Based in Lyon, France, Delice is a global network of 22 “Good Food Cities” collaboratively focused on best practices for gastronomy, including leveraging food tourism for economic development and destination branding.
“Not every city has a food strategy,” stated the organization in a 2014 report. “They should.”
What goes for tourism often goes for the meetings industry, where F&B has risen from an afterthought to the frontline. Here, too, is some lag in culinary marketing.
“Many destinations have overlooked the potential for leveraging food and beverage as a way to woo convention business,” said Erik Wolf, founder and executive director of the Portland, Ore.-based World Food Travel Association and a leading authority on food tourism.
Whether making a strong first impression, providing authentic connections to local culture, or boosting health, concentration and productivity, gastronomy is the proverbial way to the delegate’s heart—especially in the increasingly important area of experience creation. As Wolfgang Puck told Meetings Today two years ago, the key to ultimate success for F&B-driven events is creating an irresistible experience that generates repeat business.
Case in point—the culinary scene in Las Vegas, which Puck transformed in 1991 by daringly throwing his toque in the ring and igniting a celebrity chef revolution.
Other success stories include the Toronto-based Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, which connects Ontario’s agricultural, tourism and hospitality industries in one economic development value chain. Additionally, according to Wolf, the convention centers in Ontario, Calif., Ottawa and Vancouver “mean business with food and drink” via inclusion of their executive chefs and culinary teams in the bidding process for group business.
Meanwhile, having established culinary tourism as “a cornerstone of its marketing efforts” over a decade ago, Providence, R.I., offers a case study in group gains from culinary marketing (see sidebar, page 28).
Awareness is building in other destinations around adding the menu to the marketing mix. With its culinary stars rising, here are five North American destinations offering planners serious food for thought.
After its extraordinary eco-transformation into one of the world’s greenest urban centers, “Steel City” has added culinary champion to its credentials. In 2015, Zagat named Pittsburgh the nation’s top Food City, citing “an abundance of more refined food glories” and proclaiming that “this town is poised for even more exciting things in 2016.”
Meeting planners are taking notice.
“The Zagat rating, as well as continuing coverage of our culinary scene by other major outlets, have raised national and international awareness of what we already know— you will eat very well when visiting Pittsburgh,” said Karl Pietrzak, vice president of sales for Visit Pittsburgh. “Most planners ask about the Zagat recognition and whether we are hosting FAM tours, press tours or individual planners. Everyone is interested in our food scene.”
With Pittsburgh’s affordability encouraging talented chefs and restaurateurs to launch establishments, notable options include Church Brew Works, housed in a restored Roman Catholic church, and seafood icon Grand Concourse, located in the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station, a national landmark.
The city is home to several other dining standouts. Lidia’s Pittsburgh, from star chef Lidia Bastianich, is a David Rockwell-designed Strip District haunt. Two-time James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program, The Butcher and the Rye is a two-story Cultural District treat offering an extensive whiskey and cocktail program along with rustic American fare. Sustainability-focused Dinette is an award-winning choice in the East End.
Doubling as event space, Smallman Galley is a 200-seat incubator for chefs, featuring two bars and evolving restaurant concepts. Notable newcomers include Station and Monterey Bay, and Primanti Brothers sandwiches are an enduring Pittsburgh must. Meanwhile, Burg Bits and Bites tours offer a locally-infused foodie experience.
In April 2016, Town & Country named Montreal the “New Food Capital of North America.” One of Delice’s three North American “Good Food Cities” (along with Chicago and Puebla, Mexico), Montreal had 23 restaurants on the 2016 “Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants” list. Montreal took three of the top five spots, led by top-ranked Toque! (directly across from the Montreal Convention Centre) plus world-renowned Joe Beef and Le Vin Papillon at fourth and fifth, respectively.
Boasting myriad international and regional cuisine at 5,000-plus restaurants—the most per capita in North America—plus major culinary events, open-air markets, gourmet stores, food trucks and more, Montreal is a culinary beacon to leisure and business travelers alike.
“Simply put, our vast, diverse and dynamic food scene adds a layer to the meetings experience that both planners and attendees look forward to when holding their events in Montreal,” said Yves Lalumiere, president and CEO of Tourisme Montreal.
To help attract business, the bureau’s sales department created Tastes of Montreal, a recipe book in collaboration with 42 top Montreal chefs. Designed for “the most discerning planning professional,” this “tailor-made catalog of our culinary landscape” includes information on group accommodations at each restaurant. As the book says, “Think of it as your very own gourmet Montreal guide, from us to you.”