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5 Questions with a Pro: Tracy Stuckrath, CSEP, CMM, CHC, CFPM

Meeting planner veteran Tracy Stuckrath understands the importance of providing safe and healthy meals to attendees. And she learned it the hard way. For years, Tracy struggled with health challenges only to discover she was allergic to yeast. After making changes to her diet, she also made changes to her profession. Now in addition to event planning, Tracy is a world-renowned speaker, trainer and consultant in the meetings and hospitality industry on how to serve healthy, safe and delicious food to all participants.

1: What food trends are you most excited for in 2019?

There are a number of exciting things on the horizon in 2019, including:

  • Insect Proteins: alternative proteins, like cricket proteins, are actually more common around the world than here in the United States. While they expand what we can offer, it is important to note that individuals with a shellfish allergy will also be allergic to insect proteins

  • Meal Kits: these are now popular in homes, but there is a potential to have the kit concept extend to meetings as well. They give attendees the option to create their own boxed lunches and select combinations that work for them

  • Cannabis-infused foods: this trend will most likely be limited to boutique restaurants/small events, but with more states legalizing marijuana – there is more exploration into how it can be incorporated into menus. At the same time, there is a requirement to ensure there is no cross-contamination with other food at an event to ensure someone does not accidentally consume it.

  • Donuts: they are huge again this year! What’s more, more places are offering Gluten-Free, Nut-Free and Soy-Free donut options enabling everyone to indulge.

2: As planners, how can we work with hotels to combat food waste while meeting the F&B minimums at hotels?

There are a number of ways meeting planners can help reduce food waste, with one of the most important is knowledge of your group. Know the group’s history -- what you ordered in previous years and how many specialty meals were actually picked up. Talk to your Conference Service Managers and/or Culinary Teams and do a visual inspection during the event of what gets eaten, and what gets left behind.

  • Ask your attendees about their dietary restrictions and then work to develop menus that are free-of specific allergens identified by attendees while still satisfying the whole group and/or developing plates that feed as many groups as possible (e.g. a nut-free vegan meal suitable for vegetarians).

  • Pay attention to arrival and departure schedules, so you don’t over order food for meals at the beginning or end of the conference.

  • Be cognizant of your surroundings: are you in a big city with a lot of options that will entice your attendees to skip your meals? Or are you in a remote area with only a few restaurant options offsite.

  • When negotiating your contract, build in partnerships with groups like Rock and Wrap It Up! or the World Wild Life Fund’s Hotel Kitchen to donate excess food.

3: Speaking of F&B minimums, the price of coffee always seems to be a discussion point when planning menus. Is there a reason it is significantly more expensive in some locations as compared to others?

The prices of coffee can fluctuate from location to location and there are several factors that play into establishing that price. With everything in the economy, supply and demand is one of the biggest determinants, followed by what the competition is doing in the area. Other factors include challenges with supplies – was it a bad year for growing coffee? The brand of coffee served impacts the price, as well as labor costs and the cost of living in the area.

4: In 2008, Congress expanded the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) to protect major life activities, e.g. eating, digestive system, immune system), thereby protecting individuals with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivities and allergies. How do you ensure you are meeting ADA Guidelines with respect to the food and beverage (F&B) portion of your event, while staying on budget?

The expansion of the ADA now means that planning a food and beverage menu has now become a diversity and inclusion initiative and there are several ways to ensure your event meets ADA regulations, while keeping your budget in focus:

  • During registration, include “medically-necessary dietary need” under your ADA compliance question. Make this a mandatory field.

  • If they identify a diet restriction, have them define it (diabetes, gluten free, celiac, food allergy, others). This helps your culinary team build selections

  • Provide your culinary team the dietary needs early (site selection/contract) and then regularly in case something “special” comes about.

  • Also, during registration, ask if there are any food preferences (ex. Kosher, Halal), but try to get more clarification to determine if the person needs to just avoid pork or red meat? That additional clarification may help you avoid paying a surcharge for specialty meals, but just avoiding some ingredients.

Being ADA compliant in the F&B portion of your event is about more than just meal planning, it also means your food labels must be a minimum of 18 point font to help those visually impaired.

And it is also important to ensure your room, buffets and tables are set for accessibility. Can the buffet be reached by someone in a wheel chair? Is there room at the table for a wheelchair?

As members of the hospitality industry, it is up to us to provide inclusive services to all participants.

5: Do you have a list of “MUSTS” for event planners, when it comes to planning the F&B portion of an event?

A few of my top recommendations are:

  • Label foods: spell out what they contain and what they don’t contain when it pertains to gluten intolerance and allergens. Your BEO should list your labeling needs.

  • Ensure BEOs spell out special meals: what is the vegan meal that will be served? You are paying for that meal, so you have the ‘right’ to know it is an actual meal more than bland noodles

  • Plan menus early: talk with your culinary team to help them get to know your attendees and give them an opportunity to get creative. Planning early also helps you publicize any unique circumstance with your event (e.g., if the event is peanut-free; you can ask attendees to avoid bringing any peanut snacks into the venue.)

About Tracy:

Tracy Stuckrath has been a meeting professional for 26 years. After being diagnosed with food allergies, she became an author, speaker, trainer and consultant who works with individuals and organizations worldwide to create safer and more inclusive food and beverage environments. She has presented to audiences on five continents and believes that food and beverage provide a powerful opportunity to engage audiences on multiple levels, including risk, well-being, culture and the bottom line. She is a Meetings Industry Change Maker, Top 25 Women in the Meetings Industry, Meetings Industry Trendsetter, Meeting Pro to Watch and a Les Dames d’Escoffier.

Founder and president of Thrive! meetings & events, Tracy Stuckrath has had a 27-year career in corporate, association and private event planning. In 2009, her personal health journey changed the trajectory of her career. She works with organizations worldwide to create safe and inclusive food environments that deliver unrivaled participant experiences so everyone feels valued. Tracy has co-authored two books, published over 30 articles and is recognized as a meetings and event industry leader.

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