Be Our Guest: How to Build a Better Banquet

NATIONAL REPORT—The traditional banquet has become staid, boring and predictable for planners and attendees alike. They’ve been there, done that and are craving new experiences. While banquets may get a bad rap, they can be creative, exciting and even memorable events. So, how do you go about building a better banquet? It starts with the basics—the elements of surprise and delight.

“Oftentimes, banquet food has a stigma associated with it, and we are able to greatly surpass all of our guests’ expectations with our incredible offerings. We have a preparation method that allows us to prepare each guest’s meal right at the time of service, just like a restaurant,” said Abigail Coben, F&B manager, The Adolphus in Dallas. “Our synchronized service allows us to highlight the beautiful menus that our chefs have so artfully created. Our amazing food, the way it is presented, and our distinguished service make a function at The Adolphus unlike any other.”

Instead of your typical presentations of food, the catering team at Radisson Blu Minneapolis opts to make it fresh and interactive for a lasting impression.

“We’ve all attended meetings with plates of cookies, but how many times have you been able to get your personally wrapped package of cookies from a mail box with the flag stating ‘You’ve got mail?’ asked Nancy Jacobson, catering sales manager, Radisson Blu Downtown Minneapolis. “Or a make-it-yourself ice cream float station stocked with retro-flavored soda bottles and the Root Beer Float song playing in the background? These are the types of experiences that make attending a meeting or conference a delight.”

When it comes to atmosphere, make it count. The Hotel Phillips Kansas City, Curio Collection by Hilton in Kansas City, MO, plays up the historic nature of the building while going the extra mile to provide customizable offerings.

“We incorporate the 1930s style into our banquet setups and wherever possible to create memorable guest experiences,” said Theresa O’Leary, marketing manager, Hotel Phillips. “Our guests are always commenting on how they don’t need to waste a huge budget on decorations because our meetings and events spaces have so much character already.”

In hospitality, the trend is to create an experience that a guest wouldn’t normally have access to. And, this is also true for catered affairs.

“We offer experiences at our hotel that are not often seen in the banquet world. For example, you can order Shake Shack [a fast food chain]for any event. We offer specialty beverages like coconut water, cold brew and kombucha on tap to add to your event,” said Kate Cooley, banquet manager, Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. “We worked with local Chicago coffee roastery Four Letter Word and created a customized coffee blend specific to our hotel. We have interactive food breaks and chef-attended food stations to offer a hands-on experience. We have a wonderful team here at CAA and every step of the way you will feel that you’re being taken care of.”

Meeting planners know this to be true: Communication is paramount for success. Ensure your teams are providing up-to-date information and inform planners of any necessary changes.

“Find out what the goals and purpose of the meeting are and convey those to the hotel catering sales manager or convention services manager,” said Jacobson. “They can, in turn, offer ideas for food and beverages along with the setup to compliment those goals. Themes are often still an interactive way to wrap up the details in a fun format.”

Coben also stressed the importance of honoring your brand. “Often, I’m presented with ideas that don’t align with The Adolphus brand, and I have to find creative solutions that will be a better fit with the luxury lifestyle we adhere to here,” she said. “I like to work with the thought of our corporate office walking into any function unexpectedly, and having them be blown away at what they see.”

And finally, a great banquet is about remembering that this is as much about the guests as it is about the details.

“Being in banquets is an honor because you get to work with guests on such important days, typically major milestones in their lives. If it is their wedding day or they are the recipients of an award for a career achievement, these guests will remember that special day forever,” said Coben. “The best way to make an event memorable is to style every detail to fit that event perfectly. Guests will remember the exceptional details in the space and of course our exceptional Adolphus service.”