How to Make Group Meals Feel More Communal

communal dining

Food is functional. Typically, that function is sustenance. But at meetings and events, food is about much more than nutrition; at the end of the day, it's also about networking. Which begs the question: How can meeting professionals design group meals that are just as healthy for attendees' relationships as they are for attendees' bodies?

According to Successful Meetings Managing Editor Alex Palmer, the answer boils down to one word: tapas.

"Increasingly, venues are going smaller when it comes to the way courses are served," Palmer reports. "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."

The reason small plates are so suited to networking is that they promote sharing. And sharing is social, says Chris Madsen, executive chef of the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"Sharing tends to be a more communal experience, so small plates are best for groups that are looking for a more casual, festive atmosphere," Madsen tells Palmer. "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."

And, more importantly, to be able to taste different conversations with different people.