High-end Toronto-based hotel chain Fairmont last week released its forecast for special events and meetings in 2012, based on input from its catering managers and conference services teams. Here's what planners should watch for:

More time, more space, more flexibility As the bar climbs "ever higher for events that 'wow' stakeholders and attendees, large multimedia presentations will be the norm, not the exception," the Fairmont team says. Planners will also need venue space that can accommodate high-tech AV equipment and complex setups, along with time for early load-in so top executives can have extra rehearsal time.

“Our new conference center, which will add 52,331 square feet of indoor meeting space anchored by the new 23,000-square-foot Palomino Ballroom, will provide us with the opportunity to host two overlapping groups with overlapping move-in and move-out times,” says Pamela Gilbert, director of sales and marketing at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Food trucks pull in With many cities experiencing an explosion in gourmet food trucks, Fairmont staff has brought in these mobile operations as a fun option for events, as well as a quick, affordable lunch offering.

At the Fairmont Newport Beach in Newport Beach, Calif., a team representing the catering and engineering departments recently created a custom food truck offering small bites including lobster and fontina mac-and-cheese; kurabuto pork belly sliders with espresso barbecue sauce; saltimbocca on a stick with sage and a fig glaze; and yellowtail tuna tacos. “The day of the event, meeting attendees gathered around, ordered from the window and devoured every morsel," says Donna Bauer, director of catering and conference planning.

Just take over the place For clients striving for a high-touch, seamless experience, resort buyouts allow hotel staff to customize every aspect of the program and give attendees the run of the house, Fairmont says.

“We’ve had incentive buyouts utilize our entire resort with rounds of golf, spa treatments, team-building activities and even their own cinema nights,” says Jane Frazer, director of sales and marketing at Fairmont St Andrews in Scotland. “Coordinating in-house activities becomes much easier when one group has the run of the resort. Everything from yoga classes to whiskey tastings to specialized highland games can be tailored to their exact needs.”

DYO activities In line with DIY—do it yourself—projects, Fairmont predicts more "design your own" activities for event guests, enabling guests to express their own creativity and take home a souvenir. For example, Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal helped attendees blend their own lip gloss from a range of trendy colors at a customized “Lip Gloss Bar."

“The Lip Gloss Bar was a great way to create customized gifts for attendees that really made an impact,” says Nathalie Guertin, regional sales director at the hotel. “They loved playing with colors and creating something that was not only tailored to them, but extremely functional as well--a definite hit!”

More beer! With the growing affection for craft beers, Fairmont’s meeting teams are booking beer meisters instead of wine sommeliers for events. At The Fairmont Washington in Washington, the popular "World of Beer and Tapas Flight" offers slow braised pork belly paired with Sierra Nevada India Pale Ale; tuna salad with Widmer Hefeweizen; beef tenderloin and Duvel Golden Ale; and miniature Guinness crème brûlées with Guinness Stout.

“Attendees tend to consume less when drinks are incorporated into food stations, but beer tastings are also a great way to point guests toward interesting food pairings they might not otherwise know about,” says Suzie Murley, director of conference services at the property.

Meet the farmers Menus featuring local food and produce are a popular way to support the local economy and promote sustainability. Fairmont has gone a step further by bringing in the farmers themselves to meet event guests. At an event at the Fairmont Pittsburgh, attendees chatted with Maggie Henry from Henry Family Farms as they sampled her organic braised pork tacos and quizzed her and four other farmers about products and farming practices.

“Local cuisine and menus have been popular for years, but with this event we were able to put a new twist on the trend and make it more engaging for attendees, giving them a real understanding of the provenance of their food,” says Christina Niles, director of catering and conference services. “We take a lot of pride in being able to work with planners on innovative programs that show off our community and create memorable experiences for guests. Taking the farm-to-fork concept and bringing it to life has been a big part of that.”

Special diets that don’t need special prep As demand for menus that accommodate special dietary needs—gluten-free, vegetarian, etc.—rise, planners will need to be more adept at accommodating these guests. Fairmont's Lifestyle Cuisine Plus is designed to cater to guests who have specific diet-dependent conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and celiac disease as well as unique dietary preferences including, macrobiotic, raw and vegan diets, the company says.

At The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast in Hawaii, luncheon banqueting menus can include items such as cucumber gazpacho with Hilo hearts of palm (raw diet); ahi sashimi, tomato mushroom relish, brown rice and baby greens (heart healthy); mango summer rolls with peanut dipping sauce (gluten-free); buckwheat noodle stir-fry with carrots, organic bok choy and shiitake mushrooms (vegan); almond butter crusted salmon, fresh corn, brown rice risotto and Swiss chard (diabetic); and whole-grain carrot cake with whipped Hilo avocado (macrobiotic).

“We typically see 5 percent of attendees requesting a special meal, and these days those requests are for more than just a vegetarian plate,” says Stephan Miller, CMP, sommelier and director of catering and conference services at The Fairmont Orchid. “We have a great variety of dishes for each type of diet, so the delegate doesn’t feel they are eating the same thing every day.”

Bigger is still better Blockbuster meetings are still paramount for some clients, and "many planners are again looking to spend money on big events and marquee names that will make them stand out," Fairmont says. A case in point: the 4,000-square-foot outdoor cinema constructed recently at Fairmont Bab al Bahr for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

“We worked with Swiss OpenAir to create the world’s largest outdoor cinema, and it was a huge success,” says Melroy Vaz, senior manager, groups, conference services and catering at Fairmont Bab al Bahr. “Beyond the film festival, we think this is going to be a really great option for meeting planners who want to blow away their attendees.”

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