Across the meetings industry, two of today's hot buzzwords are experiential and immersive. Increasingly, groups are expressing a desire to more fully experience myriad aspects of the conferences and other events they attend and the destinations in which they take place, and planners are responding by choosing venues and activities that can provide an extra dimension. And that includes the realm of food.
"Experiential dining is about transcending beyond the traditional hallmarks of what makes food and beverage great," notes Lacey Outten, director of food, wine and spirits of Fort Lauderdale-based Hemsworth Communications. "Today’s event-goers expect more than just quality food, friendly service and an authentic sense of place."
"We’re seeing a handful of the meetings properties we work with cranking up creativity for groups in the kitchen," adds Liz Eads of Diamond Public Relations. "Providing attendees with hands-on F&B events not only allows them to bond and get creative, but indulges them in the experience of helping create and enjoy specialty dishes."
Following are five properties that deliver a genuine food adventure for groups.
A recent $40 million property-wide renovation at the 447-room JW Marriott Cancun in Mexico included all 1,800 square feet of meeting space as well as the on-site Italian restaurant Gustino, which now sports a new pasta room. It is here that the eatery invites groups to get elbow-deep in flour.
Up to eight guests at a time can enjoy a private lesson in traditional pasta-making from a Gustino chef. After selecting a desired noodle -- whether tortellini, fettuccine, linguine, etc. -- participants will knead, roll and cut their own dough. Once the pasta has taken shape, it will be left to dry overnight. The following night, the group will head to Gustino's private dining room to enjoy a multi-course dinner featuring their handiwork.
Roll your sleeves up at JW Marriott Cancun Resort & Spa.
2. Chocolate Tour and Tasting – Paris Las Vegas
Groups at the 2,916-room Paris Las Vegas can take a break from the meeting room to enjoy an interactive chocolate experience. Participants first enjoy a tour through the hotel's Hexx Kitchen and its chocolate room, where they observe the mixing machines, ovens and the process of turning cocoa beans (sourced from farms near the equator) into chocolate bars.
Attendees will then learn how to make their own chocolate as they are guided in artfully blending the beans with organic palm sugar (milk chocolate gets organic milk and vanilla). Afterward, participants will not only sample their own sweet work, they will also taste flavorful craft varieties of chocolate from different regions and growers around the world.
Contact Paris Las Vegas & Hexx Bar for more information.
Miami Beach's 251-room Palms Hotel & Spa invites groups of up to 60 to get interactive in the kitchen with its Chef for a Day team-building activity.
The program divides attendees into teams tasked with creating one course of a three-course meal using either chicken, pork, seafood or steak as the main ingredient. Guided by the hotel's chef Venoy Rogers III, each team has to devise a dish from scratch, present it to the group as a whole and then dine on their creations.
The Palms also offers a make-your-own guacamole competition, gin mixology classes and cocktail-making contests among other offbeat ways to get hands-on with F&B.
Schedule a unique culinary experience at the Palms.
At this 414-room island oasis, groups of up to 10 are invited to don their aprons and work in teams to create Aruba's signature dish, Keshi Yena -- a large round shell or rind of cheese (often Gouda or Edam) stuffed with a variety of meats, veggies, spices and sauce.
The cook-off takes place at the property's 9,964-square-foot La Vista restaurant (which can accommodate up to 200 diners). Executive chef Romeo Penacino reviews the traditional recipe and preparation of the dish, guiding the teams step by step in the process. The competition concludes with the chef tasting each creation and selecting a winner. Participants are invited to keep their aprons as take-home gifts, along with a recipe card to recreate Keshi Yena back home.
Book a cook-off competition at the Aruba Marriott.
Groups can book a cake-decorating experience at the 243-room West Baden Springs Hotel in West Baden Springs, Ind., part of the French Lick Resort, to sweeten their agenda after the work sessions are done. With high purpose and good humor, resident pastry chef Courtney Layman offers tips, tricks and techniques to turn even the plainest pound cake into a work of art.
Participants (up to 20 per session) each have their own 6-inch cakes to beautify, and they can take their newly adorned creations with them for consumption back home.
Contact French Lick Resort to reserve a dining experience.