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Doggie Bag: Four Takeaways on Event-Beverage Trends

For some groups, an interest in health and wellness means changes to bar service and break beverages, according to panelists on a recent SITE webinar.

In terms of health and wellness, incentives “need to adapt to meet the needs of our people.” That was the starting point of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence’s Dublin Manifesto, a crowdsourced document laying out five principles for the incentive industry in 2022. It was also the launching point for a recent SITE webinar looking at trends in food and beverage.

The hour-long panel discussion was led by Tahira Endean and included Andrew Roenbeck, executive chef at Boca Raton Resort & Club, Boca Raton, Fla.; Anne Marie Rogers, director of meetings, incentives, events at Direct Travel; Tracy Stuckrath, founder of thrive! meetings & events and host of the Eating at a Meeting podcast; and Natalie Fulton, CMP, trade manager, business events, Americas, Tourism New Zealand.

Adapting to attendee needs on the beverage side of F&B means a swing toward healthier and more brain-friendly options. Here are some thoughts from the panel:

Alcohol-free cocktails and zero-proof spirits are gaining in popularity. “The statistics around this are kind of amazing; 30 percent of people do not drink, or they stop after one drink,” said Stuckrath. “We need to have better options.”  Importantly, she noted, those options must go beyond the sugar-laden sodas that bars normally stock. Groups she says need to think about how they can incorporate the “fun spritzers and non-alcoholic beverages that have the same flavor as, for example, bourbon, but that are nonalcoholic.”

• Even for planners not seeing a demand for alcohol-free cocktails, there’s a turn toward the healthful. “My groups are not going alcohol free, but we are getting asked about low-sugar wines and skinny margaritas. We're getting asked for options that are healthy, that are lower alcohol,” said Direct Travel’s Anne Marie Rogers.

• At breaks, the focus is changing from revving people up to providing steady energy. Tourism New Zealand’s Fulton sees a focus on beverages “that work for your brain and not against it.” Chef Roenbeck agrees that controlling blood-sugar spikes from high-glycemic F&B and offering alternatives to caffeine are important in order to avoid everyone “crashing” after the meeting resumes. Smoothies are one healthful alternative, however Roenbeck points out that if you plan a smoothie bar where attendees choose their own ingredients, “beginners” tend to pick sugary fixings and it’s smart to have a chef there to guide them.

• Don’t forget the power of social media. “We're seeing afternoon tea as a hot thing to do,” says Fulton. “Not only is it great for Instagram because it's beautiful, but it’s also a low-alcohol option and it has a nostalgia to it.

The desire for healthier, lower-alcohol, non-alcohol, and Instagram-worthy beverage options is a challenge that planners need to ensure their venues are ready for. Roenbeck sees a parallel between today’s beverage trends and the growth in vegetarian banquet options over the past decade. “It truly tests the quality and the standard of a chef,” he says, pointing to the days when a steamed veggie plate was the best that vegetarians could hope for at many hotels and resorts. “It’s the same thing with bartenders and mocktails. It's really going to test their creativity and professionalism” to deliver beverage options that are not just a sparkling water with a wedge of lime.

The full webinar discussion of F&B trends will be available on-demand from SITE.

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