Beverages and Meetings

August 14, 2012

Beverages and Meetings: A Refreshing Combination

By Lisa Lance
The venue is booked, the menu is planned, the agenda for your meeting is set. You have worked out all the major details, including meals to make every attendee happy. But have you given much thought to what they will drink? Beverages are not only critical to your event  — just imagine an early morning conference without coffee or an evening reception without cocktails — they are also an opportunity to showcase your creativity as a planner.

As with any event component, planners should consider several factors when selecting beverages. Cassie Burd, vice president of sales and catering at Butler’s Pantry in St. Louis, suggests that planners consider the audience (including the ages of guests), the type of occasion (somber, celebratory or a specific theme) and the time of day the event will take place.

Cheryl Ralston, CMP, of MAC Meetings & Events in St. Louis, also recommends that planners consider the audience and theme, as well as the venue and event budget. “The amount of beverages your attendees will consume determines if it’s more economical to pay on a consumption basis or hourly,” she says. She also points out that planners must keep risk assessment and liability in mind when serving alcohol at an event.

In addition to these considerations, Cheri Hutchings, president and event coordinator at Claire De Lune Productions in Fairview Heights, Ill., says planners should also think about the type of food being served. “Great drinks can complement and enhance the meal while getting guests into the festive groove of the party,” she says.

Marissa Wolfard, CMP, project manager at Maritz, takes into account the time of year and location of the event. “Look at the history of the event to understand participant preferences,” she says. “What was popular the previous event? What was not? The history will not only give you the likes and dislikes but also it will save you money from ordering unused drinks.” She also recommends keeping in mind the surrounding community and exploring the use of locally made beer or coffee.

And when it comes to coffee, Charles T. Dubuque, vice president of Ronnoco Coffee Company in St. Louis, agrees the audience is an important factor, not only for aesthetics but also practicality. “The number of people attending certainly determines what can be executed,” he says. “Espresso-based drinks should be made to order, and making these for a large event can be challenging, so we adapt recipes and dispensing systems to the size of the event.”

“Non-alcoholic beverage stations are the latest new idea,” says Burd. “Using the herbal infusions with or without alcohol is a fun new way to offer guests new beverage choices.”
Dubuque suggests creating simple Italian soda displays using espresso syrups and club soda. “They look beautiful, they’re easy to make and really refreshing,” he says.

And today’s beverage choices are not always just about taste. “Beverages are becoming more health conscious, so drink order must-haves include vitamin waters, green and black teas and non-fat coffee flavorings,” says Wolfard.

At a recent event to celebrate the grand opening of a local department store, Burd says, Butler’s Pantry served Naked Juice shooters in double shot glasses as a way to promote healthy beverages in a unique format. Proceeds from the event were donated to breast cancer research, so the color pink was also incorporated into the drinks. “We offered infused pink lemonade, iced tea and sparkling water with basil and rosemary syrups,” says Burd. “Guests could choose their own selection of beverage and add the herbal infusions and fresh garnishes.”

Another non-alcoholic beverage offering from Butler’s Pantry is a Kool-Aid Station. “These are great on hot summer days, for kids and adults alike,” says Burd. Selections include traditional iced tea, honey ruby red grapefruitade with sliced grapefruit, sparkling vanilla lemonade with lemon wheels and strawberry hibiscus iced tea with floating strawberries. Planners also have the option of adding alcohol to “kick it up a notch.”
And there is an imaginative mix of alcoholic beverage trends in the industry, as well. “The creativity is coming out in the evening events with signature cocktails and focus on more unique, interactive bartending,” says Wolfard. She cited the use of “expert mixologists” and onsite drink “muddling”—think of the mint in mojitos—as two examples.

Hutchings says another popular trend is creating a “Cocktail Station” where bartenders set up a selection of mixers, sodas and alcohols. “Guests are encouraged to start mixing and try different combinations that they think might be tasty,” she says. “This is a big hit with younger, more adventurous crowds.”

“Light or ‘skinny’ cocktails are also popular,” says Burd. “Adding club soda in place of sugar-filled soda, and using fresh citrus are easy ways to lighten a cocktail without losing flavor.”

Another trend Wolfard sees is incorporating classic drinks, such as the Sidecar or the Manhattan, into event menus, but with new age twists. “Everything old is new again!” she says.

And for adults who want to feel like kids again, Butler’s Pantry can create adult snow cone stations with spiked flavors, such as cherry bomb, margarita, strawberry daiquiri and piña colada, served in cone shaped glasses with mini straws.

Ralston also suggests having sponsored beverages at event receptions. “The sponsor selects the beverage and can incorporate their company name or logo onto a sign at each of the bars,” she says. “This is a great way for the sponsors to gain added exposure, and it’s very low cost to the organizer.”

When having a signature drink, Ralston points out, it is important to also have a non-alcoholic version available.

The focus on sustain-ability in the meetings and events industry in recent years also applies to beverages.

“More and more clients are looking for ways to incorporate event greening,” says Ralston. “Planners are making a conscious effort to eliminate the use of bottled water, provide recycling stations and reduce excess consumption. A recent example we’ve used is providing attendees a reusable bottle or container as a giveaway for use during the meeting.”

“We have limited bottled water usage at specific venues,” says Burd. Her company has found attractive ways to display water and juices without using individual plastic bottles, such as using glass bottles and Lucite beverage containers, which can be reused.
In addition, Wolfard recommends staying away from Styrofoam and using non-disposable drinkware or drinkware that is “made from 75%+ recycled paper goods.”

And the “locavore” trend — seeking out locally grown food — can also apply to beverages. “I like to use organic and locally produced options when available,” says Hutchings. “Most clients are happy to follow this school of thought and like the idea of supporting local business. It is often less expensive and beverage producers love the idea of showcasing their products in front of a local audience.”

Ronnoco offers Organic and Rainforest Alliance products. “Sustainability is very important to many of our clients,” says Dubuque. “Showcasing that these are available to their guests at events has really become a priority.”

Beverage selection may seem like a small detail, but the right drinks can go a long way, not only in staving off thirst, but also in reinforcing a theme or adding unexpected fun to an event. Although there are many factors to consider when selecting beverages, with a little creativity you can make a perfectly refreshing choice.

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