Welcome to the first installment of our new series, Ask an Event Planner! In this series, our team of expert event planners will answer meeting and event questions from readers. 

This week, we’re joined by Phoenix Anna Porcelli, CMP. Phoenix brings over a decade of meeting and event expertise in Boston, Paris, and NYC to the Convene team. 

Have a question you want answered? Submit it here, and we’ll answer it in a future installment!

 

How do I plan a menu that anticipates dietary restrictions?

Engineering a menu that considers dietary restriction can be challenging considering the increasing prevalence of unique dietary concerns these days. You certainly wouldn’t want to end up in a situation where a hungry attendee has nothing to eat and has to leave your venue to find something suitable for their needs.

The best thing you can do to avoid these situations is understand the demographics of your attendees, and how that might affect dietary needs.

Familiarize yourself with all the dietary terms: pescatarian, vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, gluten free, as many as you can. Depending on the location menu, select items that have a wide appeal for people with dietary restrictions. For example, pastas can be a good option for vegetarians and vegans, but they’re tougher for people with gluten sensitivities (unless gluten free pasta is an option). Make sure dressings and toppings for food go on the side (like cheese for salads) to anticipate food allergies. Some popular options, like tacos, lend themselves well to all sorts of diets.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of different types of diets, in case you come across one you’ve never heard before.

When selecting protein entrées, a good rule of thumb is to have a chicken or fish AND a red meat option. But be careful with fish—depending on the amount of time you have for the program, you don’t want it sitting out in chaffing dishes for a long period of time (ick).

Of course, it helps to work with venues that allow for customization.

 

What’s a good spot in NYC for a corporate/group off-site dinner?

Picking a spot to eat in New York City can be a bit overwhelming—we’re a city that loves a good dining experience. Instead of searching wide-eyed through endless Yelp reviews, slim your choices down first. Consider your geographic location—if you’re trying to be close to an event or corporate office, let this start your decision-making progress. Also consider demographic of attendees. If there’s international attendees, select cuisine with broad appeal within the group. This also goes back to dietary needs—if you’re hosting international attendees, consider that certain countries (like India or the Netherlands) have a larger population of vegetarians than you may be accustomed too.

 

Vegetarianism by Country

 

vegetarians by country

Source: “Vegetarianism by country,” Wikipedia

 

As far as specific restaurants, I love Ai Fiori in Midtown Manhattan—they have really flexible PDR space divided by curtains so it can be customized.

Butter in Midtown is another great option, it features a great outdoor terrace. Aureole is a Michelin star restaurant offering chef demos, which creates a unique, memorable experience for attendees.

If you’re looking downtown, Augustine at The Beekman Hotel is fabulous. It’s got that traditional French bistro feel—Kevin Huang, our Director of Operations for Downtown Manhattan, calls it “the coolest spot in town right now.” 

 

What event experiences are trendy right now and how do I decide what to add to my event or conference?

This all relates back to program goals, but some popular trends I’ve seen include activities where attendees can learn something together—wine tastings, whiskey tastings, coffee tastings, that sort of thing.

Consider the local flair or taste of the city or town where your event is being hosted. It’s always a nice touch to add local taste to events, especially when you have out-of-town attendees. If a world class winery is nearby, bringing the wine to the space adds a unique element to your program. Or use a local coffee company for a barista station. Not only are you giving attendees a taste of the city, but you’re supporting local businesses who can help you form strong partnerships for the future.

This year, GIF photo booths were also really popular, both for corporate meetings and evening events. Considering how popular Instagram is, it makes perfect sense. I went to an event last year at the NASDAQ building in Times Square that had a GIF photo booth with a fun twist—after you took your photo, your GIF would appear on NASDAQ’s Times Square billboard for thousands to see.

 

But even without a Times Square billboard at your disposal, GIF photo booths are memorable, fun, and easy to set up.

 

Got an event and meeting planning question for Phoenix? Drop it in the box below and tune in next time to see your question answered!