2020 President, National Association for Catering & Events
This year will continue to be a very challenging environment for in-person events. But while social-event guests have proven to be less likely to follow safety guidelines (physical distancing, face coverings, etc.), business-event attendees and their meeting hosts are keeping safety front of mind. This is not only due to their concern for people but also for liability and public-relations considerations.
In 2021, I expect some recurring central themes for F&B-related meeting elements:
Attendee comfort is critical. Minimizing contact between F&B attendants and meeting attendees will remain essential for purposes of safety and perception. If attendees feel comfortable with precautions, they’re more likely to enjoy that experience and also attend more events. Expectations must be shared in advance among planners, venues, and F&B teams.
Prepackaged and/or individually portioned items will remain the norm. One key factor: “prepackaged” or “individually portioned” doesn’t have to mean “lower quality.” Culinary teams can still be very creative. Eco-friendly packaging will also be key. Individual charcuterie boards, use of bento-style boxes, and other multi-compartment trays all work well.
Multiple points of service (serving stations, pick-up areas, etc.) will remain a requirement. F&B managers often think first about the additional staff and cost, but when priced correctly up front, it should not be much of a concern for them. Meeting menus will need a refresh in many cases to reflect changing needs and attractiveness to planners. Staggering breaks and service times are effective ways to minimize traffic and provide both safety and good service. Served meals are often perceived as being safer, but there are other things to consider. For instance, there might be less potential for multiple people to come in contact or touch people’s plates, but with physical distancing requiring much more space for served meals, venues with outdoor space where tenting or awnings can be used will get much more interest.
Venues will need to clearly communicate their safety protocols. The lack of state and federal guidance has been frustrating, leaving venues and foodservice providers to cobble together their own plans. Event planners should be able to receive a clear and professional set of policies upon request, that can also be shared with interested attendees.
Equipment makers and rental companies continue to update their product offerings to accommodate changing needs. This allows for more options to safely serve attendees. Staying up to date on what’s new will be very important; planners should ask venues and rental companies about what’s new.