A meeting around the holidays calls for a breakout session with a little something special.
Put away your cheese plates and store-bought sugar cookies—we’ve gathered ideas from meeting planners and catering professionals for festive food and beverage ideas that will keep attendees well-fueled throughout the day while making your end-of-year meeting or event even more memorable.
Find inspiration for your next breakout session (or annual holiday gathering) with one of these ideas:
A popcorn buffet. No, we’re not talking about the ubiquitous tins of tri-flavor holiday popcorn. Instead, organize a fully stocked, gourmet popcorn buffet for your guests. Alicen Huybers, a Milwaukee-based event planner, organized a popcorn smorgasbord for a meeting hosted by a financial advisory firm. “It was a huge hit,” she said.
Attendees could choose from popcorn flavors including bacon, spicy cheddar and Parmesan truffle, or they could spice up plain popcorn with toppings that included butter, ranch seasoning, salt and pepper, and jalapeno cilantro salt. For a seasonal kick, offer sweet popcorn toppings like chocolate peppermint candies, sprinkles, cinnamon or brown sugar—it’s all fair game during the holidays.
“What was even better than seeing our clients enjoy the popcorn buffet? The leftovers the next day,” Huybers said. “The flavors had melded together a bit more and it was the best breakfast I ever had!”
Hot chocolate for the holidays. This sweet beverage takes on a new personality with the addition of a topping or three. The possibilities are limitless: whipped cream, peppermint sticks, chocolate shavings, wafer cookies, marshmallows—or even a splash of coffee liqueur—make for some excellent hot cocoa add-ons.
Cathy Genetti, president of Next Level Event Design in Chicago, recently offered a hot chocolate bar at a meeting hosted by one of her clients. The bar featured both Mexican and traditional hot chocolate served with an assortment of chocolates from around the globe to help stir up some excitement.
“This chocolate bar … was unique, inviting and added a conversation starter,” Genetti said.
Creative cocktails. A festive cocktail in keeping with the theme of your meeting is a surefire way to lift everyone’s spirits. At the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, located in downtown Chicago, meeting planners can take advantage of the hot beverage program through Cindy’s, the hotel restaurant.
Cindy’s offers innovative cocktails like a Russian-inspired hot toddy made with local berries, anise and caraway, or an Aztecan-inspired cocktail made with Mexican chocolate and served with a churro.
“Cocktails can be batched and created for large format which makes them perfect for large groups,” said Kate Cooley, banquet manager at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.
Cookie decorating or exchange. Cookies are a seasonal classic. An end-of-year meeting offers an opportunity to bring creativity to the table with a cookie decorating station during your next breakout session. Start by offering plain sugar or gingerbread cookies as a base, and set out frosting in an assortment of colors alongside toppings like sprinkles, gumdrops and other goodies.
This interactive snack brings attendees together to mingle as they customize their cookies. You can also encourage attendees to participate in a mini cookie exchange to swap and sample their creations.
Lauren Sieben is a freelance writer based out of Milwaukee. You can find her work in the Washington Post, Racked, The Billfold, A Practical Wedding, POPSUGAR, the Milwaukee Business Journal and more.