• Truly memorable events in cities along the shores
• Catering teams work to provide planners winning menus
• Tips for creating menus with restrictions
Surrounding the majority of the great state of Michigan is the longest freshwater coastline in the US. These Great Lake shorelines provide spectacular views, water sports fun, and many unique venues and destinations for attendees to explore. No matter what part of the state you find yourself in, a ‘Pure Michigan’ experience awaits and to add to the fun and excitement are the many casino resorts offering planners prime locations for their meetings and events.
The Kewadin Casino Hotel and Convention Center in Sault Ste. Marie is a premiere destination in Northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, though if you are in the UP (Upper Peninsula) you are never far from one of Kewadin’s five casino experiences. Annette Sheber, Catering Manager at The Kewadin Casino Hotel gave us a few details about their space, “We offer 34,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment with onsite tech support. This sets any meeting planner at ease. The staff at Kewadin always provides cheerful and attentive service to make all of our guests’ events memorable, no matter how big or small the event.”
MotorCity Casino Hotel is a state-of-the-art venue in the heart of Detroit, though the amenities allow attendees to feel worlds away from the city. Irene Lignos, Director of Conference Catering & Sales at MotorCity Casino Hotel gave us access to some of those amenities, “We offer our clients everything they need to make their events truly memorable. The flexibility of our 67,000 sq. ft. of function space allows us to tailor each event in ways no other venue in the Detroit area can. With seven meeting rooms, two private boardrooms, and spacious pre-function space, plus Sound Board®, our 1,500-seat theater, and Amnesia, the crown jewel on the 16th floor offering sweeping skyline views, the options are nearly endless. Plus, we’re backed by a professional in-house team that provides full audiovisual and teleconferencing support.”
As for the UP, Sheber detailed some of the many group activities to be found in Northern Michigan, “Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has a lot to offer groups; Sault Ste. Marie, is Michigan’s oldest city and home of the engineering marvel known as the Soo Locks. Meeting planners incorporate sightseeing into their agenda and guests can tour the Soo Locks via the Soo Locks Boat Tours. St. Ignace is a 50 minute drive away where guests can catch a ferry to historic Mackinac Island. Here the only means of transportation is bicycle or horse and buggy. An exceptional golf course is a meetings planner’s dream; Wild Bluff which is located in Brimley, Michigan has hosted the Canadian Open, and has been featured on TV 9&10’s “Beat the Pro.” Wild Bluff has breathtaking views of Lake Superior and you may even catch a glimpse of some wildlife while golfing.”
Casino hotel resorts offer guests the added bonus of onsite entertainment - really everything you need is under one roof. Kewadin Casino Hotel and Convention Center has featured Rock and Roll greats such as KISS, Def Leopard, ZZ Top, and Bret Michaels. Signatures Bar offers Karaoke and the Rapids Lounge hosts bands on the weekends. They are also currently offering dinner theater with tribute bands for VIP gamers. MotorCity Casino Hotel houses Sound Board, a concert venue like no other. Inside the casino, Chromatics features live music nightly by local musicians. Or, if guests are looking for something a little more relaxing, D.Tour, the 10,000-sq.-ft., luxury spa offers treatments of all kinds with men’s and women’s whirlpool, steam, and sauna areas. And of course, both locations have their casino floors for those interested in the gaming action.
Midwest Meetings: What are the most common challenges you encounter when helping meeting professionals and how do you handle them?
Irene Lignos: More and more, people are asked to plan meetings and events without having any prior experience. If our client needs a little more than simple menu planning, our entire team considers it their responsibility to help them. We make sure we identify what’s going to make each event successful and unique, and together we make it happen.
Chef Michael Golden: It’s easy for clients to get lost in the possibilities. Part of our role is to be a sounding board during planning. A client may or may not have an idea of what they want or a vision from their leadership. We try to offer them interesting menus with great flavors. We love hearing, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
MM: What advice would you give to meeting professionals when it comes to creating the best food and beverage components for their attendees?
Annette Sheber: Plan for meals that a majority of your guests will enjoy; plan balanced meals and healthy breaks for your attendees while remaining mindful of dietary needs. When hosting bars, it is not necessary to host a full bar. Offer a nice craft beer and ask your Catering Manager for a recommendation from a local winery for your wine.
IL: Find a venue that tailors its food and beverage offerings to your needs, not the other way around. As more people proudly call themselves “foodies,” you may need to look a little harder to find a venue that’s current in food and beverage trends.
Chef MG: Don’t overcomplicate the food, and talk to us – we’re your partners in the event.
MM: In a world of dietary restrictions, how have you handled menu planning?
Chef Douglas Hartley at Kewadin Casino answered: We ask planners to be conscious of vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, diabetic, and food allergies. We also ask planners to communicate with their attendees to have them contact our Catering Manager directly. Our Catering Manager and culinary team will design a meal for their guest. We will label all vegetarian and gluten-free items on the buffet.
IL: Providing options to those with dietary restrictions is a real shift in our industry. Whether special meals are ordered in advance or not, our chef is always prepared with alternatives for vegetarians and those with allergies or other sensitivities.
Chef MG: It’s ideal if we’re aware of any dietary restrictions in advance. However, if that’s not possible, for a plated event we’ll prepare a vegan alternative. If the entrée can be modified, I’ll prepare a gluten-free version. If the salad includes common allergens, we’ll prepare fruit plates and salads that are gluten, nut, and dairy free.
MM: When it comes to tight budgets, what are some of your best tips and solutions for creating an exceptional culinary experience?
AS: Our Chef uses his creative culinary genius to turn an item as simple as mashed potatoes into a fun and memorable action station. Some of the best tips to give a planner are to meet the Chef and Catering Manager to offer suggestions within their budget.
IL: It could be as simple as eliminating the starter course for a business luncheon. Or, we might suggest securing corporate sponsorships for cocktail receptions or dessert stations, which has been very successful in helping defer costs for fundraising events and conferences.
Chef MG: I often go back to the basics when budgets become tight. Everyone loves comfort food and rustic cooking. You can present a very simple dish with a lot of care and still wow your guests.
AS and Chef DH: Kewadin Casino’s banquet team has been a part of some very memorable and awesome events. In 2009, we had the privilege to serve Michigan’s Governor, Jennifer Granholm, in our Grand Ballroom. In addition to our onsite services, we have catered offsite at extreme locations such as the Valley Camp, a 600’ freighter ship museum. We needed Homeland Security clearance to serve an evening reception on a grassy knoll between the Davis Lock and the MacArthur Lock of the famous Soo Locks. We have served hors d’oeuvres at the Tower of History Museum which features the tallest observation deck in Chippewa County where you can see up to 20 miles on a clear day.
IL and Chef MG: We’ve had the opportunity to host so many distinctive events and conferences since we opened, but if we had to pick one, it would have to be the 2012 World Series Party. In our planning meetings we were careful to make sure that the food, beverage, décor, and music represented the best Detroit had to offer. And knowing that most of the guests attended a similar party in San Francisco the night before motivated us to come up with an extra special and memorable event.