Hot from the Kitchen: Dinner for 1,350!

The granddaddy of them all – and the largest event hosted in the West Belmont Ballroom in 2017 – was the Marine Corps University Ball. Combining equal parts formal ceremony and birthday bash, planning for this event was months in the making. Our Executive Chef, then Todd Goldian, and members of the staff served 1,350 meals simultaneously. Here’s how the magic happened:

August: Our War Plan for the Marine Corps Ball

On a giant white board wall, the National’s event team mapped out a plan for the evening. We knew the event would be big but we needed to see just how many plates, how much cutlery, how many servers we would need. The War Plan became a giant chart with numbers and quantities so I could start thinking about hot boxes to transport food from the kitchen, suppliers for the food and additional specialized training for the front-line servers for that evening.

October: Order’s In

We hosted a tasting for 30 of the Marines planning this event and they approved the final menu and my presentation, so I’ve now placed food orders with select vendors. It’s a process to make sure we have consistent, top-quality filets and chicken for a thousand people. We also have ordered food for special dietary needs and allergies.

Week of the event: Consuming details

The food has arrived and we’ve prepped some of the ingredients. In the ballroom, the tables are set and we’ve detailed a system with the servers to silence the room. One person will stand on a step ladder, visible from every corner of the room. When she holds up a green flag, we can move and serve discretely. When she holds up a red flag, all noise and movement stop, to allow for the ceremonial parts of the evening to go on without distraction.

Day of the Ball: It’s go time

We start cooking a few hours before the ball. Serving a thousand perfectly cooked medium filets is all about precision timing. I have eight cooks, 15 stewards and 165 servers ready to go. We run through each element of the meal to make sure we’re fully ready. Then I make the first plate while two lines of cooks look on. At that point, that place erupts into a frenzy of action. We use that first plate to compare all others.

The cooking and plating process takes more than two hours but each dinner is artfully arranged, covered and loaded into a labeled hotbox for serving.

The journey from the kitchen to the ballroom is 1,000 steps, so it takes an army to move the Marines’ food. The dinner is served and as I greet those sitting at the head table, I receive compliments on the food and even a few challenge coins, a sign of service well rendered!

The pinnacle of the evening for me was the cake ceremony, where a huge layered cake is carried out by a Marine formation and cut with their sabers. It’s spectacular and historic and our cake, the piece de résistance, looks awesome!

Once the dinner service is complete and the party and dancing started, I returned to the kitchen, grabbed one last plate of the dinner and savored my meal alone, in my office. Our largest event of the year had gone off without a hitch.

Go Big: West Belmont events max the space

Loudoun County thinks big. Big businesses. Big communities. Big dreams. The National, with our own 65-acre campus on the banks of the Potomac River, lives large too. We’ve hosted some of the area’s biggest events in our ballroom, the largest in Northern Virginia at more than 16,552 square feet!

We fill our ballrooms, meeting spaces, gardens and terraces time and again with some of the year’s most exciting (and elaborate) events. Take a look at the big picture:

  • Our ballroom has room to serve 1,500 for dinner – 1,350 if we add a dance floor and stage
  • The adjoining, additional space tops out at more than 55,000 square feet in ballrooms and other reception spaces
  • Outside, we can host 1,000 people on the West Lawn, 500 on the Ballroom Terrace, and 800 on the Loudoun Terrace – that’s a lot of anniversary events, weddings, and company picnic guests!
  • We’ve also hosted food and wine tastings, art and music festivals, cultural food festival with live bands, food trucks and many local wineries, breweries and distilleries
  • The National can not only hold all these guests – but park them too! Arrival and departure logistics make it easy for everyone to come and go at the same time quickly and efficiently—and at no charge for parking!

Planning for large-scale events requires big talent. The National’s event staff includes certified planners with more than 30 years’ experience in the business, so Hindu weddings for 700 proceed just as smoothly as Easter Brunch for 900, and esteemed Military balls for 1,300.

The key to big events lies in the small moments. We ask our big-event clients to describe what their guests will see, hear and smell when they arrive at the event to give us an overall vision. Then we spend months drilling down the details: Where will they pick up drinks? Will flowers make an impact on tables or in the lobby? What temperature should the ballroom be set at for a crowd in gowns and suits? We’re often rehearsing service and timing until just before showtime to ensure the night goes off without a hitch!

Big events at the National make every guest feel special, pampered, well served, whether it’s a holiday brunch with families or an appreciation dinner with a national sales force. Our biggest events in the past year have included:

  • The Chamber of Commerce Small Business Awards banquet for 600, which consistently impresses the county’s top business leaders.
  • Loudoun County Public Schools Partnership Breakfast for 800 and Excellence in Education Awards for 600 making certain all attendees feel respected and rewarded for the work they do.
  • The ADAMS Center, one of the largest mosques in the US, hosted more than 1,000 guests and benefactors for prayers and a meal.
  • And every year Worldstrides brings together 2,000 high school students from around the country at The National. Yes, we even park all 35 motor coach buses in the West Parking Lot.

Big Foodie News

Part of what makes an experience at The National so memorable is our food, whether you’re grabbing a snack in the Black Olive or experiencing a beautiful banquet in West Belmont Place, or eating meals in the Dining Room during a workshop week. From planning to the plate, that experience is largely due to the hard work and vision of Todd Goldian.

Todd’s progression, from an innovative Executive Chef and leader in our kitchens to Food and Beverage Director, has brought The National forward in the culinary world. Going far beyond what’s come to be expected from conference venues, Todd makes sure every presentation or food experience is exceptional and unique. For our farm-to-table concept, for example, he had farmers literally working with the culinary team, meeting with the sales team, and coming into the kitchen as part of the chef table experience.

Todd’s approach changed the food focus at The National from serving meals to dining, with an emphasis on the experience. His organization of the culinary team allows The National to serve diverse audiences, each with expectations, special requests and dietarian concerns, every day. We are excited to see what Todd will do next and congratulate him on a well-deserved promotion!

Todd is very pleased to share the limelight with our new Executive Chef, Frank Estremera, whom we are welcoming back to Loudoun as he debuts in Dulles Chambers DISHED Chef Showdown. More about Executive Chef Frank Estremera in our next newsletter.

BBQ Secret

Smoky, kicky and a little bit sweet! The secret to spring grilling isn’t in the sauce – it’s in the rub! The National’s Kitchen secret is out.

1 T Kosher Salt
2 t. Guajillo Chile powder
1 t. Smoke Powder (optional but a great addition)
2 t. Ground Coriander
2 t. Smoked Paprika
2 t. Cumin
1 t. Ground Thyme
pinch Ground Ancho Chile Powder
2 t. Ground Chipotle Powder
1 t. Ground Anaheim Chile Powder
2 t. Garlic Powder
1 t. Ground Mustard
1 t. Marjoram
1 t. Dark Brown Sugar

Mix all ingredients thoroughly and store in an air-tight container. To prep ribs, beef, chicken or pork, coat meat with rub 20-40 minutes before grilling. Because this rub contains salt, don’t apply to meat for longer than an hour before cooking.

Letting you in on a National Secret

Just the name lends an air of mystery: The National Secret. The only real secret here is how many ways we’ve transformed this luxurious private room into something special during a training week, for a wedding after party, or as the setting for a very special client dinner.

Rumor has it that the National Secret was a nickname first. Tucked behind the Black Olive Bar & Grill, the space was designed to be a quieter, living room option for guests. When a speak-easy window, requiring a password, was added for a Prohibition Era theme party, the National Secret concept stuck.

Recently the room played host to a meeting of directors who were expecting their usual room following lunch. Instead, they were delivered invitations to the National Secret where members sank into the deep sofas and set aside their formal agenda. What followed was a productive brainstorming session about future direction – aided by the private and relaxed seating instead of a formal boardroom setting.

Bullseye! Hitting the mark for today’s L&D challenges

If you could change one thing about your organization that would increase employee productivity by 200 percent, would you do it? There’s not a manager out there who wouldn’t be interested! That X-factor is training and development and the latest research indicates it’s not only attracting employees but retaining them. This isn’t news to us here at The National.

We focus on learning and development in all we do, from our 65-acre campus to our state-of-the-art IT services and support that enables high tech, interactive learning experiences. Working with many diverse learning organizations, we are able to stay on top of what’s hot today while anticipating and offering innovative options that keep us at the forefront year over year.

Let’s go behind the scenes to see what innovative learning and development looks like at The National.

Learning comes first

Attendees who are here for a week or even two quickly bore with classroom-style lectures. For an organization that brought in managers from across the county, we helped change things up daily – several times a day, in fact. The room that was set up as pods in the morning with people seated around tables for small group discussions, became a theater for a multimedia presentation after lunch. They also wanted more relaxed breakout sessions, so the room was set with comfy sofas and chairs.

Another client requested 24 flip charts for the front of a room. This got us thinking. Could a game, played by groups at tables, achieve the same goals with more energy and audience engagement? Turns out the answer was yes and the feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive.

An intensive training session for another client drove home the idea that out-of-the-box thinking was needed. To help participants apply their creativity, and identify who takes charge and who holds back, we suggested a challenge course activity. Employees had to get everyone in their group over a high wall using only a few tools for help. The hour-long activity not only got everyone actively involved in problem-solving but was a welcomed break in the day.

Everybody eats

With more than 900 guests staying for a week, mealtimes are of the utmost importance. Our focus on locally-sourced foods and the creativity and skill of our staff and Chef offers new menus and exciting options for every meal, every day.

Just last night, dinner included a carving station and a choice of four different entrées, while a giant salad bar featuring creative toppings and protein choices provided even more options.

Downtime works harder

Looking out the window during break times, you might mistake The National for a college campus, with students crossing our courtyards and stopping to catch up with passing colleagues.

We keep that feeling going in the evenings. After dinner, groups wander out to the fire pits, enjoy a casual game of darts, or join in a karaoke session in the Black Olive Bar & Grill.

The National isn’t like other facilities that hold meetings and conferences. We’re designed different so we can meet L&D needs in ways that engage everyone, from millennial to boomer, soldier to CEO, with equal parts of innovation and attentiveness.

Hit Your Meeting Out of the Park With The Largest Conference Center’s Spring Training Package

The National Conference Center is one of the largest training and development facilities in the nation, and it’s celebrating the opening day of baseball by announcing its Spring Training Package.  Offering a unique bundling of services, the National is the expert at providing the perfect meeting place for experiential learning, meetings and teambuilding.Spring Training

“With Spring finally here, it’s time to refresh and rejuvenate with new ideas and goals for companies and associations. We work with each of our clients to advise and meet their goals with each meeting held at our facility,” says Juan Garcia, Executive Director of Sales.

The National is one of the leaders in developing the Complete Meeting Package (CMP), which is an inclusive per person charge for meetings. The National’s Spring Training Packages for day meetings includes:Savings Spring Training

  • One general session room
  • Two breakout rooms
  • Breakfast and lunch
  • Unlimited refreshment breaks
  • A technology package
  • Complimentary covered parking
  • Complimentary wi-fi

Hot Dates:  April 15 | May 6 | June 3
Save 20-40%

Big and Small Facilities
Depending on the size and flavor of your meeting, The National offers unique, individualized meeting space with conference rooms, outdoor space and rooms with natural light. With 265,000 sq. ft. of meeting and event space, offering 250 purpose-built conference rooms, breakout rooms and general session rooms, we offer flexibility in a big way. Recently, The National has created small, intimate meeting space. The outdoor courtyard with Pergola and fire pits are used almost daily, along with a modern Living Room space and a “speakeasy” room aptly named The National Secret. The finished room is down a hallway around the corner from the active Black Olive Bar & Grill with no other entrance.

The Food Experience:  Hyper-Local
The National’s food and beverage program continues to grow and evolve under the direction of Todd Goldian, Executive Chef. We focus on local farm-to-table cuisine incorporating over 60 local products to the daily menus that serve as many as 1,200 guests per day. The newest partnership is with a local farmer, CEA Farms, who has been farming in Loudoun County since 1797. Farmer Virts provides all the tomatoes, lettuces and specialty greens for our guess. For day meetings and events that take place in the adjacent West Belmont Place, guests enjoy the same food quality for a banquet or luncheon as guests in the Dining Room and Black Olive.

The National Challenge Course
Experiential learning has been touted as an exceptional method in creating memorable learning experiences with high recall. The Challenge Course includes action-based learning components such as the high ropes course and other elements designed for problem solving and leadership development. The new course features nine unique elements strategically placed within the 65-acre campus and each element provides multiple challenges.

For more information or to book a Spring Training Package at The National Conference Center, contact the sales office at

Selecting the Right Venue for your Meeting

The most important step before selecting a location or venue is to understand the overall goals, objectives and outcomes desired at the end of your conference.  Is the purpose to incentivize or Sales Meeting Venuereward?  Is the goal to strategize and plan? Or, is the goal to educate and train?  The answer to these questions may assist your organization to select the right type of venue and location.  Though budget is always a factor; the desired outcomes should be the first consideration.

Cities and resort destinations are often the first locations considered for sales launches and incentive trips.  These destinations are convenient to attractions, dining and shopping.  If building a cohesive sales team is important to your organization, then perhaps other destinations and venue types should be explored.  Conference centers are often overlooked because they do not provide a traditional hotel experience.

Most conference centers are dedicated only to meetings.  Your attendees are not competing for attention with other leisure travelers and non-meeting guests.  If your conference center is a member of  IACC, the International Association for Conference Centers, then that conference center has implemented a set of benchmarks within their venue to reflect the highest standards, facilities, technology, and are modeled with strong corporate social responsibility in mind.  Conference centers simplify the buying process through offering a CMP, or Complete Meeting Package, to encompass meals, breaks, meeting room rentals, basic a/v and internet.  Many items such as executive board chairs often come standard.  Less add-on fees and fewer hidden charges are assessed.

Conference Centers provide an environment for learning, networking, and team building.  The open spaces and wide variety of meeting and event space provide near limitless opportunities for you to create a meeting that achieves your objectives while creating a memorable and meaningful program for your attendees.

About The National

The National Conference Center, located 40 minutes from Washington, DC and 12 miles from Dulles International Airport, is enjoying a renaissance of epic proportion.

Under new ownership and management and following a multi-Aerial view of The Nationalmillion dollar investment in the first two years of a three year plan, The National presents a beautiful 65 acre campus featuring newly renovated spaces and new venues, including the new lobby Living Room, the National Secret “speakeasy” and the National Challenge Course, as well as an innovative re-engineering of the entire culinary programming  to include “a la minute-style” food service at breakfast, lunch and dinner in the newly remodeled Dining Room.

With 917 guest rooms and 250 conference rooms, including Northern Virginia’s largest ballroom (16,552sf), The National is a hybrid of the best from conference centers, the size of a convention center and the flexibility of an independent venue devoted to productive meetings and events at the forefront of the learning and development marketplace.

Meetings, conferences and small conventions ranging from 12 persons to 1,200 are uniquely accommodated within the 55,000sf West Belmont Place and two purpose-built conference wings featuring five “pods” that enable a conference/hotel within a conference hotel concept for groups up to 200 participants.

In addition to the 1.2M square feet interior meeting space under one roof, The National Challenge Course features 14 elements within a beautifully designed six-acre circuit that enables Hi element rope courseexperiential learning for as many as 250 persons. A partnership with the Browne Center delivers facilitation for leadership development, team building and other learning and development opportunities.

Exciting additions, renovations and innovative products and services continue to enhance the total guest experience at The National Conference Center. If you have not recently visited The National, you do not know The “new” National.

Six Trends Observed in Experiential Learning

The National Conference Center – one of the nation’s largest conference centers and the largest on the East Coast – with its partner The Browne Center, has observed six trends in experiential learning.

Team Building at NCC


Experiential learning presents a highly unique growth opportunity for participants, and a tool that planners can use to achieve a specific outcome.  Differentiated from the more traditional teambuilding, experiential learning uses a blended approach to learning, integrating activities, exercises, adventure elements, quiet time and ongoing post-event coaching to create powerful programs of leadership development, strategic planning, mentoring and coaching, communication, feedback & observation and enhancement of behavior styles.



Team Building with Chef


Six Trends Observed in Experiential Learning:

  1. Barrier Free Learning … Take away the white classroom tables. Barrier free learning is hands-on training in a lab-like setting verses the traditional meeting room or classroom. For example, The National has created an entire workroom and lab for simulation or scenario training for a top major client to deliver new skills, taking away the barrier of the ‘white table’ with attendees learning in a lab or open space area.
  2. Learning by Choice … Mixing classroom training with outdoor activities. The Challenge Course at The National has high and low rope elements, and increasingly facilitators are using a Challenge-by-Choice approach.  Learning Programs are designed to meet the variety of goals unique to each client, whether conferees make use of the elements of the high or low course, or none at all. There is a role for everyone in the training, even if individuals choose not to physically participate.
  3. Learning by Shared Experiences … Creating ‘shared experiences’, such as a building project, where everyone is involved collectively – from C-level executives to assistant managers – taking each participant out of their comfort zone and into a creative problem solving task to construct the future.
  4. Learning by Silence … Groups are increasingly exploring the power of silence in a high-speed, technically dependent world. Facilitators are allowing more time for conferees’ solo quests, reflection, meditation time and movements like yoga that can provide powerful reconnection with the natural world, and the true inner self, opening new channels of connection and learning.
  5. Learning by Doing… Learners participate in carefully chosen experiences that are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis. It engages the learners to be in direct experience, to be doing something that connects to an area they hope to improve or develop.  The learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experiment-ting, being curious, and solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  6. Learning through Application … While debriefing is a structured process facilitated by a skilled professional throughout the process of a program, it has been in place for some time.  Today a post program application assists participants over time with how learning translates back at the office. There are a number of strategies that can be arranged to help facilitate this continued learning process. These include, self-directed debrief meetings, professional coaching sessions by phone or in person, or follow up, mini sessions at the one, two or three month intervals. These sessions can be highly productive and fun, assisting the participants in real time learning application issues. They can be on the participants work site or scheduled as an offsite.




The National Conference Center installed a state-of-the-art challenge course last year to provide additional training and learning opportunities for their clients. The National Challenge Course consists of five low elements plus many portable options, which are weight bearing problem solving activities that can accommodate 15 or more people at any one time. Also six high elements can be done with two or more solo, or with many other climbers simultaneously. All high elements are dynamic relays where participants hold the rope for one another.

For more information about experiential learning at The National, call 800-640-2684.

3 Loudoun County Side Trips to add to your Meeting Agenda

Meeting planners often are looking for activities off property to enhance their attendees’ experience. Check out these three Loudoun County side trips that can be added to any meeting agenda.

Sometimes you just need to get attendees moving and out of the classroom or meeting room. In beautiful Loudoun County, known for its historic, equestrian and agricultural landscapes, there are many attractions that can be added to your meeting agenda.

The National is part of a vibrant community in Loudoun County, with its award-winning, revitalized downtown, entertainment, sports, arts, shopping, dining and agriculture including wineries, breweries and distilleries. The surrounding Loudoun area offers everything from fishing, hiking and boating to golf, antiquing and exploring historic sites.

We’ve put together three side trips that we think would add value to any meeting, training or conference. These trips can be used as teambuilding add-ons or just a fun way for attendees to spend time together, an important part of any meeting.

Challenge Your Team

Team Building at NCCIf teambuilding events are planned and executed well, people feel good about themselves and about their colleagues. This trip starts right here at The National’s Challenge Rope Course.

Low Elements -permanent weight bearing structures constructed outdoors of wood and cables and High Elements-outdoor challenges constructed of wood and cable that allow participants to be as high as 40’.  All participants are in climbing gear and are protected by belayers.

The Rope Course could take place in the morning; then break for lunch with a Southern-style BBQ in the courtyard; then off to Pev’s Paintball or Top Golf. Paintball is fast paced, high-tension game that brings people together with a little pressure and competition. In order to win a game of paintball, your team must work together, communicate, and be willing to take risks. Our team can create a customized team-building program or your group can simply learn to play the game and have a recreational event.

Top Golf Dulles , now open in Loudoun County, features 102 bays over 3 floors, an amazing rooftop terrace, lively bars and a golf game concept that is sure to blow you away! Anyone can play Topgolf, from aspiring pros to those who’ve never walked 18 holes. All you have to do is swing a club and try to hit your microchipped balls into dartboard-like targets. It’s competitive. It’s fun. And it’s always better with a big group! There are many different packages available with food and beverage included.

Meet and Eat

Meet and EatStart the day off with a bus tour to Leesburg Farmer’s markets sponsored by EatLoco. Loudoun County is filled with rolling hills and farmland studded with orchards, vineyards, Christmas tree farms, and much more. From the eco-ganic vegetables at Potomac Vegetable Farm and the certified-humane heritage breed meats and organic produce at Ayrshire Farm to the county’s hand crafted beer, wine, and spirits, Loudoun brings the farm to your table. Visit the local farmers market with Executive Chef Todd Goldian as you plan for a custom Chef’s Table that night. That’s right, you’ll pick the produce, cook the dinner with chef in the kitchen and then visit a winery or brewery the next day. We know the value of food to meetings. Research shows that food plays an important role in ensuring meetings are more efficient and more productive when attendees are eating food that effectively fuels their minds.

Our Chief Wine Officer Mary Watson will host a winery or brewery tour with you to learn how to taste wine, what to look for when pairing wine with food and explain the Loudoun County terroir. See the full list of wineries and breweries just a few miles from the National.

Backyard History

Morven ParkStart the day with a visit to the regional park, which was the site of the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. This October 21, 1861 clash was the second largest to take place in the county during the Civil War. It took place along the banks of the Potomac River, where the Union fell backward into the river in a defeat that merited a congressional investigation. The national cemetery here is one of the smallest in the country. A one mile hiking trail offers interpretive signs.

A visit and tour of Morven Park will not disappoint. The movie, “Fighting & Frolicking”, brings to life Confederate soldiers in camp early in the Civil War. The living history program features historical interpreters portraying Civil War soldiers who lived at Morven Park in the winter of 1861-62, as well as civilians.

If time permits, a driver could take your group through the Mosby Heritage Area or you could do a Middleburg Walking Tour.

End the day with a historically researched dinner prepared by the culinary team, along with a teambuilding exercise: Civil War Trivia Night in the Black Olive Bar & Grill.

Whichever you choose, each of these side trips complement  teambuilding activities or could be used as networking opportunities. Ask your conference planner for a private tour of our rope course or to help set up the culinary or historic tours. We look forward to working with you.