Zoom In: Q&A with Phil Lowd // Executive Chef // Cheeca Lodge & Spa // Islamorada, Fla.

What are meeting planners asking for these days?

We’re receiving a lot of requests for unique, customizable culinary experiences where meeting attendees can have some sort of interaction with our F&B staff. This includes “action” stations with live cooking and carving and “build-your-own” stations for poke and ramen bowls, experiences that give attendees the freedom to customize their meals with creativity. 

Are you doing anything unusual for groups?

We really enjoy pushing the envelope and developing new and innovative ideas, taking traditional culinary ideas and putting a new spin on them. What are really popular for our groups are the homemade doughnut stations and homemade pasta stations. Guests can watch our team roll and cut homemade pasta and experience the authenticity and love we put into our food.

What do you do for coffee breaks that are innovative?

Coffee will always be important in the meetings world, whether it’s for breakout sessions or after-dinner team bonding. We strive in keeping great blends at Cheeca and offering unique pairings with the coffees such as sugar sticks, homemade granola and protein bars, fresh pastries and doughnuts.

Are groups asking for more options like gluten-free, nut-free?

We haven’t seen a major increase in the restrictions, I’d say no more than usual. We’ve always had dietary restrictions with groups but with the industry where it is, chefs everywhere are more aware and conscious about these specific needs, so naturally many of our dishes are easily customizable for these restrictions. 

What is the most unique thing you’ve done these days for a group?

We had a group visit Cheeca and requested a traditional crawfish boil. When I say traditional, I mean a very traditional Louisiana crawfish boil. We had the crawfish shells, the crackers, and all the food on a long table, customizing everything to make it as true to tradition as possible. I personally love preparing homegrown traditions like this. They bring the whole group together as one to share a meal and that’s really what food is all about, sharing and gathering with others.



The 214-room luxury resort in Islamorada, Cheeca Lodge & Spa, recently unveiled a $25 million property-wide renovation post Hurricane Irma, including extensive updates to the meetings and events spaces. The hotel features 4,600 square feet of indoor meeting space and myriad outdoor venues for special events.

Art Ovation Hotel opened spring 2018. The newly built hotel is in the heart of downtown Sarasota with 162 guest rooms and a 6,000-square-foot ballroom and creative spaces both indoors and out. The hotel offers a cultural curator who arranges local artistic talent daily to delight hotel guests.

Marco Island

The JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort’s $320 million renovation includes the November 2018 opening of the luxurious, adults-only Lanai Tower--the third tower at the expansive 810-room beach resort on Marco Island. In addition to the 94 new adults-only guest rooms, the new tower also features a chef-driven restaurant, rooftop lounge and a luxurious new pool deck.

Hilton Marco Island Resort & Spa  reopened its 310 completely renovated guest rooms in the fall. The Hilton’s full property renovation includes a redesigned lobby, expansive pool deck space, The Deck at 560 Restaurant & Bar, and 12,000 square feet of meeting space.


The 100-condo Bellasera  resort, a Sunstream Resort in downtown Naples, recently earned a second palm designation from Florida Green Lodging. Their Zizi Naples Kitchen introduced new menu items and design. The resort offers 4,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including an executive boardroom, ballrooms, restaurant, lounge and an outdoor terrace overlooking the pool.

Also a Sunstream Resort, the 60-condo Park Shore Resort Naples, underwent renovations including new flat-screen televisions and new bedding.

The Ritz-Carlton, Naples reopened in September after an extensive summer restoration project including upgrades of the exterior facade, spa and meeting facilities.

Naples Grande Beach Resort renovated its 83,000 square feet of meeting and event spaces, which debuted in September. The 474-room resort is situated on 23 waterfront acres, adjoined by a pristine 200-acre nature preserve.

Cape Coral

The Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral opened its 30,000- square-foot conference center. The resort’s $15 million Tarpon Point Ballroom with 12,250 square feet of space will accommodate 1,400 guests.

Fort Myers

Sunstream Resort GullWing Beach Resort, with 66 condo suites and 1,000 square feet of meeting space, recently completed guest room renovations.

The 60-suite Pointe Estero Beach Resort, also a Sunstream Resort, recently remodeled its guest rooms.

Another Sunstream Resort property, the 124-room DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa, renovated its pool area.

A 354-room Margaritaville Resort is in the planning stages to be built near the Times Square area of Fort Myers Beach. Construction is expected to begin in December with an opening early 2021.

The Luminary Hotel & Co. plans to build a 237-room hotel along the waterfront of downtown Fort Myers in late 2019 or early 2020. The 12-story hotel will also include 8,000 square feet of function space and will be connected to the neighboring Harborside Event Center.