• Trend-Setters

      From technology to décor to cuisine, we take a look at what’s trending now in the Northwest. From technology to décor to cuisine, we take a look at what’s trending now in the Northwest.  

     
    FROM THE Winter 2013 ISSUE
     

Keeping up with trends can be exhausting. A planner can feel overwhelmed trying to ensure an event, scheduled for months out, still feels fresh to attendees. Fortunately, the most popular trends tend to evolve rather than completely die out: cupcakes become mini versions of other desserts; food stations become food trucks; retro becomes rustic; and vintage becomes steampunk.

Judi Tsuchida, president of Fena Flowers in Kirkland, Wash., sums it up nicely: "Everything makes a comeback sooner or later. I remember using tulle when I was young working for my aunt, and it has come back twice since then."

With that in mind, we present the most talked-about trends for events in the Northwest- the completely unique, the tried-and-tweaked-and-true and everything in between.

Technologically Speaking
Destination Hotels and Resorts conducted a survey of more than 380 planners at its nearly 40 properties nationwide and found that 36 percent noted an increase in technology integration in meetings compared to a year ago, with strong indications that the trend will continue. Streaming media, web conferencing and on-site video production were the most common uses, with more than 25 percent of meetings relying on at least one.

For many events, one of the most costly elements is audio-visual equipment and presentation, so planners are maximizing the possibilities of the technology they incorporate into their meetings and events. "More and more events are spending a larger part of their budget on bigger screens and not as much on keynote speakers," says Amber Blankenship, catering sales manager for the Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound, Wash.


(Henry V Events)

Technology is also doing double-duty as impact-making décor. "There has been a trend toward digital projection as a way to showcase various imagery to support a theme," says Jerry Green, managing director of event productions for Henry V Events in Portland, Ore. "We have seen anything from a simple screen with a projector showing images of themed scenery, to entire walls and spaces filled with flowing imagery that helps support the event theme."

Green also mentions the use of projections and video on architectural elements in an event space to bring them to life.

In Bloom
Tight budgets have made florals almost a luxury item. "Flowers are spendy and can’t be used more than once," says Becca Kolibaba, director of catering and conference services at The Resort at The Mountain in Mt. Hood, Ore. "So, a lot of planners are making centerpieces out of Mason jars or old wine bottles, lanterns, living gardens and other materials that are easily used again."

Blankenship also names Mason jars as an example of the "very rustic-looking and simple centerpieces" her clients choose. "Many planners have combined the centerpiece with a take-away gift for guests," she adds.

Jennifer Maust of Barclay Event Rentals in Clackamas, Ore., has also seen non-floral designs edge into the space once occupied by huge arrangements. "We have seen a lot of long tables with smaller monochromatic arrangements down the center, mixed with woods and metals," she says.

When florals are used, they have been mixed with accenting items, says Kurt Beadell, Portland-based Vibrant Table creative director and owner. "Floral elements (have been) inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe desert paintings- for example, arrangements containing structural, dried items, such as a cactus skeletons and air plants."

Homespun Elegance
Another example of tight budgets forcing planners to adapt is the growing trend of handmade décor and favors. "Companies and wedding couples don’t have the event budgets they had five or 10 years ago," says Kolibaba, "so they are finding other ways to wow the guests on a more personal level. I also see this as a better way to represent the individual personality of the group or couple to the guests."

Pinterest has been a popular source of inspiration for events utilizing the DIY theme, adds Adreanne Lewis, senior catering sales manager at the Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle. The theme has manifested as handmade invitations made from bulk paper, handwritten name tags for plated dinners and personalized gift bags. One conference at The Resort at The Mountain distributed Columbia Sportswear backpacks- rather than mass-produced tote bags- as gifts for guests, filled with Stumptown coffee and locally made cookies.


(Photo: Rebecca Dryer Photography/ East West Floral Arts)

Natural Selection
Fortunately for us, most of the resorts in the Pacific Northwest are surrounded by forests, mountains, beaches and rivers. Logically, then, it makes sense to incorporate this natural beauty into décor to lend a simultaneously timeless and fresh setting to events. "We use rocks on our napkins in the dining room," says Susan Windle, sales manager for The Resort at Port Ludlow on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. "And we incorporate shells, driftwood and log cuttings for risers."

"We’ve had requests for tablescapes using natural items found here in the Northwest," says Tsuchida. "Moss, pebbles, sedums, driftwood, grasses and green-colored flowers-it’s just like stepping out your front door and putting it on your table."

Another facet of the trend is to create a conglomerate of natural and modern décor designs. "Mixing styles is very big right now," says Maust. "We notice that people here in the Northwest are quite in touch with their outdoor surroundings, so we are seeing a lot that is incorporated with other styles."

"Northwoodsy colors can work with different themes," agrees Blankenship. "We’re seeing less specialty linen, fewer bright colors and more browns and darker shades. What I find at most events are colors like cream and tan, but these can also work well with other shades, like Tiffany blue."

Lewis also says she has seen combinations of traditional seasonal colors- such as brown for fall- with pops of pastels for a surprising look.


(Photo: Aniko Productions, Barclay Event Rentals)

Eye Candy
In addition to the simple, natural designs at events, arresting visuals give planners a lot of bang for their buck. "We are seeing more and more events incorporating patterns into their design," says Maust. "Pattern in linens, dishes, pillows and lighting- a patterned approach adds quite a bit of personality to the event. It becomes a custom event." Maust specifically mentions gold and chevron stripes as popular high-impact details.

"There are a lot fewer over-the-top décor items at events," Kolibaba explains. "Instead, planners are focusing on small, simple details that tend to have a more lasting effect on the guests’ experiences, rather than one big ‘wow’ moment when guests walk into a room."

Beth Krohn, logistics manager for Henry V Events, gives an example of this low-cost but memorable addition: "Décor ideas that are interactive are always fun. A mural where everyone can write down an expression or thought, which can then be displayed during the event, adds a personal touch that helps those attending the show feel connected."

Good for the Soul
If something has always been popular, can it still be called a trend? We’re pretty sure comfort food has been on the event radar for a while, but after a brief hiatus, it’s once again a highlight for guests. "Indulgent comfort food such as crab macaroni and cheese and sliders are always in "demand for late-night events," says Lewis.

"Yes, comfort foods have been making a comeback in the industry," concurs Krohn, noting the psychological benefits for guests. "It makes sense to incorporate what we love to eat at home while we are on the road. A familiar dish can help you feel more at ease and less stressed. Who doesn’t like that during a big show? A nice warm bowl of mac and cheese or gooey, grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup- these are always crowd pleasers!"

Smart, Value Menus
According to Destination’s survey, more than 78 percent of planners identified culinary offerings as an important part of their selection process. Surprisingly, after years of seeing big name chefs attach their monikers to hotel and resort restaurants, meeting planners were very clear on one thing: They don’t care. Less than 10 percent cited a "signature chef" as an important factor in how they evaluate culinary options. What do they care about? Smart, well-planned meeting packages that focus on health and nutrition (43 percent) as well as specialized dietary offerings (35 percent).

Blankenship says that tight budgets don’t have to translate to boring fare for attendees. Simply changing the time of the event can automatically mean lower prices. "A lot of budget-conscious planners are doing luncheons instead of dinners," she explains. In addition, Blankenship notes, "plated options are often lower priced, and because there is less money being spent on events overall, the plated meals can make it look extravagant."

To treat guests, Windle suggests incorporating wine flights-tastings of multiple wines- with meals. This helps "control beverage costs while getting the ‘wow’ factor of tasting a variety of local and imported wines," she notes. The popularity of craft brews has made beer flights another low-cost option with a high-class feel.


(Photo: Pan Pacific Hotel Seattle)

Play With Your Food
Getting guests involved in the preparation and cooking can kill three birds with one stone (though not literally, of course): teambuilding, entertainment and food. "Farm-totable is taking on new meaning," says Windle. "Our Farm Package is an example of this. We give you a basket, you go to one of the three nearby farms we have arrangements with, fill the basket and bring it back for a meal prepared by our chef. He’ll supplement your selections with the proteins."

"Events have been featuring fun desserts that are entertaining for guests," says Blankenship, "like candy buffets or smaller desserts on every table." Lewis has also seen this trend: Groups "are getting very crafty with favors for guests like mini-jars of vanilla or a salmon rub."

Instead of food stations, Beadell foresees that this year "cooking á la minute at display kitchens that offer a focal element during the event, as well as braised and pickled items- particularly local heirloom produce in colorful varieties- will be popular."

Fun fact: The first event I ever planned was a haunted house fundraiser in my garage when I was about 10 or 11 years old. I have no memory of which charity I was raising dollars for—or even how much money we raised or how many neighborhood kids attended—but I remember all the planning details.

 

Puget Sound area industry insiders have quite a busy calendar in the next month. Kat Uzzelle, of RealTime Productions, is on the marketing committee of the Washington State Chapter of MPI and asked me to pass along a list of key industry events to take note of. If you haven’t already, mark your calendars for:

 

 (The photo is of the 2012 winner of best use of theme: Bird Dog Creative. Photo by Paul Rich Studio.)