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An honest opinion about an awful dining experience

28 Feb 2020
An honest opinion about an awful dining experience

Last week I had the opportunity to go to a business conference held at a beautiful hotel in central Melbourne. I had two main objectives for going there: the first one, to learn as much as possible about the latest marketing trends in Australia, and the second one to connect with fellow colleagues and generate valuable professional connections.

This was an event that ran all day from 8 am until 5 in the evening, with three breaks in between (Morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea). It was quite difficult to talk with the people around you during the speakers’ presentations, so I was eagerly waiting for the meal breaks to be able to share insights and discuss different points of view with other marketing professionals.

Unfortunately, the buffet was so badly set up that it made it very difficult for us to do networking. The lack of space and organisation made it hard for people to walk around and encounter with other professionals, in order to let people, grab their food we all had to squeeze to the wall just to enable some movement. It was quite a discouraging situation.

I was not the only one who felt that way, at the end of the conference I took the task to ask people around about their opinions on the event, they all said the same: Really enjoyed the presentations, but the fact that we couldn’t do any proper networking was quite annoying. I truly believe that the awful dining experience took away a few stars from the overall rating of this business summit and to be honest, if I was the event organiser, I would probably not hire the same hotel again.

Now, I understand that the room we were in was not that spacious, but there were a few things the hotel could have done better…much better. Here is a list of the main things I noticed:

There was no clear understanding of the start or end of the buffet

The main food was placed on a table in the middle of the room, that can be a good option to display food in a reduced space, but it can also be a dangerous move if the buffet is not set up correctly. There were no signs indicating the start or end of the buffet, plus the plates, cutlery and serviettes were placed on both ends of the table. It took a while for us all to come to a silent agreement on which way to walk around the table, with people coming from all different directions we bumped into each other all the time.

Plates were too small

We all understand that it is important to reduce the size of plates and cutlery to optimise costs and avoid food waste. But in this case, the catering team took it too seriously, providing us with plates the size of coffee sources. This was a huge problem because first of all you couldn’t fit everything that you wanted on the plate. I bet a lot of people missed out on a few good dishes just because they didn’t have any space left on their plates. Later on, we couldn’t to talk freely because we were all too worried about not spilling any food on the floor, being surrounded by strangers it would have been quite embarrassing.

Noise… too much noise

If you think about how many times a hotel needs to use their buffet equipment for the multiple functions, events and conferences they host, it is fair to say that investing on a good quality set of warmers, chafers, risers, and trays (to say the least) is extremely important. The chafers used by this hotel in particular were completely outdated, they were so noisy that everyone in the room could hear when someone would try to open or close them. Trust me, at business events people want to focus on the conversation, not on the annoying sound of rusty lids.

Food trays

A good thing in the middle of this entire disaster, was the food itself. I could see the exhaustive effort that the chefs and cooks must have put into preparing the delicious hot dishes and sandwiches served, but unfortunately the presentation was wrong.

I remember seeing a huge pile of chicken and avocado sandwiches stacked on top of each other, the warm bread smelled delicious, but they didn’t look appealing whatsoever. After a few seconds I realised what the problem was: The serving trays were so old you could almost see the scratches on the fiberglass from the constant washing and heavy usage. My advice: If you have already invested so much money on creating a delicious menu, please invest in a good set of trays so your sandwiches don’t look like they’ve been bought from a fast food chain.

What about the vegos and people with special dietary requirements?

OK, so I got to admit that I’m not vegetarian but 95% of my diet is plant based. I was really happy when the organisers sent us an email asking for our dietary requirements, such a thoughtful thing to do.

On the day of the event, I started looking for the food labelled as “vegetarian” but to my surprise, there was none. It was until a bunch of ladies started harassing this poor waitress asking her for the veg, gluten free and dairy free options (which they had offered in the first place), that they brought us some warm vegetarian curry with rice.

The lovely waitress had to run back and forth to the kitchen at least 5 times to be able to bring the “special meals” for us; I felt so bad for her being in a situation that could have been so easily avoided if they would have set up a special station with the dietary requirement options clearly labelled.

I’ve finished all my food… now what?

I feel that one of the most awkward situations that happened, was right at the end of each meal break.

There wasn’t a table to leave all the dirty plates, people where wondering where to put them, our options were either on one of the sponsors tables (and ruin their entire set up of freebies & merchandise) or perhaps on the middle table where all the food was. At the end, we all held on the tiny plates for the whole 20-minute break we had and just pilled them up on the table next to the conference hall before starting the next round of presentations.

Let’s remark that I am not a food stylist or professional chef, I am a marketing professional who just had a bad dining experience which diminished the overall satisfaction of an event I was excited to assist. I bet I was not the only one at the conference feeling the same way, and it was a reassurance for me about the importance of food presentation.

If I was to review the hotel based on my dining experience, I would certainly not give them 5 stars… but instead I am writing this blog, hoping to create some awareness across the entire hospitality community about the importance of food presentation and good planning.

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