Using local and seasonal ingredients in catering menus is not a trend anymore, says James Dale, senior director of catering at the Grand Hyatt New York. For the past two years, the hotel’s catering menus have only included local and seasonal foods, following Hyatt’s mantra of using ingredients that are “thoughtfully sourced.” While meeting planners essentially don’t have a choice on the matter, Dale works with them on strategies to stretch their budgets while still getting quality, local and seasonal ingredients.
Dale says that a lot of the strategy behind getting fresh ingredients at a reasonable price is working with the right vendors. He says the hotel’s culinary team and purchasing department has already done a lot of the legwork to find the best vendors that offer the highest quality ingredients at the best price. From there, he suggests meeting planners choose a balanced menu by pairing more expensive artisan foods such as honey and cheese with less expensive, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
“Just in general, using local and seasonal ingredients has become a way of life that people are accepting, and it’s here to stay,” says Dale. “In menu writing maybe five years ago, people would boast that the food was flown in from a different part of the world, but you don’t see that anymore because it just seems politically incorrect or ostentatious.”
Because the hotel is located in New York, the culinary team has to get creative about using seasonal items in the winter. As such, they can, pickle and jar everything from peaches to zucchinis that can still be used as a catering menu item offered with cheese and charcuterie options.
“In the springtime, it gets easier, and you can offer Jersey white peaches, for example, in several menu items such pastries, a fruit salad or peach iced tea,” says Dale. “They’re an example of how to take a product that’s fresh and great and run with it.”
Dale says that in order for meeting planners to stretch their budgets, good planning with the client is key because that starts the whole menu-writing process. Then, relaying that plan with the catering department is also critical to avoid rush orders and overtime costs. He also suggests meeting planners organize events for budget-conscious groups during the hotel’s good value dates and avoid the hotel’s busiest days.
“The space is important, too,” he says. “If someone wants to take one section of the ballroom for a meeting and use it as a luncheon space as well as opposed to using a different onsite space, you can create a menu for that space that won’t cost as much because they’re using that space well.”
Another way Dale suggests meeting planners can creatively use food in a budget-savvy way is by using it as a centerpiece. For example, putting a dessert or fruit bowl in the middle of the table looks appealing and saves on costs—surely, a win, win.