Using Small Plates to Make a Big Impact on Event F&B

Tapas-style dining is catching on at a number of properties, creating a more experiential, interactive approach to a meeting meal

salmon cygnus27
Montaditos de Salmón at Cygnus27

Meeting attendees are no strangers to a big plate with a full lunch or dinner all laid out, complete with entrée, side dish and maybe a roll thrown in for good measure. While this may be an easy way for the catering team to serve a large group of people, increasingly venues are going smaller when it comes to the way courses are served. 

Instead of one big plate per individual, groups doing tapas-style dining pass around a number of smaller plates, sampling a number of different dishes. According to foodservice consultant Tehnomic, tapas-style dining grew 10 percent last year. Additionally, 39 percent of restaurant goers order appetizers or small plates on all or most of their restaurant visits and 70 percent of consumers say they have ordered shareable meals.

Going small has gotten big, and according to the venues offering this kind of dining, there are a few reasons why tapas are particularly suited for corporate gatherings.

"Sharing tends to be a more communal experience, so small plates are best for groups that are looking for a more casual, festive atmosphere," says Chris Madsen, executive chef of the Amway Grand Plaza, in Grand Rapids, Mich. “The one segment from the business traveler demographic that seems to be more interested in sharing are smaller, more casual offices that are less formal. I see this trend still growing for a while due to the fact that people are dining a little more casually now than in previous years. We encourage people to share in order to be able to taste different menu items.”

The property’s restaurant, Cygnus27, offers a Latin-inspired menu and cocktail lounge boasting panoramic views 27 floors above street level. Its menu includes a range of small and shareable plates, a great option for groups.

Among the other advantages of tapas-style dining, cited by Madsen and others who oversee event F&B, is the greater variety of dishes that diners can enjoy, the health benefits from eating smaller portions — post-lunch food comas are less likely to drag down a conference’s energy — and a reduction in food waste. Plus there’s the Instagram effect, as the smaller plates can be prepared in eye-catching ways that make them worthy of sharing.

Celebrate NOLA small plate
One of the small dishes offered by Windsor Court Hotel's CELEBRATE!

“We like to provide small plate entrees -- striking the balance of a menu that doesn’t interrupt the flow of conversation yet still providing substantial food is of great importance, especially to conventions and corporate meetings,” says Meagan Cook, director of catering and conference services for New Orleans–based Windsor Court Hotel’s custom catering company, which offers a "Dinner by the Bite" option for those looking to skip the buffet and instead go with small plates entrees. The chef and his team make bite-sized entrees of classic dishes like baby lamb chop, chicken roulade, crispy duck and plenty more.

Another venue that’s embraced small plates is the 233-room AC Hotel Miami Aventura, whose AC Lounge offers up craft beers, specialty wines, and a menu of tapas that aims to showcase a range of local cultures: Greek meatballs, grilled salmon, garlic chicken, churros, macarons and more.

“Business travelers are one of the main groups we see orderings tapas and sharable dishes in the AC Hotel Miami Aventura Lounge,” says Alan Pinado, the property’s general manager. “This trend is growing across the boards as people are looking for lighter fare and are opting for more social dining experiences. Tapas lends for more variety and promotes interaction within small groups and events.”