Food entertainment has been an ongoing trend in the event industry for years. It has grown in popularity because of the increased awareness of the importance of diet, sustainability, nutrition and the quality of food. Food is the basic ingredient which draws delegates to events and is often used as an incentive to drive attendance.
Whether it is a chef creating a live demo on stage, an interactive “create your own” food station, a food “art” display or a hands on experiential food related event; food has become the center of our experiences at events.
Food can be used in so many functional and creative ways from edible centerpieces and food “art” in the presentation of meals, interactive “make your own” food stations, on the “spot appetizers” prepared and served to guests or prepared to match or enhance the event theme.
Experiential elements within an event are essential to engaging an audience and food is a great way to create an event experience for guests. I have found that experiences can also elevate the appreciation for what is being served at the event and the budget dollars that goes into food and beverage areas.
Chef attended stations and chef tables, where chefs prepare, cook and serve the food live have also grown in popularity. This is largely due to the growing interest in knowing how our food is prepared and the desire for “fresh” and “custom” meals. Attended food stations also help reassure guests who have dietary restrictions. Chef attended stations end up being an entertainment feature at the event and a real interest to the “foodies” in the group. The more unique and experiential the experience, the better. Depending on the theme, I also like to do a s’mores roasting station, oyster shucking station or make your own bitters for cocktails.
Having a celebrity chef host or be the face of an event is also an exciting way to add an entertainment element to your meal. I often will have a celebrity chef help design my dining experience and incorporate a brief (no longer than 20 minutes) demo on stage before serving a meal. Popular celebrity chefs and television personalities in demand do have to decide between being a “personality” or a hands-on chef as it is difficult to be on stage and in the kitchen at the same time.
I like to make a point of introducing the chef and crew behind the meal, particularly when a custom and special meal has been prepared for an audience The chef and crew may not always have celebrity status but appreciation has grown for chefs in general, and it is fun to recognize the “behind the scenes” crew through a formal introduction on stage.
People love to be engaged! Hands-on cooking workshops and classes are also a great team-building tool for groups. Cooking lessons can be offered either as a formal workshop or incorporated into the programming throughout the event. I love to have attendees learn how to prepare their own salad dressings or carve a turkey right at the table!
Food can also be used as a decorative element such as a doughnut wall or candy bar. Planners often use food as added entertainment components to the event programming. I also like to incorporate food with live entertainment such as a cake-cutting ceremony at your table, a “cut your own sprouting station” for salads, roaming carving station on an old-fashioned cart or a walking table serving cupcakes for dessert.
Food presentation is important and can make or diminish the dining experience. The food truck movement has given a new appreciation to the smaller “mom and pop” aspiring chefs and changed the need for good quality food to be presented in a fancy way. Where feasible I love to bring in the producers of the food or beverage product as it adds another element of appreciation and knowledge to what is being served. I always choose local producers where it makes sense and have this aligned with the budget so that I ensure my attendees know that thought has gone into where their food is coming from. For example, if I work with a local winery, I will have the winery present the tasting notes with each meal.
Showcasing wine, beer and spirits are another great way to add in entertainment components and create experiences for your guests. Consider setting up a bourbon bar, local craft beer bar or garnish your own caesar station.
Since food and beverage is often one of the largest line items in your budget, have fun with it and get the most bang for your buck by making it a key entertainment component to your event.
CanSPEP member Michelle Planche, CMP is the president and director of events of Paradigm Events, a full service, award-winning, event management and event planning firm based in Toronto. The Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP) is a dynamic, diverse and innovative society of independent event professionals with a leading national voice in the event industry. It is the only association in Canada that offers an exclusive membership to independent event planner entrepreneurs. Formed in 1996, CanSPEP provides forums in which members exchange ideas, develop skills through educational programs and create a public awareness around the profession of event planners.