Food-Truck Fad Inspires New Catering Concept at Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott

By Mitra Sorrells April 10, 2012, 3:09 PM EDT

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando used the food-truck concept for the first time at an event in early March. Four trucks lined the hotel's Da Vinci Lawn, and string lights overhead added to the casual feel.

Photo: Courtesy of Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando and JW Marriott Orlando, sister properties located at Grande Lakes, are offering a new concept for clients looking to host a large banquet function: outdoor events reminiscent of the food-truck bazaars that have become popular across the country. The rented trucks have two functions: to serve as decor elements at the event, and to provide a facility for catering staff to finish and plate the food, which is all prepared in the hotels’ main kitchens.

“To take a group off property, there’s such huge expense just in the logistics, the buses and staffing,” says John Hart, director of meetings and special events at the Ritz-Carlton. “If we can keep coming up with unique concepts like this, clients love it because they’d rather put those dollars back into the food and beverage or the entertainment, versus spending those dollars on bringing them somewhere else. And the guests enjoy it as well because they are able to stay on-site but in a way do an off-site event here on property.”

Hart says his staff works with clients to develop the menu, and that most go for either ethnic food or comfort food, two of the most common types of fare served by real food trucks. The hotels decorate the trucks with decals to give them a name that either ties into the food being served (Tom’s Taco Bar) or is connected to the host organization’s message. “If it’s an incentive event, we might incorporate a name that helps signify the group’s achievement,” Hart says.

Setup is done on one of the resorts’ event lawns or in a closed parking lot on property. For large groups, serving from the truck’s windows may not be efficient, so the catering staff also sets up serving stations around the trucks.

Hart says he expects to do nearly half a dozen food-truck-style events by the end of the year.

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