Whether your meeting or convention in Peoria, Illinois, draws 50 people or 5,000, local food and beverage professionals are stoked to help you create the best dining and imbibing experiences possible. The food scene is becoming a big part of Peoria’s culture, and the city has seen significant growth of new brick-and-mortar restaurants in the last several years. Freshly prepared dishes and locally sourced ingredients increasingly star in customized culinary offerings from local venues that host meetings and conventions (think heritage pork and seasonal fruits and vegetables that are often hand-picked at the farmers market). If you appreciate fresh, inventive F&B, consider these 10 creative ideas as you plan your meeting menus in Peoria.
Farm-to-table cuisine is one of the biggest, and most enduring, national trends in the culinary world right now, with increased accessibility to quality produce and meat, says Steven Preston, banquet manager at Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette. He also noted the impact local nonprofit EP!C has had on Peoria’s farm-to-table trend. Recipients of a 2017 award from Bon Appetit, one of its programs involves providing dozens of intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals opportunities and education in the organization’s greenhouse, garden and market stand.
Andrew VanDeweghe, director of food and beverage for SAVOR…Peoria, located on-site at Peoria Civic Center (managed by SMG), says his culinary group is also trying to establish outreach with local food providers while providing brand recognition for them.
Peoria meeting and convention venues proudly showcase local flavors and provide relationships that support the community, as well as regional- and national-brand ingredients used in their dishes. Depending on the type of convention or meeting, a venue may inform attendees about some of its local butchers and food providers during the event as well.
“You get chefs involved in planning the menu and they can help incorporate some of the local [food] items,” says chef Seth Colvin of Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Peoria at Grand Prairie. “Local chefs are known to help each other out, and chef-driven restaurants are really becoming big, especially in the Peoria Heights area.”
Culinary professionals at Peoria meeting venues want to help you create personalized menu options for your event. “One of the biggest [changes] is going away from industrialized food, and we’re making at least 90 percent of our food from scratch,” says Colvin.
VanDeweghe agrees. “We thrive on creating customized menus tailored to complement the event,” he says. “We want our food to be part of the experience. [For instance], we source our pork products through a local producer, and then we have our in-house brining process and create a BLT sandwich.”
The culinary staff at Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette has even served barbecue buffets during professional meetings. “It’s very Midwestern and farm-to-table,” Preston says. “It’s all about the show you put on [with food].”
Street food is another national culinary trend, which Peoria has enthusiastically embraced, from egg rolls to tapas. Culinary teams at local meeting venues will gladly accommodate your requests for street food-inspired fare.
Consider including shared plates or family-style meals during your professional event. Both options have become increasingly popular and give individuals who share the table something extra to talk about. “We do a lot of tapas, and it really seems to work well on the tables; plus our facility is pretty much brand-new,” says Colvin. “When we have smaller meetings, we’ve been known to switch it up at the last minute too, upon request.”
In addition, Preston says miniatures, such as one-bite poppers, small cups of Caesar salad and turkey sliders, have recently gained popularity. Breakfast buffets may feature baby quiches and shot glasses filled with breakfast smoothies.
When it comes to planning bar offerings during your meeting, think outside the box. The national popularity of microbrews and handcrafted cocktails has gained a big foothold in Peoria too. “We have a lot of little microbreweries popping up, and we’re working hand in hand to pair their craft beers with our food,” says Colvin. “Right now, IPAs are really big and pair well with spicy seafood dishes.”
People are becoming increasingly interested in craft cocktails too, treating a cocktail the way a chef treats a plate. “Young millennial bartenders are very creative with their cocktails,” says Preston. “They’re using fresh local herbs, doing fresh fruit purees and cooking the ingredients.”
Consider setting up a martini bar, offering several varieties of martinis, or request bartenders who will create classic cocktails, such as a Manhattan or an old fashioned, with a new twist. VanDeweghe says SAVOR has plans to introduce a batch-cocktail program too.
Add some excitement to your meal by including chef demonstrations. Venue staff will gladly demonstrate preparation of specific dishes for meetings and conventions. It’s all part of a more hands-on, customized approach to menu creation and presentation.
As food becomes more important in Peoria’s culture, professional organizations are more willing to break away from the banquet concept and typical presentation style.
“Sometimes you’re limited in how you can set things up, depending on how large a group is,” says Colvin. “Instead of row seating we may use round tables. We have a great prefunction area as well as bar high-tops. We use the restaurant once in a while too, for a smaller group, with a captain’s table.”
Adds VanDeweghe, “We certainly encourage snack options such as incorporating [local homemade ice cream from] The Spotted Cow in ice cream sandwiches, and the lobby of our theater is a multitiered space that allows for more themed station concepts.”
Setting up a variety of action and food stations is one of the more modern culinary trends that moves away from a plated dinner. This change helps create more of a cocktail party atmosphere. Meeting planners may ask for risotto or pasta stations, and even sushi bars. “When we understand the big picture, we can work with [meeting planners] to make sure food and beverage is a highlight of their event,” says VanDeweghe.
Food and beverage options are endless in Peoria, whether you hold individual events at Peoria Civic Center, a local hotel or a more unusual venue. Schedule a casual gathering at The Gateway Building or The Waterhouse Banquet & Catering Facility along the Peoria Riverfront, or enjoy river views from replica paddleboat Spirit of Peoria. Savor appetizers and drinks inside The Dome Planetarium at Peoria Riverfront Museum too.
To choose the perfect combination of food, drink and ambiance for your professional meeting or convention, visit peoria.org.