Meet, Eat and Be Merry

Though near or far, the ul­ti­mate goal of any event is to make ev­ery as­pect un­for­get­table

Business Traveler (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael An­dré Adams

Across the coun­try and around the globe, meet­ing and event spa­ces are in tune with the de­sire to dazzle at­ten­dees. But while guests – and hosts – may be left with a breath­tak­ing sense of won­der at the mag­nif­i­cence of the oc­ca­sion, and the ap­par­ent ease with which it’s all de­liv­ered, be­hind the magic is a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence, imag­i­na­tion and no lit­tle amount of hard work.

Busi­ness Trav­eler was priv­i­leged to take a peek be­hind the cur­tain at some of the top meet­ings and events des­ti­na­tions around the US to find what it takes to make fresh, cre­ative, de­light­ful ideas come to life for that seem­ingly ef­fort­less event.

At The Break­ers Palm Beach, Michele Wilde, di­rec­tor of con­fer­ence ser­vices for the past two decades, has de­vel­oped a long­stand­ing rep­u­ta­tion for seam­lessly plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing high-cal­iber meet­ings and pres­ti­gious events. Be­yond the com­plex­i­ties of de­liv­er­ing a flaw­less mo­ment, for Wilde be­stow­ing these oc­ca­sions with what he likes to call‘the wow fac­tor’is all in a days’work.

Wilde cur­rently over­sees a con­fer­ence ser­vices depart­ment staff of 14, re­spon­si­ble for the ex­e­cu­tion of all group-re­lated pro­grams in­clud­ing $16 mil­lion in con­fer­ence-driven food & bev­er­age that take place at The Break­ers and its satel­lite venues. In to­tal, The Break­ers hosts ap­prox­i­mately 300 to 400 meet­ings, in­cen­tives and events each year – a seg­ment of busi­ness that drives 55 per­cent of the re­sort’s to­tal room nights.

“With an un­par­al­leled lo­ca­tion and mag­nif­i­cent beach­front set­ting, it’s a lux­ury des­ti­na­tion re­sort that couldn’t be du­pli­cated to­day. We’re the only ocean­front re­sort in the heart of Palm Beach, sit­u­ated on 140 acres in trop­i­cal cli­mate, yet eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble and con­ve­nient to air­ports,” ex­plains Wilde. Over $250 mil­lion was in­vested over the past decade in The Break­ers’re­vi­tal­iza­tion and ex­pan­sion. “The evo­lu­tion­ary ho­tel and grounds are con­tin­u­ously re-mas­tered while its rich his­tory, her­itage and ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign re­main pre­served. We are an iconic property fully re­newed with mod­ern ameni­ties and a range of ser­vices.”

Since 1972, The Break­ers has on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions hosted a na­tional meet­ing of 2,000 drug store ex­ec­u­tives, sup­pli­ers and spouses. At these events brand­ing and decor are mar­ried to sur­prise and de­light guests, re­mov­ing the per­cep­tion of any­thing that could be con­strued as com­mon­place.

“For ex­am­ple,” says Wilde, “it is not un­usual to see 15-inch tubes of lip­stick paired with lip­stick read­ers and lip­stick shaped cook­ies in an ar­ray of lip­stick col­ors. Su­gar spin­ning artists at a dessert party or for a twist, break dancers at a Marie An­toinette themed lounge are also among the pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Fur­ther in­cor­po­rat­ing whimsy with a sense of won­der, it’s of­ten even pos­si­ble to eat the dé­cor, as you might dis­cover at sev­eral of the ho­tel’s lav­ish events:

A Willa Wonka-style party where guests en­tered over a flow­ing choco­late river with food in the for­est; fruit top­i­aries and cup­cakes in trees; su­gar-spin­ning artist that cre­ated ed­i­ble lol­lipops re­sem­bling glass-like sculp­tures; an apothe­cary sta­tion with can­dies; 12 bak­ers cre­ated grav­ity-de­fy­ing, five-foot tall lean­ing cakes and more.

Un­der­sea par­ties bring­ing buf­fets to life with body-painted and cos­tumed“live mermaid”mod­els po­si­tioned as liv­ing dé­cor on the buf­fet ta­ble, mov­ing blue light­ing to cre­ate an un­der­wa­ter guest ex­pe­ri­ence as bub­bles topped the ceil­ing.

Fire & Ice-themed events: Half the room set ablaze by a thou­sand burn­ing can­dles and walls draped in rich, red vel­vet high­lighted with am­ber-colored mov­ing lights to re­sem­ble flames, while fire dancers danced and fire roasted food was served. Mean­while the other side of the room was awash in ice blue, with chain-saw­ing ice carvers who cre­ated beer mugs, carved ta­bles and chairs amidst sim­u­lated snow while raw bar food was served in ice.

Venues Across the Coun­try

At The Amer­i­can Club Re­sort in Wis­con­sin, two par­tic­u­larly unique venues in­clude Whistling Straits Ir­ish Barn – a rus­tic, yet Five-Star, three-sided stone-façade event space that over­looks the 18th hole of the Straits Course and has panoramic views of Lake Michi­gan – and the Kohler De­sign Cen­ter, where on the up­per level, Kohler’s de­signer kitchens and bath­room spa­ces are show­cased.

The mul­ti­tude of kitchen set­tings works great for use as live ac­tion sta­tions with chefs. The com­plete com­pany his­tory is on dis­play on the lower level. Al­to­gether,“the venue fos­ters great con­ver­sa­tion be­cause of the many unique prod­ucts through­out the build­ing, in­clud­ing a wall of toi­lets,” ex­plains Jenna Check, the re­sort’s se­nior sales man­ager.

Mean­while on the West Coast, Rose­wood Ho­tels and Re­sorts of­fers the lux­u­ri­ous north­ern Cal­i­for­nia en­clave of CordeValle. "Be­cause we are lo­cated in the Sil­i­con Val­ley we are con­sis­tently host­ing C-level meet­ings for some of the most in­flu­en­tial and tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced com­pa­nies in the world,”says Kim Pen­nel, di­rec­tor of cater­ing and con­fer­ence ser­vices at CordeValle.

Pen­nel goes on to de­scribe a 60-per­son meet­ing for one of the most suc­cess­ful, glob­ally-rec­og­nized com­pa­nies on the world stage.

“We were told that the meet­ing would be in­tense, of the high­est im­por­tance and video con­fer­enced around the world. Be­cause this was a com­pany that de­fines them­selves by‘think­ing out­side the box,’ they asked that their meet­ing‘be out­side the box.’To start, we cre­ated a beau­ti­ful and com­fort­able lounge ser­viced by roam­ing barista carts with spe­cialty cof­fees, bis­cotti, prof­iteroles and sea­sonal sweet breads,” she ex­plains.

“We took ad­van­tage of our stun­ning out­door space by of­fer­ing group hikes, yoga and on-site archery dur­ing meet­ing break­outs. Each out­door ac­tiv­ity was cou­pled with cor­re­spond­ing food and bev­er­age – archery was set with le­mon­ade stand and smoked meats dis­play, yoga was set with fla­vored wa­ters, sea­sonal berries and smooth­ies, and each per­son on the hike was sent with a logo’d pack that in­cluded en­ergy bars, bot­tled wa­ter, sun­screen and whole fruit.”

Meals were de­signed to show­case the bounty of the re­gion. As an ex­am­ple, the wel­come evening re­cep­tion be­gan with a dis­play of lo­cal honey, fruits, house smoked meats and cheeses and a grill sta­tion serv­ing house-made sausage.

“Our ex­ec­u­tive chef and sous chef were on hand to speak to tast­ing notes and ori­gins of the dis­played food as well as to that which was passed. Each guest was given a re­us­able bag and in­vited to fill the bag with lo­cal honey, mar­malades and dried fruits. The group then moved to din­ner set in our rose gar­den which had mar­ket lights strung from the ter­race, an acous­tic gui­tar trio and rus­tic farm ta­bles. Guests dined fam­ily style; ev­ery­thing was served from beau­ti­ful plat­ters then placed on the ta­bles for guests to en­joy just as they would sit­ting at a Sun­day fam­ily din­ner.”

The Food Fac­tor

In Howard Beach, Queens, Russo’s On The Bay, win­ner of The Knot’s 2013 Best of Wed­dings, Wed­ding Wire’s 2013 Bride’s Choice Award, and the three-time win­ner of TLC’s“Four Wed­dings,”has bro­ken the bound­aries of large events with its sig­na­ture 11-se­lec­tion en­tree menu. Each at­tendee is given an ap­pe­tizer course, pasta and risotto com­bi­na­tion, in­ter­mezzo and or salad course and the 11-choice en­tree se­lec­tion for a restau­rant ex­pe­ri­ence.

And while op­tions are al­ways great, there are those times when a more one-ofa-kind ap­proach is re­quired.

“In the mat­ter of menus in gen­eral, the meet­ing plan­ner-chef re­la­tion­ship must go hand in hand,”ex­plains Ed Har­ris, who prior to win­ning the Food Net­work’s CHOPPED“Turbo Pow­ered”dur­ing Sea­son Four, cut his teeth in some of NewYork’s top kitchens.

“With the chef’s un­der­stand­ing of the event con­cept and all menu re­lated re­quests, con­sid­er­ing such vari­ables as what’s in-sea­son and ac­ces­si­bil­ity in gen­eral can of­ten work to the ad­van­tage of the event, the chef as well as the over­all event budget.”

The chal­lenge of serv­ing hot food is an­other all too com­mon con­cern in the busi­ness of events.

“Food comes out less than hot due to the kitchen set up,”Chef Ed says.“For ex­am­ple

a kitchen may plate up 40 to 80 plates at a time, with each of the plates re­ceiv­ing one item – say green beans – be­fore mov­ing on to the sec­ond item, pota­toes, fol­lowed by the meat. If those plates have to then wait for the next 80 plates to go through the same process, the first plates are cold.”Chef Ed goes on to ex­plain his method to en­sure the most ap­pe­tiz­ing pre­sen­ta­tion pos­si­ble.

“My way to elim­i­nate that is to have all meals I serve taken im­me­di­ately to the din­ing room once plated. No, ev­ery­one will not get their food at the same time. But when they do, it’s hot. Gang style ser­vice looks im­pres­sive. But to avoid the guest’s dis­ap­point­ment of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a less than hot protein, be sure to have hot en­trees plated and served im­me­di­ately. Sal­ads, on the other hand, along with other cour­ses served on in the meal that do not re­quire be­ing served above or be­low room tem­per­a­ture can eas­ily be served gang style.”

Chef Ed goes on to cite a laun­dry list of other culi­nary con­cerns that must not be over­looked in­clud­ing: Spac­ing in terms of en­try and ac­cess for servers to cir­cu­late food to avoid hav­ing to hover near the kitchen door The im­por­tance of sched­ul­ing a tast­ing so that the event host and plan­ners know ex­actly what guests will ex­pe­ri­ence Since people eat with their eyes, the art­ful es­sen­tials of proper plat­ing is vi­tal. “If it looks good, chances are people will taste it. But equally as im­por­tant as the op­tics, the food must also taste good.” Op­tions are also im­por­tant. Some­thing for ev­ery­one and ev­ery palate in­clud­ing vege­tar­i­ans, pesc­etar­i­ans, as well as good ol’meat lovers.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is Key

Touted by Oprah Win­frey as“My Fa­vorite Spa,”Mi­raval, is a glo­ri­ous re­sort sit­u­ated in north­ern Tuc­son, AZ, amidst the Santa Catalina Moun­tains. Sim­i­lar to south­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s Ran­cho La Puerta, though not quite as rus­tic, lux­ury laden Mir­val is known to spe­cial­ize in For­tune 500 ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship re­treats, team­build­ing, in­cen­tive travel and board meet­ings.

“Mi­raval hosted the first an­nual Giv­ing Pledge in May 2011,”ex­plains Kel­ley Siefert Shaw, di­rec­tor of na­tional ac­counts. “The Giv­ing Pledge was founded as‘A com­mit­ment by the world’s wealth­i­est in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies to ded­i­cate the ma­jor­ity of their wealth to phi­lan­thropy.’ The event is specif­i­cally fo­cused on bil­lion­aires or those who would be bil­lion­aires if not for their giv­ing,”she says.

“In host­ing this exclusive and high­l­y­se­cre­tive af­fair, Mi­raval and its em­ploy­ees main­tained im­pen­e­tra­ble pri­vacy and se­cu­rity for the 61 bil­lion­aires vis­it­ing the re­sort for meet­ings and net­work­ing. The event was kept un­der wraps – so much so that the trans­porta­tion team did not know who they were meet­ing at the pri­vate air­field, nor where they were go­ing with them, un­til they greeted the guests.”

With the event mark­ing the first group gath­er­ing, not only was ef­fec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion para­mount in the plan­ning, but through­out ev­ery step of the ex­e­cu­tion as well.

With such an elite au­di­ence, the event had to be more than ex­cep­tional – it had to be un­for­get­table. BT

Clock­wise: The Amer­i­can Club Re­sort in Wis­con­sin, Russo’s On The Bay, Event at The Amer­i­can Club Re­sort Kohler De­sign Cen­ter

This page: The Break­ers Palm Beach; Op­po­site page: Mi­raval and CordeValle

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