The Inland Empire may not be an “empire” in the traditional sense of the word, but this thriving metropolitan area in Southern California, which encompasses multiple cities and towns in two counties, serves up enough culinary excitement to satisfy the needs of the most imperial feast. Meeting planners can easily incorporate the flavors of the region’s food and drink into a variety of activities.

Greater Ontario

“Location allows our visitors to explore several unique food and beverage options,” said Michael K. Krouse, president and CEO of the Greater Ontario CVB. “One-of-a-kind, mom-and-pop style restaurants, craft breweries, five-star chefs and every ethnic food you can think of is available right here in Greater Ontario.”

In addition, Krouse noted that Greater Ontario’s Mediterranean-style weather allows for year-round outdoor dining.

The destination’s growing culinary scene is highlighted by a major annual event, he added.

“The Greater Ontario CVB organizes and promotes the annual Inland Empire Restaurant Week in August,” he said. “Several up-and-coming, brick-and-mortar restaurants start in our area before moving to a large metropolitan location. The culinary scene is just starting to explode in our region.”

Among the group-friendly options is Victoria Gardens, an outdoor lifestyle center in Rancho Cucamonga with more than 30 dining venues, including the Sycamore Inn Prime Steakhouse, which is set in a landmark building on Route 66 that dates to 1848. Another venue, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, has three private dining rooms equipped with a Cisco conferencing system that allows for video connections with all other Fleming’s locations as well as up to five satellite sites.

Group tours in Greater Ontario provide yet another tasty diversion. Ontario’s oldest business, Graber Olive House, offers tours of its processing plant, where participants learn about the preparation of tree-ripened olives; the facility’s garden accommodates events for up to 150.

Greater Ontario has also become a hot spot for craft breweries. Planners can “tap” into the craze with an Inland Empire Brewery Tour, which provides an interactive, insiders’ look into several craft breweries in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Meanwhile, groups with a sweet tooth can sign up for a candy-making demo at Logan’s Candies, a venue that holds the record for the world’s largest candy cane.

Even the Ontario Convention Center can be a hub for culinary creativity, according to Krouse.

“One of the many questions on the list of a meeting planner is, ‘What type of food and beverage options do you have?’” he said. “When booking the Ontario Convention Center, we are always proud to promote our award-winning culinary team. Custom menus and attention to detail on the type of culinary options are very important—not only to the bottom line, but also for renewing a contract for return business.”

The convention center’s staff is well-versed at creating interesting dining experiences, Krouse said.

“After a day of education, most conference attendees want to spend their free time or even an organized dinner that incorporates the word ‘fun,’” he continued. “At Ontario Convention Center we have provided in-house options to add entertainment. Chef Daly oversees the Ontario Convention Center and Citizens Business Bank Arena, where the normal concession stands have seen new and outstanding food upgrades. From street tacos to slow-smoked barbecue sandwiches with custom-made sauce, the entertainment experience is enhanced by the food and beverage.”

Riverside

The city of Riverside is another destination that touts the quality and diversity of its cuisine. Menu options at the Riverside Convention Center, which recently completed a $43 million renovation, are overseen by Executive Chef Brad Martin, who came to fame on the ABC-TV program The Taste.

“The Riverside Convention Center is a national leader in the culinary arts, and our clients come to Riverside because of our exceptional boutique convention center,” said Anne Seymour, executive director of the Riverside CVB, which is a division of Raincross Hospitality Corporation, where Seymour serves as vice president. “We offer the industry’s most unique culinary experiences, including custom menus, an array of meal choices, local farm-to-table cuisine, ingredients from our own vegetable and herb garden and citrus grove, and healthy menu options created in partnership with Loma Linda University Health—a first-of-its-kind industry-unique collaboration.