Have you ever held a meeting at a hotel where they let you bring in all of your own food and beverage (F&B)? It kind of seams unheard of…doesn’t it? Well, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) did just that at their latest Sustainable Agriculture Conference held at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center last November.
CFSA is a non-profit organization of more than 2,300 farmers, gardeners, consumers, and businesses in North and South Carolina. Their members are committed to sustainable agriculture and the development of locally-based, organic food systems. Naturally, when holding their annual conference, they want to stick to their values and serve the best locally grown, organic foods that their members have to offer. Allowing planners to bring their own F&B is a lot to ask from a hotel, as a good portion of a property’s revenues come from F&B. Taking a hit like that on a 1,200 attendee conference seems pretty unimaginable without some very open dialog.
CFSA spent 3 months negotiating with the hotel until they found a win-win situation for both parties. CFSA was allowed to bring in enough F&B to serve 3,700 buffet-style meals (2 lunches, a formal dinner, 3 breakfasts, and a reception) and another 1,600 in breaks. In return, CFSA agreed to pay a per-person service charge to the property for the preparation and serving of local ingredients that they brought in. The association worked on menus with the hotel’s chef over a 2 month period. In the end, 85-90% of the food originated from local sources.
A situation like this has the potential to be a logistical nightmare for the hotel. Typically, food deliveries come from a large national provider, and are made on a scheduled basis. In this case, there was a possibility of 70+ farmers driving to the delivery dock to drop off their crops. Luckily, 2 local distributors were available to make rounds to each farm, lowering the number of deliveries to just 28.
Once the foods were delivered, the packages were clearly labeled with the type of food they held and the name of the farm from which they came. This was important because the menus that were provided to the guests included information on where the ingredients came from. In the end, the attendees were pleased by the property’s above and beyond efforts to work with CFSA, and the chef truly enjoyed the “farm-to-fork” experience. Wins all around!
Hotels, would you consider letting a client do this in the future. If you would, do you think it would be as cut and dry as it was for the Sheraton Imperial Hotel?
Planners, do you think that supporting local farmers is important in the event planning industry? How difficult do you think it would be to negotiate with a property on this matter?