22nd February 2019

Conference and banqueting is big business for hotels – none more so than full-service properties, which saw a 3.6 per cent revenue increase during 2018, according to a worldwide poll by HotStats*.

The UK’s leading independent hotel management company, RBH, has heeded such statistics and has focused efforts on taking its share of the conference and banqueting market, trialing and rolling out a host of new and improved menus that focus on consistency, quality, and the ability to cater for everyone to the same high standards.

Jason Petty, Group Food & Beverage Manager at RBH, has spearheaded the group’s banqueting project as part of his commitment to ensuring operational excellence in food and beverage across the group’s 70-strong portfolio.

He said:

There’s no denying that conference and banqueting is a huge draw for a number of hotels across the RBH portfolio, and event organisers and bookers expect a smooth, high quality operation that offers excellent quality for all guests across the board – no matter the budget. We wanted to tick all those boxes, and do something over and above what our competitors offer.”

Before the turn of the year RBH introduced brand new banqueting menus across 18 selected properties – including stand-alone vegan, vegetarian and gluten free menus.

Jason continued:

During 2018 we saw reports suggesting there are more than 3.5 million people in the UK identifying as vegan, and there are growing calls for people to move towards a plant-based diet to minimise our impact on the planet, with increasing issues around food allergies and intolerances. That all points to the fact that taking heed of guests’ dietary requirements has never been more important – it’s not just a case of providing a check-box and reacting to it by serving up a single dish and no alternative options.

Such a growing group cannot be treated as a minority anymore, particularly when it comes to banqueting. Individual dietary needs, whether they’re a result of lifestyle choice or medical intolerance, should be recognised and appropriately catered for. We didn’t want to simply remove the gluten from a dish or offer the usual veggie and vegan pasta dishes and salads – we wanted to create choice and dishes that would be attractive to everyone.”

The vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus – along with the wider banqueting menu offering – have been so successful that RBH commenced the roll-out of the menus across 55 branded and private label properties.

Jason added:

We got amazing feedback, even during the early stages of the roll-out. Banqueting events are booked so far in advance that we’ll still see some upcoming events take place using the previous menus – but every new enquiry being catered with the new menus has seen an overwhelmingly positive reaction.

Our teams on the ground have reported that organisers react with shock and delight when they hear there’s a dedicated gluten-free menu with multiple choices for each course – similarly so with the veggie and vegan options. They’re not just being offered a token course, or a take-it-or-leave it option. And, they’re not having to feel the pinch on budgets as a result of choosing such menus – they fit into the same budget options as the rest of the banqueting offering.

And keeping to budget doesn’t impact on the level of choice on offer. We’ve placed a focus on exploring the limits on cost per head, then presenting a full selection of around six or seven dishes per course – whether it’s a general, vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free menu. Our senior chefs created their pick of menus, bringing together dishes that complement each other perfectly by way of inspiring organisers or bookers.”

The focus on providing options for various budgets that meet the operator’s exceptionally high quality standards has been a balancing act – but it’s a challenge that Petty believes the business has risen to.

He added:

We’re excited to have worked with various partners and industry experts to create chef-prepared meals that can be consistently presented to hundreds of people at a large banqueting event. It takes the pressure off our chefs in the kitchen on the day or night, allows them focus on the cooking and seasoning of each dish, and guarantees that a final product of an exceptional standard is put on the table in front of each and every guest.

We can comfortably guarantee an identical standard of dish being presented at each and every banquet across each of the hotels offering the new menus. The standard is actually so good that some of our banqueting dishes have found their way onto our hotel restaurant menus – and it’s simply well-presented, great food, no matter whether you’re veggie, vegan, gluten-free or a lover of all foods.”

*HotStats UK Chain Hotels Market Review - February 2018