By Mitra Sorrells Posted June 12, 2012, 2:51 PM EDT
ORLANDO The Convention Industry Council’s Certified Meeting Planner Conclave wrapped up Monday at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina. More than 300 planners from around the country gathered for two days of education sessions and networking.
Event producer Petra Compel and design director Andrew Zill, both from Baltimore-based production and marketing firm Feats Inc., led a session Sunday on how to bring “wow” to meetings using the latest trends in food, beverage, and decor. Here are some of their top tips:
1. Regional ethnic cuisine: more narrowly focused menus, such as Venetian instead of Italian, Mandarin instead of Chinese.
2. Eggs: topping everything from risotto to hamburgers to spaghetti.
3. Cupcakes are out, beignets are in: “Once there are three reality shows on something, it’s not the in thing anymore,” Compel said.
4. Interactive experiences: “If you are going to do cupcakes, make it new by teaching people how to decorate their own. During a cocktail hour we had a pastry chef teach guests how to use a pastry bag. Everyone had a chance to decorate their own and then during dinner we boxed them up and tagged them and they took them home,” Zill said.
5. Miniature passed pairings: a quarter-size fish taco with a single serving of a margarita, or a silver-dollar biscuit with fried chicken and coleslaw served with a single serving of a bourbon cocktail.
6. Caviar tastings: different flavors, textures, and colors. “You can have a caviar sommelier-type person who can teach you about regions and why they taste the way they do,” Zill said.
7. Smoke-infused ingredients.
8. Premium vodka is out: “Like cupcakes, once something has saturated the market to the point of ridiculousness, that is not the in thing anymore,” Compel said. “When it comes in whipped cream and marshmallow flavors, we have to say goodbye to it.”
9. Small-batch bourbon, rye, and gin are in: “Old-school cocktails such as the Rob Roy, the Stinger, the Manhattan [are popular],“ Zill said. “And serving things in fun containers like silver julep cups. Or make it new and interesting by adding red pepper to bourbon drinks so it has a spicy bite to it.”
10. Moonshine—known as white whiskey or corn whiskey—is replacing bourbon or scotch for tasting bars at corporate events. “It’s one of those things that is an experience that the typical guest hasn’t had before,” Compel said.
11. Wine-infused Jell-o shots, cut and served as cubes and not in plastic cups.
12. Infused seltzer water.
13. Cocktail Popsicles.
14. Fabrics with patterns and textures, especially rosettes.
15. Creating multiple levels within a tent. Placing it on a hill can help by taking advantage of the natural slope.
16. Soft seating for general sessions. “You change people’s experience when you change what their expectation is,“ Compel said. “It can make a big impact.”
17. Make the bar part of the decor: “It’s the best place to add a message,” Zill said. “You can put bookshelves in the back of the bar and fill them with photographs and images of the company, the sponsors, whatever relates to your cause. It’s a great way for people to see things as they wait for a drink.”
18. Gold accents—matte or antiqued, not shiny—replacing silver in glassware and cutlery. A variation: gold with a hint of copper or pewter.
19. Bringing the outside in and the inside out, such as using elements of nature to decorate a table or using traditionally inside furniture for an outdoor event.
20. Using black and white with an accent color.