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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

A well-fed attendee is a happy one

By Eugene Mardell, food and beverage director of the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa, Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.

Preparing and providing food and beverages for 300 to 500 guests can be daunting. And keeping that many people engaged, excited and satisfied at the same time is certainly a challenge.

Here are some things we do that work quite well:

Interactive stations: When guests are hungry, standing in a long, slow-moving line around a lengthy buffet table is not ideal. In fact, it seems almost unacceptable these days. Setting up stations, where the food is prepared in front of the guests, is a more interesting and engaging experience. It also creates a more social atmosphere, which often dovetails nicely with the point of corporate gatherings, especially in terms of team building.

Smaller plates/bigger variety: With tastes and palates more eclectic than ever and with heightened interest in healthy mixes and choices of foods, smaller plates at a variety of stations with salads, poultry, fish and meats can satisfy the needs and tastes of even the most finicky eaters. Variety is important. Be prepared for special requests. Ask specific questions about the possibility of certain food requirements during the planning phase and initial contact with meeting attendees.

Regional fare: Combining food and flavors that are indigenous to the meeting location reflects the venue’s knowledge and pride in what its area has to offer and is an easy way to inject variety and enrich the menu. This is often overlooked when planning and preparing a big event.

Outside the box, outside: During the months when weather is likely to be the most accommodating, suggest to event venues that certain meals and beverage services be conducted outdoors on the property. Locations could include the pool, patio, fire pit, gazebo, golf course or lawn.

Dining outdoors is memorable and allows for more socializing, which most always reflects the goals and objectives of the event sponsors. Outdoor events often make creative platforms for fun themed and/or team-building events. Remember to have a plan for inclement weather (Enough said on that.).

Personal preference menus: The Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort has taken the lead from our corporation and has perfected the concept of providing a “personal preference menu” for large gatherings. We’ve done it for banquets of 650 guests. This program affords hundreds of diners the pleasure of choosing from a variety of entrees and sides. No longer is such an event relegated to serving a half-chicken and the fixings. Instead, using a personal preference menu, diners are offered a choice of three or four menu options for each dining course. For example, meeting attendees could choose whether they wanted a chicken, fish or pasta entrée and an ice cream, chocolate pie or cream brulee dessert.

Personal preference menus, here again, reflect the restaurant experience by providing choices such as sea bass, prime rib or, yes, elegantly prepared poultry. In fact, the above referenced event for 650 included the added pressure of catering and clearing for a scheduled, major after-dinner presentation. All done under the wire, I’m happy to say.

Preparing to feed a large event is a lot of work to be sure, but the payback is well worth it. The feedback was superlative, the experiences rich and so were the rewards for the resort in referred and repeat business. Give them what they want and they will partake. Guests appreciate the effort, especially when it looks effortless. With a creative and hard-working food and beverage team, your event can easily succeed.

Eugene Mardell is food and beverage director at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa ( between Albuquerque and Santa Fe, N.M.