Small meetings are big

The meetings business is changing. With so much of our food and beverage solely dependent on groups, hotels are being faced with a radically changing workforce whose needs are centered around collaboration over data dump, conversation over presentation. The millennial tech-centric, multitasking attendee wants a fresher approach to a meeting that inspires experiential sharing of information. The F&B experience should reflect the same enhanced approach.

In August 2012, a space crafted to be just that opened at the Marriott Redmond Town Center located near Microsoft’s headquarters in the Seattle suburbs. Taking three standard meeting rooms, the space was reinvented to become five purpose-built studios crammed with technology and collaborative space for small groups. Marriott has partnered with Steelcase to create Workspring by Marriott in this prototype. Natural light, clean surfaces, integrated technology and purposeful flexibility are critical to mobile workers who need to meet. By the way, the food needs to be on trend as well.

The first change in F&B is that we had to blow up the idea of meal service in meetings. Instead of the breakfast meal time and obligatory continental breakfast — with nothing but carbs and cloth-covered round tables — the Workspring space spokes off of a central café stocked with nutritional beverages in a glass-front refrigerator and self-serve snacks throughout the day. Communal in nature, the café encourages conversation while dining casually. Meal times are flexible, you can break when you want and not be on a schedule (the demise of the 10-10:30 morning break!).

The second change is to move beyond the plated chicken lunch and focus on food that matters to meetings — food that is lighter, handcrafted and embraces the lifestyle of today’s consumer. Café offerings are time-appropriate and designed to enhance the meeting through local, organic and simple preparations packed with flavor. Consciously aware of the way people eat today with a focus on health and global influence, there are always gluten-free, vegetarian and whole-grain items in addition to artisanal sandwiches at lunch or cage-free eggs and Greek yogurt parfaits at breakfast. At Marriott Redmond Town Center, Steve Scaia, the talented young executive chef, even goes to the local Redmond Farmers Market to select the most in-season and locally relevant ingredients to plan his daily menus.

Finally, we had to make it easier to book and plan the F&B experience. To that end, once the space is booked, all of the F&B is included without any need for menu proposals and item selection. No need to work the agenda around pre-planned break or meal times — the Workspring host takes care of the space and makes sure the food is always ready whenever the group is ready … just as it should be.