Dine-arounds are a longtime staple and a trusty standby for meeting planners who have to feed a crowd, and dine-arounds are “as popular as ever,” said Amanda Kliem, director of sales for Visit Newport Beach.
Compared with taking attendees off property to a large event, the dine-around option is a more intimate way for groups to engage, not only with each other but also with the host destination. A smaller group size allows attendees to connect with one another on a deeper level and also “allows groups to dine like the locals,” Kliem said.
But are dine-arounds “done-arounds”? It can be easy to fall into the rut of finding a handful of regular ol’ restaurants and eating at one of those and calling it dinner. But it doesn’t have to be that way. From interesting locations to local flavors, there are many creative ways to differentiate a dine-around.
Location, Location, Location
Most cities have certain neighborhoods that work well for dine-arounds. Many times, that’s downtown, where a plethora of restaurants can be found in a concentrated area, which minimizes transportation needs.
Indianapolis offers more than 250 dining options within walking distance of hotels and the Indiana Convention Center, which makes dine-arounds easy to coordinate. Limited transportation needs ease logistics planning, and a variety of cuisine options appeals to participants’ palates and wallets, said Lisa Wallace, associate director of convention marketing for Visit Indy.
In Indianapolis’ downtown core, groups will find favorites like St. Elmo Steak House and its sister restaurant Harry and Izzy’s, and cultural districts like Mass Ave and Fountain Square.
The East Bank District is Bossier City, Louisiana’s newest entertainment district; and recently, it became the city’s first open-container district. People can take their drinks with them — in nonglass containers — within the three-block area, which is anchored by a festival plaza.
Planners can coordinate East Bank dine-arounds to coincide with the farmers market, festivals and concerts, allowing attendees to eat, drink and enjoy free entertainment.
Nearby, Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets is an outdoor shopping center on the Bossier City side of the Red River that features several restaurants.
In Newport Beach, California, Newport Harbor is “really the centerpiece of our destination,” Kliem said. The harbor is strictly dedicated to recreation and residential uses and is ringed by mansions and restaurants.
Visit Newport Beach can connect planners with vendors of a fleet of Duffy boats. These small, covered electric boats offer banquette seating for eight to 10 people around a central table. Groups can enjoy a floating happy hour with cocktails and appetizers as Duffy boats ferry attendees to harbor-front restaurants for dinner.
Bring the Dine-Around to Attendees
Indianapolis is home to nearly 100 food trucks, and during large conventions, Visit Indy often arranges to have food trucks congregate along the outdoor event boardwalk just outside the Indiana Convention Center.
“When events like Gen Con and National Future Farmers of America bring in more than 60,000 attendees, having food trucks to supplement our restaurant offerings delivers an enhanced attendee experience,” Wallace said.
During MPI’s World Education Congress in Indianapolis in 2018, Visit Indy arranged a food truck lunch experience, where attendees could view the truck’s menus on the conference app.
Local, Local, Local
Dine-arounds can also highlight regional cuisine and allow attendees to sample food they can’t savor anywhere else.
The Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau can reach out to appropriate partners to help highlight the city’s culture, “which, in Louisiana, is food,” said marketing associate Aly Velasquez. Dine-arounds can focus on restaurants where attendees will enjoy Louisiana-centric cuisine like gumbo, crawfish, and shrimp and grits.
“Being Louisiana, food is one of the No. 1 things that visitors love to do,” she said, adding that many of the restaurants that are local or that feature Louisiana food are group-friendly.
One of Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s claims to fame is the area’s smorgasbords. Smorgasbords are massive buffets with Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, such as chicken pot pie, dried corn and shoofly pie. Discover Lancaster once arranged to bus groups of conference attendees to several different smorgasbords for dinner.
Find a Theme
Planning dine-arounds in a concentrated area, whether that’s in downtown or at a shopping center, is convenient, but planning the night around a theme can mix it up.
Newport Beach can help organize a celebrity-chef themed dine-around featuring Nancy Silverton’s Pizzeria Mozza, co-founded by Mario Batali; Rick Bayless’ Red O; and the city’s most recent addition, Nobu, namesake of legendary chef Nobu Matsuhisa.
Planners can opt for a brewery-hopping dine-around at Shreveport-Bossier’s craft breweries. Great Raft Brewing usually has a food truck parked outside, Flying Heart Brewing and Pub sells artisan pizzas, and Red River Brewing Co.’s gastropub serves dishes like green chili poutine.
Themed dine-arounds can also feature international cuisine or experiential activities. Newport Beach’s Fashion Island shopping district has over 40 diverse restaurants, and Visit Newport Beach will work with Fashion Island to do a progressive dine-around with an international flair. Groups go in waves and have different courses at each restaurant.
Also at Fashion Island, groups can do a scavenger hunt where they follow clues to figure out where they’re dining at the end of the game.
Discounts and Deals
CVBs often help planners organize badge programs for conference attendees to get discounts or claim offers at participating restaurants.
In 2017, the Shreveport-Bossier CTB organized a restaurant week for Alpha Kappa Alpha’s 85th annual South Central Regional Conference. It was similar in concept to a dine-around, but instead of one night, it lasted the full week of the conference. The CTB facilitated $10 lunch deals and $20 dinner specials at downtown restaurants during the week, and the event went so well “that it actually launched our 318 Restaurant Week,” Velasquez said.