Food and Beverage Can Make Or Break Your Corporate Event: Here’s Why

Serving guests memorable, quality food is one of the staples of a good host and a smart meeting planner.

We’re not suggesting you break the bank, but through strategic food and beverages selection and presentation, you can elevate the overall perception of your corporate event.

Reflect Your Brand Personality Through Food and Drink

Decorations, podium displays, even seating arrangements all contribute to guests’ experience of your event. But did you know that food and drinks are also effective vehicles to display messaging or design themes?   Recently, many designers have started looking to food and drink as a way of showcasing messages. “We have seen logos used on desserts such as cakes, cookies, and cupcakes…”

The same ideas apply to beverages. Instead of having a standard open bar or basic beer selection, making a signature cocktail is another way to keep guests talking. You don’t need to be a mixologist to create a new drink. Pick a classic cocktail and add a special ingredient then pick a new name that reflects your company’s personality. Get creative. As an added bonus, signature cocktails can help trim your budget by only offering one or two special drinks instead of a large variety.

Go Local to Make the Event a Cultural Experience

Using quality, local food vendors and caterers are an easy way to create a menu that can’t be replicated.  Guests appreciate the thought and feel like they’re getting a special experience.

Events in cities new to attendees are great opportunities to amp up the display of local flavors and distinctive combinations they may not experience at home. It makes the event memorable (outside of the great content) and gives guests something to talk about when they come home. Your event becomes more than a corporate function; it’s a cultural experience.

And remember, food is not the only thing that can be locally sourced. Many cities have their own breweries, or wineries, that would be happy to work with a local venue. It’s yet another way for their company to get exposure and word of mouth marketing.

Let Your Audience and Venue Dictate Menu and Presentation

Carefully selected food and beverage show your company toue. For example, are your guests mostly young professionals? Health conscious? Do they have lots of dietary restrictions? Is the event a trade show or a lunch conference?

For example, an attendee base made up of mostly senior executives on tight schedules would probably prefer quick, healthy boxed lunches.

And boxed lunches need not be dull; presenting the food in carefully branded packaging with an elegant design makes the meal seem more enjoyable. It can mean the difference between seeing the meal as  “quick take-out” versus “picnic chic.”

What Now?

If this post has you excited (or nervous) about planning the food and beverage for your next event, don’t worry! Working with an event planner is an easy remedy to navigate the complexities of planning, ordering, and presenting meals and drinks. Give us a call today and learn about how we can help you with your next event.

Mary O’Connor is President of Mary O’Connor & Company, a recognized leader in the Global Event Planning industry. Mary and her team have over 22 years of event planning experience, and have planned events with organizations of all sizes, including Fortune 500 firms, across a range of industries. For more information, please call 630.443.4300, or visit us at

Your Corporate Event Requires Creative Messaging

Creative Messaging and Design for Event Planning

 Executing a corporate event that is creative and on-brand is a challenge. Luckily, more meeting planners are focusing on the end-to-end event planning experience. Before diving into the operational side of things, it’s important to establish your creative messaging and goals. Why are you having this event? What do you want attendees to walk away with? How are you going to convey that?

This year brings some new ideas and trends in meeting planning to help find your messaging organically. Bonus: it means your meeting will be as unique as your company. Interested? Read on.

Using Internal Stakeholders for Event Messaging Ideas

Ever feel like you’re fresh out of ideas?  Or rather, that it’s hard to come up with something relevant?  Your employees are a great way to tap into insights about what is important in the business and its culture.

BizBash recommends using surveys before starting down the planning road. Surveys can be sent out via email well in advance for attendees to fill out. After pooling together responses, look for a theme. Is there a common concern about culture? Misunderstandings about sales objectives? Pain point in the market? Whatever it is, make that the focus for the next corporate event.

This makes messaging and event goals much more focused. Plus, if employees and other upper-management stakeholders are on-board with the objectives, higher engagement and attendance rates will naturally follow.

Make Your Corporate Event an Extension of Company Values

Once you have the corporate event objectives and messaging planned don’t stop there. Use objectives developed through internal brainstorm sessions to create collateral for pre and post-event. No matter if it’s for employees or outside attendees, people need to be onboard in advance. Taking a book out of online retail shoppers by building an .

Engage employees through social media, email reminders or even old-fashioned flyers to remind them about the event. Provide enticing messaging about what they’ll get from attending. Keep messaging and objectives consistent across all assets. Reading an email and then attending the event should feel like an extension of the same conversation.

“Before they arrive on-site, attendees should understand why they’re going to the meeting and what they’re going to walk away with. You need to be constantly in front of them with that branding and that message.”

Themes Can Influence Creative Event Design

Once you have clear messaging and goals for the event, use that to influence the design and creative execution. Smart Meetings urges planners to select a theme that supports conference goals. The concept of storytelling through design is another emerging trend for 2017.

Event planners are using the themes and goals of events to influence the design of the physical space.  For example, if your annual sales meeting’s objective is to “raise the bar,” there could be activities and experiences that present challenges. Push employees out of their comfort zones. Then, think about what types of unusual (read: uncommon and budget-friendly) locations and activities would foster that behavior.


Corporate Events Are Worth The Investment

2 Big Reasons That Justify the Cost of Face-to-Face Corporate Events

We know budgets are not endless. Each year companies only receive a certain amount of money for corporate event planning and meetings. Justifying the cost of in-person corporate events for the sales team or company-wide off-sites presents a challenge. The real question, though, is can you afford to forgo them?

Research shows that only 32% of the current U.S. workforce is actively engaged. The good news is it doesn’t have to stay that way. Employees who attend strategically planned in-person events are much more likely to feel engaged with their jobs and their employer. As for the ‘why’? It’s about creating value and a sense of connection.

Digital Communication Will Never Replace In-Person (Really)

Living in a world with technology at our fingertips is great. It helps with daily communication and removes boundaries, especially for global companies. But it can also leave employees feeling disconnected. Makes sense when, “a whopping 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by non-verbal cues, talking face-to-face becomes more important than ever.”  Getting teams together a few times a year reinforces that businesses are about people.  Employees who have valuable face time with one another are more likely to develop relationships that will keep them from job searching.  Building out the time and space within a non-office environment to talk and share, helps build “the personal relationships that are essential to effective collaboration.”

When planning in-person events the default is to pack in as many educational sessions or activities as possible. Meeting planners say that is no longer considered a best practice. Leaving more open time in schedules allows attendees to naturally network with one another. Plus, the mixture of people with different talents and skills is proven to contribute more meaningful insights and perspectives. So let the sales team and the product team mingle!

Strategic Event Planning Means Better Company Culture and Motivated Workers

So what do companies get out of this? More engaged and motivated employees. The more motivated an employee, the less likely they are to leave the company. An investment in one or two high-quality events a year reduces the likelihood of losing top talent.  One study estimates that losing an employee can cost anywhere from 16% of their salary for an hourly employee, to 213% of the salary for a highly trained employee.

The value the employee receives from in-person training and relationship building becomes money saved for the employer.  And more often then not, justifies the cost of the event.

Corporate Event Planning- International Trends

International Trends in Corporate Event Planning

International meetings make up about half of the total investment for corporate event planning among multinational organizations.  So, it’s important to look at the trends shaping international destinations in the coming year.

Shifting Away from Traditional Global Destinations to New and Unusual Encounters

In 2017, we’re seeing organizations lean towards new and unique destinations and away from traditional tier 1-type locations.  The reasoning behind this shift is to give attendees new experiences in an environment that is much different than what they are used to or normally see.  This new perspective can help break down barriers and encourage fresh new thinking.  It can also help make the whole experience more memorable.  That’s exactly what a financial services firm found when attendees did a night at a desert location under the stars with no electricity.

This shift is also giving organizations the opportunity to take their staff to locales they might not normally visit, or couldn’t afford to visit, on their own.  When this is done as part of an incentive trip, it can enhance the overall value of the award.

Asia Pacific remains a focus for many companies.  Expect bigger groups and higher cost per attendee in 2017.

Asian growth opportunities continue to drive corporate event planning to seek venues there for ever larger training meetings, conferences and incentives.  According to CWT’s 2017 Forecast, look for group size in Asia to grow by about 5% in 2017 and cost per participant per day to climb by 3%.  Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai continue to be popular meeting destinations.  These are certainly not low-cost destinations, but their security, political stability and international connectivity keep corporate planners coming back.

If you’re looking for deals in Asia consider Bangkok, Beijing, and Hanoi.  Kuala Lumpur hotel rates can also be very attractive now due to a weak Indonesian currency.  Even Sydney is coming in lower now due to a weak Aussie dollar.

Mid-scale Property Openings Explode

One of the surprises in the 2017 American Express Meetings and Global Events Forecast was the incredible number of mid-scale properties opening around the world in the coming year.  New mid-scale properties are coming online three times faster than new luxury hotels.  In Europe, the timing couldn’t be better as companies across the continent have been introducing stricter company guidelines, reduced budgets and savings targets. These new mid-scale properties could offer corporate meeting planners new, convenient and lower cost meeting options.

2017 is likely to be another seller’s market, at least according to corporate event planners surveyed by Successful Meetings.  But there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for corporate event planning in the future.  The trend seems to be moving toward an equilibrium or even a buyer’s market in the future as new properties come online and competition grows for what have been flat budgets over the past few years.

Employee Recognition Drives Retention

Employee Recognition and Retention

Recruiting requires a lot of time and energy.  Organizations must invest the same or more effort into employee recognition and retention programs for the talent already in the organization.   Lars Schmidt, a contributor at Forbes, suggests “retention will be the biggest talent challenge of 2017.”

Meetings and Events- Peer Recognition

One effective method of reducing turnover and helping retain top performers is creating a culture they can’t imagine leaving.  Employee recognition programs play an important role in that effort and a key component of an effective program is recognition from peers.  Meetings and events are the perfect venue to accomplish this goal and foster a community-like celebration.

No matter the scale, a small regional meeting of 100 or large national meeting with 2,000+ attendees, events are an opportunity to recognize top performers while they are among their peers.  And more importantly, it allows for a shared, in-person celebration of the accomplishment.  Research has shown that peers are the top driver of satisfaction in the workplace.  Additionally, for those in attendance who weren’t recognized, seeing the celebration could spark the inspiration they need to achieve more.

A Culture of Recognition

Meetings and events can help reinforce cultural attitudes, but it takes consistency to build it.  Employees want to know their efforts matter to the organization, that what they’re doing makes a difference.  A survey from Globoforce shows that 73% of employees who have been recognized consistently over a period of 6 months felt engaged at work.  Moreover, employee recognition helps them feel appreciated, which in turn helps them feel good about themselves and the job they’re doing.

Active Managers

No matter how formalized your recognition program is, if leadership fails to consistently activate it, it won’t do any good.  Employees don’t leave good companies or employers, they leave managers. Management must make it a habit to seek out and reward excellence.  By regularly engaging in employee recognition efforts, management also demonstrates the importance of the program.

Training and Development

What happens once your recruits are in the door, do you have a system in place to train and develop them? Additionally, do you know who your best performers are?  Are there metrics in place to track their influence in the organization? It’s important to monitor high performers to ensure they are challenged sufficiently.  It also informs the training and development opportunities they need to grow professionally.  A study in the International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences found “organizations that train and develop their employees see improved profitability while cultivating more positive attitudes toward profit orientation.”

Attracting Top Talent

As competition for top talent increases, many organizations find it increasingly difficult to compete on salary alone.  A culture of recognition based on a well-executed employee recognition program can help your organization stand-out.  It may also act as the difference-maker for a recruit.  Competition for top talent will only continue to increase, and what you offer in terms of compensation will always play an important role in attracting top talent.  More and more, however, it’s the non-tangible things such as company culture that will figure prominently in setting your organization apart from the rest.

Bringing It Together

A true employee recognition plan goes far beyond simply thanking your employees for a job well done. Management needs to tell employees specifically which efforts they demonstrated that upheld the company’s values, and how that behavior leads to achievement the company’s key objectives. It offers employees context into what value their efforts play in the big picture. Everyone wants to see meaning in their work, and often time, are just in need of a reminder. Meetings and events are an excellent forum to provide these reminders, and to celebrate achievement as a group.

Airport Security Changes Are Coming

Travelers heading to the airport for their next flight need to know about two changes coming to identification and security requirements at the airport.


The first involves stricter enforcement of the REAL ID Act, part of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations for enhanced identification requirements.  The Act established minimum security standards for production and issuance of driver’s licenses and state-issued identification cards when used for specific purposes, i.e. accessing certain federally regulated facilities.  Travel on federally regulated commercial aircraft is now covered by the Act.[1]

The Department of Homeland Security has phased-in the enforcement of the Act to give states time to update the security of their licenses or to apply for an extension to comply.  Currently, this means approximately 90% of all U.S. drivers with licenses can continue using them without issue.  However, the following states- Montana, Missouri, Washington, South Carolina, Maine, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky- have not yet met the minimum federally required security levels.  TSA will require an alternative form of ID, such as a passport or permanent resident ID, for residents of these states who want to fly after January 22, 2018.[2]

The bottom line- unless your state becomes compliant in 2017, be prepared to show an alternative ID when traveling.  You can find additional information on the REAL ID Act, as well as your state’s status, here.

TSA PreCheck

The second change coming to air travel security is with the TSA PreCheck program- more airlines added and reduced access for non-enrolled travelers.

In late January, the TSA has expanded the PreCheck program to include 11 more airlines at more than 180 U.S. airports.   The new airlines are:  Aruba Airlines, Avianca, Boutique Airlines, Emirates, Key Lime Air, Miami International, Southern Airways Express, Spirit Airlines, Sunwing, Virgin Atlantic, and Xtra Airways.

If you are a non-enrolled traveler hoping to take advantage of PreCheck’s expedited screening lanes, those days may be over, or at least severely reduced.  The TSA has allowed, on a flight by flight basis, some non-enrolled travelers to pass through the expedited lanes.  Starting in early February, the TSA will significantly reduce access to TSA PreCheck screenings for non-enrolled travelers.[3]

If you’re on the fence about joining the program, and like the convenience of expedited screening lanes, now is the time to join.  For more information on the program, and to apply, click here.


[1] Department of Homeland Security; REAL ID Enforcement in Brief; January 30, 2017

[2] Shareably; Jake Manning; PSA:  If you live in these 8 states, you can’t use your driver’s license for air travel next year; January 27, 2017

[3] Ibid.