Meet at Destination Southeast
NMG's Destination Southeast is the leading hosted-buyer event for top-level, pre-qualified meetings and incentive professionals looking to book business in the Southeast. Learn more here
At Northstar Meetings Group's Destination Southeast next month, David Nico, Ph.D., strategist, keynote speaker and certified wellness coach, will take the stage to discuss the importance of thoughtful food and beverage choices for meetings. After all, what your attendees eat and drink can truly make all the difference. Nico will uncover the truth about how the right foods can help increase energy, stamina, concentration and the ability to absorb information -- qualities that lead to more engaged attendees, enhanced learning, even better feedback.
Leading up to the event, which takes place Oct. 2-4 at the Margaritaville Resort Orlando in Kissimmee, Fla., we checked in with Nico to discuss the state of event F&B, and the areas meeting planners and venue chefs might want to pay more attention to as they craft menus.
Where do meeting planners (and the industry in general) keep falling short when it comes to balanced F&B options?
Nico: We need to work on recognizing just how much an optimal diet correlates to health, longevity and overall quality of life for our attendees. For planners, continuing education on the growing demand for wellness is crucial, yet I don't think it's taken into account often enough. I suggest tapping the expertise of dietitians and health professionals on a quarterly basis to get trained on the latest stats and food trends.
In terms of dietary wellness, there is a growing demand for organic and non-GMO products. Why? Research shows a poor-quality diet is linked to many chronic illnesses, and certified organic products are four times less likely to contain harmful substances like pesticides. It would behoove the planner to know these stats, trends and demands before solidifying meal options or requesting beneficial F&B changes.
With the right knowledge and abilities, planners can play a positive role in selecting healthier F&B options that will better contribute to the health and overall wellness of attendees.
Are there "secret" menu items we might not realize are weighing us down?
Nico: First and foremost, you want meals to be built with products containing as few ingredients as possible. All of the added mumbo-jumbo that gets hidden in ingredient labels is doing nothing but wiping attendees of their energy throughout the day. As they go about the meeting business, the ingredients are being stored in their bodies as fat instead of fuel to power through.
For example, sugar may be labeled as not only sugar, but dextrose, fructose or even apple puree concentrate. Many people fall for the deception, especially with that last example. Natural flavors like "apple puree concentrate" sound healthy but are actually loaded with sugar.
Whenever possible, I suggest working directly with your venue chef to create wholesome and locally sourced meal, snack and drink options. Instead of sugary sodas and cocktails, why not refresh attendees with herb and citrus-infused water? For seated meals, pack the plate with organic protein and veggies. During snack breaks, offer dried fruit or set up a make-your-own trail-mix bar instead of passing around potato chips.
Certain foods will support energy levels, a better brain and attendee vitality. On the other hand, there are foods that will make people tired and groggy, cause anxiety, stress and inflammation. It always comes back to understanding the power of real food versus fake food, properties of foods, ingredients and what each will do for the body.
How can attendees cope when an event just doesn’t have healthy food on the menu?
Nico: Come prepared and bring healthy alternatives. Unfortunately, sometimes that's the only option an event attendee is left with. Ideally, though, we want to address this issue at an industry level and before the meeting takes place. Again, with the right knowledge and education, we can make healthier options more readily available at events.
Someone is in control of the food supply and the demand. What occurs if planners collectively start more demanding healthier foods? Hopefully, it will create economies of scale and scope, and the price of filling our event menus with more wholesome foods will become more appealing. At a grass-roots level, we need decision makers to make better choices more accessible.
Beyond the menu, how can planners better support the well being of event attendees?
Nico: Why not set the room up with some essential-oil diffusers? Natural scents make for energizing aromatherapy and support a healthier meeting culture. Likewise, the proper lighting can make a huge difference in attendee energy levels, so take the time to figure out what looks, works and feels best. Comfortable seating also plays a role in supporting attendee engagement and energy. Planners could even set up a few small trampolines or something fun like a ball pit to help attendees enhance their lymphatic and immune systems and provide heart-health support during breaks.
Most important, communicate to attendees that you care about their health and well being. They will appreciate the thoughtfulness.
What are you looking forward to most during Destination Southeast?
Nico: I look forward to helping buyers and suppliers learn how to positively impact events with wellness initiatives. Participants will learn more about the connection between food and health. We can't just leave it up to the government or food industry to regulate healthy meal choices. I'd like to cultivate our power as an industry to change the sluggish food trend and lessen the burden on our attendees. Additionally, anyone can access and follow along with more health tips on my website.