Every planner knows the menu can make or break the meeting. If the food is great, attendees will stay focused on their seminars, sessions and peer networking. If it’s bad, they’ll spend more of their time trading terrible reviews after each meal. At either extreme, there’s no doubt that food will flavor an attendee’s entire conference experience. As planners, the onus to create culinary experiences that will make the host destination shine while balancing rising food and beverage costs is no easy task.
“Food costs are constantly going up,” says Heather Seasholtz,CMP, Director of Meetings and Events for Talley Management Group. “We constantly ask ourselves - how we can keep meal functions and breaks interesting and innovative?” With an average of 25-30 percent of conference budgets going toward food and beverage, Seasholtz says the challenge can be daunting. “We know from experience that people want locally-sourced ingredients. We know they want food that’s sustainably grown, but controlling food and beverage budgets can be pretty difficult when we can’t control the ever-increasing cost of food.”
Shrinking Costs With Small Plates And A Seasonal Focus
A creative, budget-conscious executive chef with a huge selection of small plate ideas could be your new best ally. Meet Marcel Martinez, Executive Chef for the Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward County Convention Center. Martinez has been offering a wide array of impressive tapas, also known as small plate, options for events with great success. “The beauty of small plates is that they allow attendees to try so many more things,” he says, “and it can really help save dollars for planners working on tight budgets.” Chef Martinez says he’s constantly looking for ways to deliver the “South Florida flavor” with small plates that cut costs.
“I like to create foods that come from my South Floridian and Puerto Rican roots” says Martinez. “But the tapas I prepare, I find influences for that from all over the world.” From Asian Ceviche and Bacalaou (Salt Cod) Croquettes to Grilled Octopus with Crispy Smoked Paprika Bread Fruit, Salsa Verde and Parsley Salad, Martinez says small plates, while more affordable, can still make a big impact. “In Fort Lauderdale, we have such tremendous access to lots of local farms. I regularly take my family and staff to visit them on the weekends.”
Martinez says seasonality is another great way to save on food costs. “When you focus on what’s fresh and in season, you save money because you aren’t paying for something that’s going to have to be shipped in. Whether we’re sourcing citrus and tropical fruits, or buying snapper, grouper and even mahi mahi, it’s better tasting and less expensive when we can buy it locally.”
Feeling The Fort Lauderdale Flavor
The South Florida food experience inside the convention center is a great reflection of the destination experience outside of it. In its own way, Chef Martinez’ constantly evolving menu of both small and large plates mirrors Fort Lauderdale’s inspired views. Once known more for 60’s beach movies and spring break frenzy, the city has come of age with a cosmopolitan vibe. Fort Lauderdale delivers cultural diversity with a more approachable feel. Trendy restaurants and nightspots, five-star hotels, and the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District are an easy stroll from the center. Las Olas Boulevard serves up a sophisticated mile of fashion, art and sidewalk cafes. Boat tours offer the chance to explore Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. And all of this blends seamlessly with glorious ocean views and white sandy beaches that make Ft. Lauderdale unforgettable.
Setting The Tone
Those beaches and the impressive local food scene clearly inform the culinary style and presentation at the convention center. “I literally bring in beach sand and seaweed and all kinds of other things to help set the tone for my food service,” says Chef Martinez. He has been known to switch out platters and trays for his eclectic collection of driftwood and beach finds. “I drilled holes into the driftwood so I could make a really interesting display for serving things like cheesecake pops, tropical fruit mousse cones and more. People love it.”
Martinez says that desserts tend to be less expensive to prepare, and people often opt to eat fewer servings. With that in mind, mixing up a variety of savory small plates with miniature, exquisitely prepared desserts is another clever way to save on budget.
Because food costs are going up, but budgets aren’t increasing at the same pace, innovative and responsive convention destinations like Fort Lauderdale and their convention center team make conference planning simpler and more affordable. Isn’t that what you’ve been looking for all along? To find out more about meeting in Greater Fort Lauderdale, talk to the professionals by clicking here. Brought to you by Greater Fort Lauderdale