‘Thoughtful foods’ for meetings

The subject matter today deals with foods that won’t drain people attending meetings or conferences. For this, I consulted Chef Murray Hall of Dolce Hotels and Resorts who helped coin the buzz term “thoughtful foods” to describe just this.

Here’s the rub: By serving foods that are highly nutritious for breakfast, lunch and all breaks in between, guests wouldn’t suffer from any post-meal bodily shutdowns. Commonly known as a “food coma,” this is the exhausted feeling you get an hour after an intense bolus of red meat or sushi for lunch.

The science isn’t too hard to digest. When the body absorbs a large amount of food, it sends more blood to the stomach, liver, intestine and other digestive organs, and this is especially true for fatty cuisines. With a limited supply of blood, this takes away from the overall blood supply to the muscles and the brain, which burns sugar and oxygen faster than anything else in the body. The end result is fatigue and a propensity towards inactivity. However, if the body receives a consistent input of whole grains, fruits and vegetables — foodstuffs with a wider spectrum of nutrients and lower on the glycemic index — this lethargy never sets in.

Healthy cuisine throughout a conference affords business guests increased productivity, as they are able to push past the midday lull in stride. It’s no wonder Dolce chose this as a central focus to distinguish its brand.

Chef Hall remarks that eliminating meat and high-glycemic carbs from the menu is great in principle, but tenuous in reality; you have to ease guests into the wellness-minded options so you don’t alienate them. Some people are open to new ideas and trying new foods. Others just want their meat, potatoes and a diet cola.

Either way, people have cravings you can’t ignore, especially when their mental energy is being taxed from constant meetings. Eventually, a 50-50 balance was found between nutrition and indulgence, with nuanced actions taken to make these indulgences as hearty as possible. It’s all about nudges — small changes that make a big difference. For instance, nothing comes prepackaged, all animals are farm-raised, there’s periodic signage to educate guests and high-glycemic grains are replaced with seeds and nuts.

These are just a few of the changes implemented, but the psychology of portion control was also an important consideration. If you leave out bags of potato chips, a person is likely to eat the entire allotment. But if you present the chips in a giant bowl for people to serve themselves, the tendency is for a person to put less on their plate.

And from a management perspective, yes, the costs of going healthy are higher. Food has to be bought fresh, and you can’t rely on goods kept in cold storage for a year. But it’s worth it. High-quality food is something guests truly remember, and the evidence is in the quality scorecards. Before Dolce initiated this Thoughtful Foods program, the cuisine was ranked as a 7/10 or 8/10 — not bad enough to deter loyalty, but not good enough to stand out, either. And in this business, as you know, mediocrity is death. Dolce had to make a distinction. We are what we eat, and many corporations are returning to Dolce properties not because of location or exceptional amenities, but because of the cuisine.

In general, the principle that eating healthy reduces daytime fatigue is gaining mainstream appreciation, but it still has a long way to go — leaving plenty of room for Dolce (and other forward-thinking brands) to grow their meetings business. Chef Hall likens all this to a slow-moving ship, and the best way to go is to meet people halfway through smart, balanced food alternatives. Thinking broadly, offering wholesome alternatives may be the opportunity we need to rekindle the idea that the best food in the city is at the hotel.