Event Planning

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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The ultimate guide to organise a Christmas event

The best time of the year is finally coming: Christmas & New Year’s holidays! This is the time to celebrate our victories, laugh about the tough times, and enjoy the celebrations with friends & family.

For hospitality professionals it is an occasion to be excited about, the endless Christmas parties and events generate a great opportunity for restaurants and hotels to increase their profits and impress their customers to encourage positive conversations & repeated business.

But we are in 2019 and with such a wide variety of venues to choose from, customers are more demanding than ever before, craving for memorable customer experiences to share with their loved ones. With information travelling at the speed of light, customers become the best brand advocates or worst critics, having the power to elevate or destroy a business’ reputation in a matter of seconds.

When it comes to food delivery and presentation there is no longer a “win every time” strategy, with so many new trends & requirements from customers, it is hard to catch up. But don’t you worry; here are a few recommendations for you to organise the perfect Christmas party or event (and not die trying). 

Let’s talk sustainability.

Climate change & pollution is a reality we all have to face, with the latest events such as the terrible bushfires happening in the Australian East Coast, customers are becoming extremely conscious about their purchase decisions, demanding service providers to offer more eco-friendly options to minimize waste.

The hospitality industry is not exempted to this trend or should we say “new rule”. It all started a couple of years ago with customers refusing plastic straws and plastic bags, but nowadays offering only paper straws as an alternative to plastic is not enough.

Plastic plates, cutlery, and cups are totally unacceptable… to the extent that some customers might refuse to eat their food if served that way. With a negative review being likely to be shared seven times more than a positive one; this is a mistake hospitality professionals don’t want to make.

Gladly, manufacturers are aware of this trend and have developed high-end & innovative eco-friendly alternatives to present food with style while minimizing waste.

Bamboo-

One approach that can help operators improve their environmental platform is to offer sustainable bamboo products. Boats, cups, cones and knot picks, may seem like small essentials, but in the grand scheme they can quickly add up to help hotels & restaurants reduce waste, demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and increase operational efficiency.

Bamboo grows incredibly fast and never needs replanting, offering vital economic and ecological benefits to the lives of millions of people around the world. Utilizing this environmentally friendly alternative is not only a great way to comply with customer’s requirements, but is also beneficial for the planet and farmer communities.

Compostable plant-based polymers

The development of green chemistry has brought to the market bio-based polymers, a material that contains renewable plant sources and is 100% compostable. Products made from this material look very similar to plastic because of their transparent finish and rigidity, with the advantage that they can be disposed in organic waste or reused.

A breakthrough alternative that is here to revolutionize the concept of “disposables”. Once the products are disposed, they can be transformed into compost that will fertilize the soil on which to regrow plants, creating a virtuous cycle that involves less use of non-renewable resources, less energy and less CO2.

For venues looking to amaze their customers and display their commitment to sustainability with an innovative approach, these compostable items are the perfect food presentation solution that will certainly generate positive word of mouth amongst commensals.

Never ending dietary requirements

Another increasing challenge for hospitality professionals is to comply with all different dietary requirements. When presented with an interminable list of requests for vegetarian or gluten free options you might think “when I was a kid, we would eat everything…these are just none sense requests”…and while you might be right to some extent, this is something not to take lightly as those “none sense requests” might actually represent a genuine health concern. 

We live in the “wellness” era, consumers are more conscious about their eating habits choosing less processed food made with better quality ingredients either for health reasons, to save the animals or to reduce their carbon footprint.

… motifs are never-ending. The great news is that they are willing to spend more money when these alternatives are presented in the right way.

At the end of the day hospitality professionals want their customers to feel comfortable, not worrying about what they are putting in their mouth or feeling secluded. When organizing a big event or party this is very easy to accomplish if just sticking to basics: avoid cross-contamination and label food clearly; surely there would be plenty of food options presented, it is important to make sure customers are aware of which food is suitable for them to enjoy.

An easy way to do so it to place this special food in different plates or trays, that way it won’t get in contact with contaminating agents such as wheat or dairy. Handling all ingredients with care in the kitchen & using separate working stations would ensure the plates presented are 100% suitable for customers with special dietary requirements.

To distinguish these food items, just place an allergen labeled skewer on them. This would allow customers to read the label and make the choice themselves, eliminating the need for front of house staff to clarify customers a million times if the food is suitable for them or not.

When things start getting funny

Now, let’s face it: Christmas parties tend to get out of control as the night enters. The booze and happy ambiance tend to make people “a little uncoordinated” let’s just say. It’s all laughs and games until an accident happens, and hospitality leaders certainly want to avoid at all costs anyone getting injured in their venue.

First things first: don’t serve anything in glass; that is the easiest way to prevent an injury. If someone accidentally trips over, spills their drink and the glass shatters, it would take time for the mess to be cleaned, the person can land on the glasses or someone can step on them, getting a serious cut. It is a very ugly scene to imagine, but unfortunately these things happen more often that we would like to admit. Same situation applies with porcelain plates and bowls, the likelihood of them breaking is quite high.

So what is the alternative? Utilize lite-ware disposable cups, they perform greatly and look fantastic because of their transparent finish & if someone drops them you won’t have to worry about it as they are shatterproof. Clean up is very easy, these solutions are disposable, so staff members won’t have to spend hours washing and polishing glasses.

In regards to food, present it with serving solutions made of melamine. This is a very resistant & shatterproof material and nowadays there are many styles to choose from, an easy solution that would surely elevate the venues’ food presentation greatly.

Another advantage of melamine is that it is light weight, facilitating front of house staff the task of carrying trays full of food around, the less heavy they are the easier it is to maneuver them. When the event finishes they can be put straight into the dishwasher, saving clean-up time and labour costs.

A quick tip: Make sure your plates and trays have rubber feet to prevent them from slipping.   

Last but not least, it is important to remember that hospitality is the industry of creating memories, fun times and amazing experiences! If you can delight your customers with beautifully presented food and attentive customer service you are sure to win big this Christmas season. So go ahead, create a smart customer service strategy, make delicious food, present it with great style, keep your customers safe…and create the most memorable Christmas event. Good luck!

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