisis...