Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 29 2016

How One Conference Redesigned Lunch For More Than 10,000 Attendees

Corey Fennessy

Take a tour around a range of US cities near the noon hour, and you’ll find one similarity: really tasty food, served on wheels. Food trucks are no longer a trend; they’ve become an everyday dining destination for hungry employees on lunch breaks in many major cities. From vegetarian burritos to pulled pork sandwiches to cupcakes, the nation’s food truck scene provides on-the-go flavors for every set of taste buds. Food trucks aren’t confined to downtown locations near commercial office locations, though. Organizations that host face-to-face meetings and conventions are recognizing this type of food service can create serious on-site F&B success.

“Food trucks offer variety and novelty, are fast, and are often cheaper and healthier than other options,” Karen Kitzel, Public Relations Manager of Virginia-based SkillsUSA, says. When the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference brought more than 10,000 students and teachers to the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville in June 2015, Kitzel says that food trucks were a great tie-in with the outdoor portion of the event’s trade show, TECHSPO.

“Food trucks are very popular on the East Coast, and when we heard they were available in Louisville at the Kentucky Exposition Center, it was an easy decision to incorporate,” R. Shelly  Coates, Associate Director, Office of Executive Director, Conference Management Services, SkillsUSA, says.

MORE: Food Trucks Find Niche, Flourish In Louisville

Appealing To More Attendees

While buffet-style service and plated luncheons can confine attendee dining options to a short selection, food trucks can create a wider menu — without widening the F&B budget. Coates says the food trucks that SkillsUSA invited to the KEC included several ethnic choices and a healthy option with salad and fresh produce.

What about allergen concerns? Can food trucks manage to accommodate the increasing list of dietary safety requirements? Coates highlights that the mobile food trucks were up to the challenge. “Today's food vendors already factor in consumer needs such as nut allergies, gluten-free and vegetarian,” Coates says. “Although these options are an important part of our service provider selection process, these choices already are provided."

MORE: Best Dining In Louisville

Making Meals More Time-Effective

The two days of the SkillsUSA program are packed with competitions among students working to showcase their proficiency in more than 100 occupational and leadership areas. In between all of these competitions, judges and award ceremonies, the organization has to find time to serve thousands of lunches. Giving attendees the ability to choose customized plates from each truck created more time to focus on the rest of the competitions. “The food trucks deliver quick service as the vendors recognize the value of [being fast],” Coates says. “These vendors understand that time is scarce during conference schedules.”

Have you used food trucks at your own conference? Or have you tried another alternative delivery method? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts on forward-thinking F&B styles.

This educational article was brought to you by the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau. After recently being named “Best Up-and-Coming Food City” by Thrillist and receiving the honor of being one of the “Best Foodie Small Towns in America”, more attendees are enjoying the chance to sample all the flavors of Louisville. For more information on what makes the city such an ideal place for conferences, click here.

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