Food prices continue to rise this year, but your budget may be flat. The consumer price index for food overall is expected to increase 2 to 3 percent in 2015, with the biggest jumps in beef and veal cuts (5 to 6 percent) and eggs (2.5 to 3.5 percent), according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The challenge lies in continuing to delight and surprise attendees with nutritious, delicious meals and snacks when resources are tight. Rejuvenate’s Kelsey Ogletree talked with chefs around the country to source new ideas for creating experiences without breaking the bank.
1. Contract local food trucks.
“This is a way to keep costs reasonable while giving your attendees a fun experience: Contract with the food truck operator for a flat rate and then work together to determine a prix fixe menu,” says Amanda Redies, bureau services manager at Ann Arbor Area (Michigan) CVB. “The best part is giving attendees an opportunity to get outside for a bit. It’s a great way to break up the day.”
2. Change perception.
Executive Chef Adam Hayes of Barnsley Resort near Atlanta says a common misstep by planners is choosing something familiar because it’s perceived as premium—like picking filet mignon because it looks impressive on a menu. At a recent event, he helped a client choose the lesser-known coulotte steak to fit her budget for a 50-person dinner. “When we served the coulotte, it became a real conversation piece for guests. They were asking, ‘What is this steak? It’s so delicious,’” notes Hayes.
3. Put the chef in charge.
“Rather than choosing a set menu for your event, provide the chef or sales manager your budget for F&B and ask them to create a cost-effective menu utilizing local, seasonal ingredients,” says Rachel Deremer, catering sales manager at One Ocean Resort & Spa in Atlantic Beach, Florida. “This will not only offer your clients healthier, more sustainable food choices, it will also help to lower food costs by sourcing locally.”
4. Try DIY.
Debbie Denyer, senior sales manager at Mission Point Resort in Mackinac Island, Michigan, is a big fan of combining a meal with a teambuilding event. She shares the idea of a salsa- and margarita-making competition, where teams receive ingredients to make each, but each group gets different ingredients. “Instead of buying off the banquet menu, ask the venue to buy groceries and ingredients,” Denyer suggests. This idea works best for meetings of 50 to 75 people.
5. Go for three-in-one.
Tom Wolfe, executive chef at Omni Royal Orleans in New Orleans, says New Orleans’ geographical location lends itself to many varieties of affordable fruits and vegetables, so he tries to get multiple uses from each item. “One thing we do for dessert is watermelon sorbet. We scoop out the fruit, carve out the watermelon and then serve the sorbet out of it,” Wolfe says. He also makes watermelon pickles by peeling the outside of the rind and adding them to crudite trays—“That’s three derivatives from one food item.”
Photo credit: Naturally Ella