Samantha Pedder: Food for thought

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Samantha Pedder, head of retail and hospitality, Newbury Racecourse, questions whether event caterers should take advice from high street eateries and concessions


It has become widely accepted that the standard of food served at conferences is rarely inspirational or to a high standard. All too often the pressure of catering for large numbers of people in a tight time scale results in unhealthy, deep fried food which doesn’t offer healthy choices, support brain function or keep delegates energised.

The high street often sets the trend for customer expectation with regards to food and drink, with new styles of healthy and alternative fast food appearing every day, from sushi bars to customised noodle stations, salad options and tapas. Delegates and event clients visit their own high streets every day and so it is vital that when planning catering to support an event, organisers are up-to-date with what is available and ensure that this is reflected in their offer.

Instead of having one set menu for larger conferences and events, organisers could plan to create a variety of offers using different spaces with fresh alternatives to suit every taste. For smaller conferences and events contemporary and healthier choices can be offered presented in a modern and convenient style, such as take away options to enjoy in more creative spaces such as outdoors in summer. This means that delegates can break throughout the day for food at their convenience.

The culinary aspect of the food offer does not have to be complex however, customers are increasingly exposed to high quality ingredients, often locally sourced and certainly well presented and conference catering must follow. For venues in particular, creating an in-house brand for the food outlets is one way of approaching this demand which ensures that you can control the messages and quality of every aspect of the food and drink. This allows a personality to shine through without paying franchise or branding fees

Whilst it is not always possible to rebuild the buildings for event locations, invigorating the food and beverage offer can make a big difference to how people perceive the event and brand attached.