When choosing the food and beverage experience within the overall event, we see the same mistake being made over and over again within the event industry. It is common practice to automatically want to book the best caterer or chef in the area. It’s an understandable knee-jerk reaction because who wouldn’t want the best of the best for your event?
As an event manager, instead, ask yourself what would be the best food and beverage experience to align with the brand and the goal of the event? You may want to book the best sushi chef in Los Angeles, but there is no connection with your client who makes watches. Each element of your event, including the food and beverages, should tie back to the overall goal and connect with the brand’s DNA.
As a luxury event professional, most of our clients and guests already have access to the world’s trendiest, most sought-after restaurants. So, how do you entice guests to come to your event when they have very likely already dined at the best restaurants in the world? Provide your guests with a unique dining experience outside of anything that they have been able to enjoy despite their wealth and access.
Creating and executing the perfect food and beverage experience is a craft. Bringing in a food designer can elevate your event, making it more meaningful and memorable by bringing an artistic quality and tying in a distinctive experience.
The menu from a farmers market-style dinner at a KPMG corporate event in Utah. Photo courtesy Hopscotch USA
Food designers: What are they, and when should you use them?
Food designers are a rare brand of talent that bring creativity and add artistic value, resulting in a one-of-a-kind experience for your guests. It’s a relatively new profession that comes from, specifically in the US, the incredible emphasis on “foodie” culture and attention given in pop culture to creating unique food experiences, as seen in the popularity of cooking television shows or celebrity chefs.
Food designers are usually not the ones delivering the experience; they are the creative minds designing it. Their approach gives your event a leg up on traditional catering by creating meaning. This meaning—from how the food is presented and how to savor it to the combination of flavors and originality of entrées—can (and should) connect to the brand identity and event.
One example that showcases the unique benefits of food designers was an event we did in Deer Valley. At this remote location, we had no access to chefs or restaurants besides the hotel or flying in a celebrity chef. The client was adamant that guests should experience the destination. Our food designer suggested that we look at the local food scene and visit a farmer’s market. After looking at the main food purveyors in the area, we were inspired to create a bespoke farmer’s market rather than the traditional gala dinner for our event. We looked at 80 to 90 vendors and selected a small group to come and set up at the event. Guests could wander around our pop-up farmers market, physically interact with the local farmers, sample their food and beverages, and experience up close and personal everything that was authentically Deer Valley.
The disruptive idea delighted the client. This creative approach meant they could eat and sample the specific artisan and enjoy the best of the best in each category, which may not have been possible if they had taken a traditional route. Beyond the food, the experience of having conversations with local, authentic Utah inhabitants fully brought home the client’s vision.
How to choose the perfect food designer for your event
When choosing a food designer, use word of mouth and recommendations from other professionals. We do not recommend hiring a food designer based on social media, as it is not always clear what is real and what is fake. You can, and should, also do your due diligence when looking into hiring a food designer by asking for some references and asking about their case studies. At Exclamation Group, we tend to go with people we have worked with before as we started working with food designers early on. We have worked with every type of food designer—from one who collaborated with The Museum of Ice Cream, which was highly visual and fun for families to attend, to one with more corporate experience and worked with a major food and beverage company. Depending on the client and event, we will select one whose experience best aligns with our goal.
Guests, especially in the luxury industry, want that ultra-creative, push-the-envelope experience. But as many event professionals know, it can be difficult and competitive. As mentioned, you’re also dealing with guests who have usually experienced the most exciting, luxurious events in the world.
My experience in the luxury events industry has taught me the value and merit of working with food designers. Their work ensures every aspect of your event ties together to the event and brand’s ultimate goal. Food designers help create a unique experience your guests will not get anywhere else.
Exclamation’s principal, Thomas Serrano, has decades of experience managing high-luxury events for big-name clients, including Van Cleef & Arpels, MONTBLANC, L'Oréal, Audemars Piguet, Hublot, Bulgari and Dom Pérignon. Looking to create a one-stop shop for corporate and luxury events, cultural and sports partnerships, Thomas launched Exclamation—"Events That Make A Point"—in January 2020.