Want your meeting attendees to feel better and be more productive? Feed them food that’s healthy. But don’t call it healthy! Sell it as energizing and exciting.
That’s the message nutritionist and public speaker Deanna Latson has for meeting and event professionals.
Latson, whose website is GoToHealth.com (get it?), consults with planners about how to ensure that attendees eat well and feel better - without feeling cheated out of their usual goodies.
Travel Market Report asked Latson to discuss why it’s important for meeting delegates to eat well and to share pointers on getting meeting-goers to make better food choices without feeling deprived.
Don’t call it healthy. Tell attendees they will be seeing new menu choices that are ‘exciting’ or ‘energizing’ and ‘not your usual meeting fare.’ Healthy makes it sound like they’ll be getting a plate of grilled vegetables. If you sell it as an energy choice, people will be more attentive and have a better experience.
Ban buffets. People don’t usually eat four desserts, but they will if the desserts are on a buffet. We were conditioned as children to clean our plates – and to take what we can get when it comes to food. Those traditions apply to a buffet as well.
I joke that I should stand near the dessert area after my speeches so people won’t take all those sweets. Don’t have a dessert bar. Have desserts delivered to the table. Otherwise, people overindulge. Then there’s a big sugar crash later on.
Make it entertaining. I work with planners to make it fun. Sometimes after I’m done speaking, the song Be Our Guest from Beauty and The Beast will come on, and we’ll have eight waiters come out with dishes prepared from my recipes. Everybody gets to try samples of these dishes.
Communicate. When you tell people why you are offering these different dishes and that it’s because the company or association cares about them, it makes a difference.
Lose the booze. If there’s alcohol available, half the audience will wake up in the morning not feeling that well. Planners have to ask themselves why they’re spending all this money to get people to a meeting, only to have them sleepy or not feeling well. If you are going to have alcohol, offer a little packet of B vitamins that they can take with water. It helps.
Balance the costs. Serving organic and locally sourced food can be more expensive. However, if you’re choosing natural desserts like fruits, and serving smaller portions of those foods that sap people’s energy, it can end up being less expensive overall.
Sack the soda. I’m in favor of dropping soda altogether, and that represents a big savings. Water is usually cheaper, especially when it is available in large tanks. I’ve been to many meetings where they serve no soda. There will be addicted people who will just have to find their soda somewhere else. If policies like no soda come from that base of ‘we care for you’ and ‘we’re doing this for your benefit,’ it changes everything.
Be proactive. When I go to meetings, I’ll tell the chef that I don’t want just a plate of steamed vegetables. I’ll say, ‘Can you do a mushroom risotto with a green salad?’ They’re usually very receptive. For dessert, I’ll ask for fresh berries and a little bit of dark chocolate. People who ask for so-called special meals should not feel like second class citizens.
Less meat – more energy. Meat should not be a main course; it should be the size of a deck of cards. When you eat a big slab of meat, it only makes you tired. When a planner talks to the chefs, they can talk about using the same vegetables – just preparing them in a way that’s more interesting.
Dishing dishes. The Cornell University Food and Brand Lab has found that when people get a plate that’s 10 inches across or more, they will not go up for seconds. In fact they will eat 27% less than if they have smaller plates, and they won’t notice the difference. So many choices are not about being hungry. It can be about the lighting in the room or the kind of forks that are used.
Healthy in numbers. You can serve a healthy meal to large groups. I speak at college campuses regularly. Their cafeterias serve huge numbers of people – and they have made adjustments.
Be creative. Do an interactive salad bar – a Benihana style of preparing food with a chef doing a little act – but with salad fixings instead of meat. When it’s interactive, you will have more buy-in. Or do a salad martini – put salad ingredients into a blender and serve it in a martini glass.
The bottom line. It’s a win-win. When companies educate their employees about food, insurance costs will go down. For every dollar spent on health education, the average company will save $3 on sick days and other costs. It just makes sense.