Feed Me Friday: Food Trucks Are Dead. Long Live Food Trucks.

Seattle's Marination Mobile

Seattle’s Marination Mobile

Sometimes we write more in Convene than we can actually fit on to its pages. In our brand-new F&B column, which appears in the November issue, I covered the farm-to-table food at Grande Lakes Orlando, as well as the trend toward hard cider. But there was a breezy little piece that got cut — one about food trucks.

Ranking and reviewing food trucks is a favorite pastime of food writers (like me) but our picks can be pretty local. A few weeks ago, The Daily Meal website cut a broader swath with an ambitious list of the 101 Best Food Trucks in America, created using an algorithm that combined Twitter followers with Yelp ratings.

It’s a delicious roster. Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles (16 trucks — including #1 Kogi BBQ) and New York (nine trucks) cleaned up, but a few other burgs had respectable showings: Chicago (six trucks, including Pierogi Wagon), Miami (five trucks), and Nashville and Seattle (four trucks each, including Seattle’s Marination Mobile). Asian fusion (such as St. Louis’ Seoul Taco) and barbecue dominated, but so did lobster trucks (such as Longshot Lobsta in Louisville, Kentucky) and South American specialties (arepas in Denver, pupusas in New York). The most unique: Phoenix’s Emerson Fry Bread.

The relationship between convention centers and food trucks can be complicated, symbiotic, or both. When national rankings persist, though, it’s clear that food trucks aren’t going away any time soon. Stay tuned for more in Convene about how you can incorporate the food truck ethos inside (rather than outside) your venue.


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#Throwback Thursday: Party Down, San Antonio

Last week representatives from Visit San Antonio and the Witte Museum traveled to New York City to host a reception at Pompano in Midtown East. It was quite the party: I sampled some empanadas, ceviche, and guacamole from Richard Sandoval’s Coastal Mexican-inspired menu, along with a strawberry margarita. An elaborately beaded gown with a five-foot train, part of the Witte’s upcoming exhibit “Jewels of the Court: a Journey Through Fiesta’s Coronation,” took up whole corner of the restaurant’s private reception space.

In April I visited San Antonio to attend Fiesta, which is the city’s weeklong, citywide celebration of the storied battles of The Alamo and San Jacinto. Here’s a look back:


You can read more about hotels and meeting venues both downtown and along The Riverwalk in our June issue.

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Feed Me Friday: The Roosevelt Hotel’s Anniversary Party


A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend a rooftop dinner at the Roosevelt Hotel, also known as the “Grande Dame of Madison Avenue.” As the hotel opened in 1924, the theme of the evening was flapper chic, and along with my fellow journalists I dressed for the occasion. We met up in the Roosevelt’s resplendent lobby and headed up to Mad46, the indoor-outdoor rooftop lounge, in an express elevator. Continue reading

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15 Meeting Hacks from our November issue

Takeaways? We have them. Here are 15 ideas taken from the pages of our November issue.

1. The average human attention span is eight seconds — one second shorter than that of a goldfish. Sam Horn, communications strategist, encourages the speakers she coaches to  tell attendees something they don’t already know before the 60-second mark.

2. Networking doesn’t have to mean standing around holding tiny plates of food. The Northwest Human Resource Management Association (NHRMA), added events that included a ghost tour, a group painting class, and a walking food tour to boost attendee interaction at its annual meeting.

3. Don’t skimp on the charitable aspects of meetings — invest time and energy to make experiences compelling. “People would give more to charity if it weren’t so boring,” says Dan Pallotta, 2015 Convening Leaders closing speaker.

4. “Emotional analytics” technology, which analyzes the range of human emotions in speech in real time, can be used to measure the mood at meetings and events. Test the technology with Beyond Verbals free app, “Moodies.”

5. Working with local vendors to supply convention-related materials was the key to Toastmasters International saving thousands of dollars in shipping costs when it held its annual meeting in Malaysia.

6. For a memorable twist during a reception, serve hard cider in addition to beer and wine. It’s a gluten-free alternative to beer, lower in alcohol than wine, and has deep American roots.

7. Don’t let an uncomfortable meeting environment derail attendee attention.  Minimize distractions. Make sure sight-lines are clear, attendees have enough personal space between chairs, the room temperature is an ideal 68-72 degrees, and outside sounds are minimized.

8. Instead of offering a multitude of breakout sessions at Convening Leaders 2015, PCMA’s  educational content strategy allows attendees to start with big-picture concepts in the morning and drill down to applicable takeaways throughout the rest of the day.

9. Save money on equipment for simultaneous translation with this hack from the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. At its annual congress, the federation asked attendees to dial into teleconferencing lines with their mobile phones.

10. Simple tweaks to make your meetings healthier. Serve water as your meeting’s default beverage, fruit or vegetables at each meal, and for less-healthy (such as fried) foods, hand out smaller utensils. A great networking break snack: A cup filled with hummus and baby carrots.

11. Don’t just make jokes about how sleepy everyone is after lunch — organize a walk or other light exercise. When people sit for a long time, their brains shut down. Exercise helps digestion and brings oxygen to the brain, improving alertness.

12. Productivity apps can be fun. The free TwoDots, for instance, is great for waking up your brain when you switch time zones.

13. Give attendees green spaces, even in winter. At Convening Leaders 2015 an indoor park inside Chicago’s McCormick Place will give attendees a place to socialize, snack, and think.

14. Find a good traffic pattern: The Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies held poster sessions in a hallway at the convention center, creating a more intimate space for presenters to talk to attendees one-on-one.

15. To stop email from gobbling up so much of your workday, web guru Guy Kawasaki advises keeping emails to five or fewer sentences.

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SPG Keyless May Drag You Kicking Into The Future — Or At Least Toward iOS8

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.08.25 PMToday marks the debut of SPG Keyless at 10 Starwood properties around the world — W, Aloft, and Element hotels in New York, Cupertino, Beijing, Cancún, Hong Kong, and Qatar — enabling travelers who are Starwood Preferred Guests to use their smartphones as keys to their hotel rooms, as well as gyms, pools, and elevators. By early next year, the hotelier plans to roll out SPG Keyless in 150 of its hotels, enabling guests to bypass check-in.

“Not only does SPG Keyless alleviate a perennial pain point for travelers,” announced Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen, referring to the headache of misplacing room keys. “But it also transforms the first interaction with our guests from one that is transactional to something more personal.”

Whether or not bypassing check-in is a more personalized experience, SPG Keyless certainly sounds seamless — and inevitable. There’s no doubt that we’ll soon be using our phones as wallets in addition to their rapidly accumulating powers to let us board airplanes, enter hotel rooms, and even track flights flying above our heads.

A Starwood-produced video narrates the entire process from start to finish, from downloading the app to smooth entry to room 412. On Monday night, I received an email from Starwood inviting me to participate. Eager to check out the app, I prepared to download it to my iPhone, only to run into the roadblock number one: iOS8.

Yep, iOS8 needs to be installed to run SPG Keyless. Since that nascent system is only six weeks old and has already had three updates to fix bugs, I stood down for now. I understand the spot that app developers are in with iOS8, but SPG Keyless’ inability to work with the iPhones still running iOS7 is a bummer. Maybe the system targets the kind of users who pitch forward into new tech territory, trusting the kinks to work themselves out — or maybe I’m just an overcautious Luddite. Today’s tweets under the #spgkeyless hashtag would bear out the latter.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.28.17 PM Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 12.28.01 PM

iOS8 isn’t the only potential speed bump regarding SPG Keyless: Guests must enable Bluetooth to use SPG Keyless, which can drain battery life quickly. (“When I travel I’m already using a ton of battery by running on just data, so the last thing I want to do is leave Bluetooth on so that I can get in and out of my hotel room,” lamented a coworker.) Keyless users also must be a member of Starwood’s Preferred Guest program, so meeting planners who book with Aloft, W, or Element hotels can’t necessarily offer the service to their attendees — unless those attendees have an SPG number.

Still, SPG Keyless is the first of its kind, and certainly not the last: Hilton Hotels plan to introduce their own form of keyless entry in spring 2015. And Starwood promises that SPG Keyless is an important step in the evolution from the chain’s Smart Check-In Program to an ever-more nuanced suite of services that will “empower guests to control aspects of their stay,” presumably without as much staff contact — except behind the development veil.

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Feed Me Friday: Napa Valley Rebounds

800px-Vineyards_in_Napa_Valley_7At 3:20 a.m. on August 24, scores of people in the Bay Area were awakened with a jolt. The 6.0 earthquake, centered in Napa Valley, lasted up to 20 seconds and was the strongest to hit the region since 1989. Miraculously, no one was killed, and only a handful of people were seriously injured — yet dozens of buildings sustained structural damage. This being wine country, tanks also busted open and barrels got tossed around, with thousands of gallons lost.

2014_South_Napa_earthquake_Wine_Spectator_fireplace_collapse-1The tally: $400 million worth of damage and counting, as well as a potential near-term blow to the region’s tourism industry. Napa Valley’s wine and food are powerful draws, and its hotels and wineries hosts thousands of incentive trips and conferences each year. My first visit was in 2001 for a small corporate retreat, one that included an unforgettable dinner in Mumm Napa’s barrel room. Last week, I arrived in Napa for a meeting of 40 or so that was planned months in advance, but had to be moved from a still-shuttered downtown hotel to another on the outskirts of the city. Some of that hotel’s employees were still dealing with being displaced from their homes.

martiniYet sob stories are hard to come by here; Napa’s residents have sprung back with typical Californian buoyancy. Cracks are visible on the facades of many downtown Napa buildings, and some are still roped off, but the people still show their bravest faces. Harvest likely helped: Some winemakers, such as Michael Martini at Louis M. Martini Winery (which we visited), spoke with cautious optimism about the grapes his team hauled in a few weeks ago. Martini (the third generation winemaker in his family) handed out inky tank samples of fermenting 2014 juice before we debunked to the cellar for a feast of succulent roasted veal and even more of his lauded Cabernet Sauvignons. At our table, we talked more about California’s ongoing drought than the quake, which perhaps our hosts were purposely already turning into a footnote.

terraceThe next day, as we crossed into Sonoma for a sun-splashed, al-fresco lunch on a vine-covered private terrace at E&J Gallo (wood-fired pizza, kale Caesar, roasted cauliflower salad, and more wine) — followed by a raucous wine blending seminar at Frei Brothers — it was clear that earthquakes, drought, fire, and possibly even invading aliens could ever keep us away. It’s in this region’s DNA to ride out whatever challenges get thrown their way — from vine pests to heat waves — and year after year create both beautiful wines and unforgettable experiences. I’ll be thinking of our hosts as they continue to recover, and I brought home plenty of their wines with which to toast their mettle.

To assist those rebuilding from the Napa earthquake, consider a donation to the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund.


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Just another dealer in skulls, skeletons, and brains on the show floor at this year’s Midwest Haunters Convention. Photo by Dan Doble / Inside the Haunt Industry.

In celebration of Halloween, here’s a special Throwback Thursday: a callback to the Midwest Haunters Convention (MHC), which we first profiled in our October 2011, in a Plenary department called There’s a Meeting for That? (We’ve since retooled There’s a Meeting for That? by dropping the question mark and turning it into our back-page feature.) Here’s what we wrote:

Just in time for Halloween, we scared up a terrifyingly fun batch of photos from MHC 2011, which convened at the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the Hyatt Regency Columbus on June 1–5. The country’s largest show for “haunted-attraction producers, actors, artists, and home haunters,” MHC offered the Haunted Attraction Association Masquerade Party, makeup workshops, the Black-Light Body Art Fashion Show, and a 60,000-square-foot exhibit hall jammed with ghoulish wares.

Looking at pictures from MHC 2014 — again held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the Hyatt Regency, on June 6–8 — it seems that nothing much has changed. Except maybe the show has gotten even creepier, which I’m quite sure its organizers would take as a compliment. Happy Halloween!

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Feed Me Friday: ‘This Is About Gratitude’

sous_chef_flame_panI like to cook for friends and family, but I’m not a fan of cooking in front of friends and family. I prefer to have the meal ready to serve when my guests arrive. But a study conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School (HBS) and the University College London suggests that my guests might give my meal higher marks if they watched me prepare it.

An article in the November issue of Harvard Business Review describes how the three researchers set up four scenarios in two weeks in a real cafeteria. In the first, diners and cooks couldn’t view one another; in the second, the diners could see the cooks; in the third, the cooks could see the diners; and in the fourth, both the diners and the cooks were visible to each other. This was accomplished by using iPads and setting up a videoconference between the dining area and the kitchen.

The result? Customer satisfaction with the food increased when the cooks could see the customers — even when the customers couldn’t see the cooks. But when customers and cooks both could see one another, satisfaction shot up more than 17 percent, and service was 13 percent faster.

One of the researchers, Ryan W. Buell, an assistant professor at HBS, theorized why: “We’ve learned that seeing the customer can make employees feel more appreciated, more satisfied with their jobs, and more willing to exert effort. It’s important to note that it wasn’t just the perception of quality that improved — the food objectively got better.”

“This is more about gratitude — which is a powerful force,” said fellow researcher Tami Kim, a doctoral student at HBS. “Cooks constantly said how much they loved seeing their customers. Many wanted to keep the iPad setup. One said: ‘When the customers can see the work, they appreciate it, and it makes me want to improve.'”

How might this dynamic be applied to meetings? While it’s often not possible for cooks to see attendees while preparing their meals, or for attendees to see the chef at work (especially in large-group settings), perhaps at least introducing the head chef and some of the kitchen staff will make the meal more memorable for the group. As Buell said, “Being appreciated makes work meaningful. People feel what they do matters. Human connections seem to trigger that.”

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#Throwback Thursday: Overwhelmed by Choice

I recently attended a conference where more than 100 experts spoke in dozens of sessions packed into two days. Afterwards, I told a friend I was happy to get back home, partly to be relieved of the stress of making decisions about which conference sessions I should choices-2attend. We laughed, but I was half-serious.

Only during the plenaries and a couple of other outstanding sessions did I escape the feeling that I might have made the wrong choice, and that I was missing out on something somewhere else.

And according to Columbia University’s  Dr. Sheena Iyengar, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to choice.  Iyengar,  a speaker at Convening Leaders 2011, told Convene that studies have shown that having too many choices can leave us  less satisfied with what we do choose. It can also overwhelm us and make us less likely to act.

There are ways to present content in ways that aren’t overwhelming,  Iyengar suggested, including dividing choices into categories and then limiting choices in each category.

Here’s a link to the February 2011 article.

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Ebola Update: Meetings Doing What They Do Best


A last-minute press conference about Ebola at IDWeek in Philadelphia.

Convene and PCMA have been doing a crackerjack job covering how the meetings and hospitality industry is being affected by — and responding to — the Ebola crisis. Which is obviously the biggest piece of the story for meeting professionals at this point. Another big piece? How the crisis showcases what meeting planners and meetings themselves tend to do best — respectively, rolling with the punches and serving as an important source of information, education, and discussion. For example:

Rolling with the punches. The American Bankers Association (ABA) held its 2014 Annual Convention this past Sunday–Tuesday — in Dallas, which has been ground zero for Ebola in the United States. Mincing no words, ABA posted this message high on its conference website: “As you prepare for your trip, we want to assure you that we continue to closely monitor the Ebola situation. We have talked with the leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Dallas health department and continue to work with hotel officials to ensure the safety of our attendees. Your safety, comfort, and satisfaction with our program is our top priority.”

Information, education, and discussion. Meanwhile, medical and health-care conferences have been stepping up to fill the information void. When IDWeek 2014 — a collaboration between the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society — met in Philadelphia on Oct. 8–12, it placed Ebola front and center on its program. That included extending its Opening Special Plenary Session by 30 minutes to accommodate a presentation on “Treating Patients With Ebola Virus Infection in the U.S.: Lessons Learned” by Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious-diseases specialist at Emory University Hospital, which in August treated two Americans who contracted Ebola in Africa. Ribner and two other physicians also participated in an emergency press conference about Ebola at IDWeek. Similarly, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) 2014 Scientific Assembly, convening in Chicago next Monday–Thursday, will present two interrelated sessions: “Ebola: Hemorrhagic Fever and the U.S. Experience” and “Inside the Hot Zone: Highly Infectious Pathogens in the Emergency Department.”

The full extent of the Ebola outbreak in the United States and Africa and throughout the rest of the world remains to be seen, but for now it’s reassuring to see that meetings and meeting planners are part of the response — and making contributions that could reduce the possibility of future outbreaks.

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