What Can't Conferences be without? Good Food and Lots of Coffee
People often associate catering only with refreshments at events. However, it is a comprehensive service that can not only make the meal a memorable experience. This is true both at a summer festival, where street food is served, and at conferences or congresses, whose season is just beginning. We talked to Richard Vála, the general manager of Foodway Catering, about how the catering is prepared for them and how it differs from the festival menu.
When you say Foodway Catering, what do you want people to think of?
The perfect taste of honestly prepared cuisine that prides itself on quality and fresh ingredients. And then also an imaginative and original presentation or "live" food preparation right in front of the event participants. We strive to make our catering, whether at festivals or conferences, memorable.
What is hidden under the term catering?
The main component of catering is of course the food, but ultimately it is the overall service at the event, which includes everything from cutlery, plates, glasses and place settings to the dress of the wait staff and their ability to communicate well with guests to the food served. At Foodway Catering, we make sure that this service is really precise, so we handle every detail. These are the things that make people remember us.
Summer is slowly coming to an end and the festival season as well. Where could people meet you?
This year we did catering for two big festivals. The first one was the Metronom music festival, where we were responsible for the complete catering service, refreshments for the bands, bars or the VIP area. Immediately after that we moved on to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where we catered the Pilsner Urquell zone and refreshments for Peroni.
Let's move from fun to more formal events - conferences or congresses. What is your experience with them?
We do conferences regularly. The last time was in June, at the National House Vinohrady, an event organised by the European Union Agency for Space Programme. We usually prepare refreshments at conferences, meetings and events of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Czech Television, Škoda Auto, Amazon, Česká spořitelna and others.
What is the biggest difference between catering for a festival and a conference?
The biggest difference is the planning, the participants and the time commitment. A festival brings different types of people, whereas a conference brings a specific group of people with similar expectations. I also see a difference in the fact that festivals usually run in the afternoon and late evening, but conferences run from morning to night. At the same time, festivals are more free in terms of dress code as well. I've yet to meet anyone at a conference wearing ripped jeans (unless they wandered in). All of this needs to be matched by the service offered and the composition of the food served.
So what is "cool" at festivals that wouldn't pass muster at a conference?
Catering for cultural festival attendees is more characterised by street food, simple food that people can enjoy while their favourite band is playing. For example, meatballs with pulled meat, wraps, antipasti. We wouldn't have succeeded with that at the conference. In their case, usually small portions are prepared, such tastings that a person can take in his hand and can walk and talk, network. For the coffee breaks, we have found small croissants, cakes, small sandwiches to be good. Lunches are often in the form of a buffet, or served directly to the table, but usually it is a smaller number of items because there is not as much time to eat due to the programme.
So what cuisine do clients prefer?
It cannot be said that they want only one kind of cuisine, rather the opposite. If it is an international event, for instance, it is important that everyone can choose. In addition to traditional Czech cuisine, which foreign guests like to taste, we prepare Italian, French, Indian, Thai, etc. Mostly these are light dishes that are filling but not demanding on digestion. But it definitely can't be anything fatty or too meaty, because then everyone in the hall would fall asleep. We can afford to do that for the evening programme.
Is there a recurring request from conference organisers?
That there is enough food for everyone and that there is really, really lots of coffee.
Have you experienced any special requests?
I don't know if it is a special request, but due to the large number of participants, the organisers make sure that the food has to be properly described. What's for vegans, what's for vegetarians, dieters, where are which allergens.
And is there anything that connects festivals with conferences?
They certainly have in common that everything is fine-tuned at the last minute. And we have to be able to deal with that.