Younger guests, ethnic travellers and environmentally conscious corporations are inspiring a shake-up in traditional banquet and catering menus. Lifestyle changes are driving healthier options, such as vegetarian, gluten-free and lighter meals. Visitors from other cultures appreciate the occasional dosa, taco or steamed pork bun, while others are hungry to try destination-specific foods, such as B.C. salmon, Alberta beef or Quebec poutine with a creative twist.
Meanwhile, there are brides and grooms who say “I don’t” to white linen and Waterford crystal — favouring unfussy family-style long tables for their wedding receptions. The following hotels dish on how they’re responding to a growing appetite for more diverse fare.
The Broadview Hotel, Toronto
Restaurateur and executive chef John Sinopoli oversees the Broadview’s three eateries, as well as the hotel’s catering operation, adding his innovative touch to the hotel’s menu. As a result, “Our catering menus are not typical banquet menus,” says Sabrina Budhu, director of Sales. “We try to go outside of the box in terms of our offerings. It’s almost like you’re going to your favourite restaurant with a large group of people.” Each of the hotel’s five venues have hosted events from weddings, fashion shows and launch parties to meetings and workshops.
Instead of the typical breakfast of bacon and eggs, there’s avocado toast, gluten-free options and action stations. Lunches are often grab-and-go, featuring nutritious wraps, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free choices.
For weddings, bridal showers and bar mitzvahs, the catering team prepares three- and four-course plated dinners, but will also accommodate family-style meals, where guests sit together at long harvest tables and help themselves from platters — a hit with the younger generation.
“A lot of couples getting married want to do something that’s not traditional,” says Budhu.
The Broadview’s panoramic rooftop terrace is hopping during the summer with action stations for barbecues, taco bars and carving tables. “It adds more of a memorable experience as opposed to canapé trays or a charcuterie board,” says Budhu.
She also points out that guests are increasingly interested in the origin of the food they’re eating. The Broadview answers the call by sourcing locally and sustainably.
New Castle Hotels & Resorts, Eastern Canada
Vince Barrett, VP of Food & Beverage, says New Castle’s banquet-and-catering segment has grown by approximately four per cent from last year. With Canadian properties that span New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario, he says social events and conferences continue to favour a typical menu of chicken, beef tenderloin and seafood, with vegetarian and vegan options. Foreign guests often hail from the U.K. and Holland and the catering team will tailor menus to their tastes.
“We offer a variety of items from different regions on different nights of the week,” says Barrett. And while digging in, the diners want to know what they’re eating and where it came from, “So our menus are more descriptive about the sourcing of the product, how sustainable it is, how we’re staying away from [serving] endangered species,” he adds. Younger guests attending social events and conferences challenge the team to think creatively, he notes. “Their companies tend to tailor some of the activities and the experiences around their [age] group. There’s a lot more craft beer, for example. [Traditionally], you’d have a typical hotel bar set up with spirits, liquor, beer and wine. Now you’re seeing five or six types of beers and craft brews that are indigenous to the area.”
Weddings and bar mitzvahs get a bit more spirited, explains Barrett. “They’re doing cigar and bourbon bars. Scotch is having a huge impact right now, bourbons are on fire — a whole flashback because of [the TV-series] Mad Men and the millennials have picked up on that,” he says.
Barrett, notes that off-site catering is not a huge component of New Castle’s business, due in large part to the nature and locations of its properties. For example, The Westin Nova Scotian does about 15 per cent of its catering off-premise. “There’s the Port Authority right there and attached to the hotel there’s VIA Rail, so they can do events at the station,” Barrett explains. “Our Autograph [the Algonquin Resort] in New Brunswick does things on [its] golf course or out in the woods, like an old military-service bivouac. It’s all about the experience.”
Calgary Marriott Downtown, Calgary
Catering and banquets have gone to the dogs at the Calgary Marriott Downtown, but in a good way. Glen McKenzie, the hotel’s senior Catering Sales executive, explains that, because the hotel is pet-friendly, it has welcomed pooches as members of the wedding party. “We find out what the dog likes and the chef accommodates,” he says. “We don’t get much feedback, apart from a wagging tail and a few barks.”
The hotel gets a better reception for its specialized catering to ethnic guests. “We can usually accommodate any culture. Our kitchen is pretty [diverse] and our head chef, Hussein Haji, is of Indian heritage, which helps for cooking to a specific culture. And, if we can’t get the flavours quite right, we out-source to local restaurants that specialize in those specific meals.”
As for corporate events, McKenzie says his hotel follows Marriott’s “Meetings-Imagined” protocol, which calls for lighter lunches, several small meals throughout the day and wake-up breaks. Fresh-made soups and salads, along with unique buns and wraps, keep attendees focused and full.
The property’s recently renovated outdoor patio is in high demand for retirement parties, movie nights and pop-up events.
“It’s [about] being different from the competitors,” says McKenzie. “Offering different menu options [and] elevating the experience to make it more unique than just attending a meeting or wedding. It becomes more impactful, not just for our clients, but for us as a brand.”
Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Vancouver
Anthony Pratt, director of Food & Beverage at Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia, praises B.C.’s bountiful berries, fresh fish and seafood and world-class wines — all of which appear on the hotel’s catering menus. “We try to use all these ingredients [in-season], because they’re healthy, fresh and clean and people’s reactions are always over the top.” The hotel is considered the place for elegant weddings. Although it will accommodate casual family-style receptions, luxury dominates the ornate walls of the historic Spanish Ballroom, with five-star dining — featuring oven-roasted Lac Brome duck, pan-seared Kuterra salmon, Haida Gwaii halibut — savoured on fine china, with Christophle flatware and Schott Zwiezel glassware.
The Rosewood’s extensive catering menu spans a smorgasbord of ethnic cuisines, including Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Indian. Pratt says the hotel’s diverse kitchen staff is led by executive chef Harold Lemos, himself of Indian descent.
He’s also the brains behind the meetings menu, which includes healthy options such as oatmeal, muesli, trail mix, anti-oxidant-rich smoothies and power bars. “People are having power meetings and want power food,” says Pratt.
And when they power down, they want to relax with something other than a predictable cocktail and canapé. “No one wants the average bar for their event,” says Pratt. “They want a full mixologist, someone who knows about spirits.” The Rosewood’s barkeeps are adept at crafting classic cocktails that evoke this iconic hotel’s heritage, including the Old-Fashioned, Manhattan and the Moscow Mule served in a copper mug. But they can also think outside the glass to more modern trends, such as smoked cocktails, with a hint of wood, ash and fire, as well as canapés infused with distilled spirits.
Written by Robin Roberts