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2019 Event Catering Trends

David Abers

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Dessert station covered in sprinkles at a catered event

Utilizing the latest event catering trends at your event is a must. Why? A meal isn’t just a meal, it’s an opportunity to make connections—to bring people together to break bread. Run-of-the-mill catering delivers equally lackluster dining, which does nothing to please your hungry attendees. Pander to your attendees’ tastes by letting them vote on their preferred cuisine and dishes. Or take it a step further and engage a renowned chef to craft your menu.

Simply put, the stakes (and steaks) have changed for event catering.

Event catering can be a critical part of the event experience, or even the highlight. Event organizers have to do more than just provide a meal to keep you in your seat. The food must look and taste amazing, plus be part of the overall story for your audience.

Here are some trends that will help make 2019 a surefire culinary celebration.


Destination-Specific Cuisine

Chances are your people traveled to get to your event. They’re in a new spot and might even want to do some sightseeing on the side. While some people like to check out the city via taxi or subway, others prefer a fork and knife.

That’s why destination-specific food is a huge trend. Create culinary adventures, side tours and sessions involving culture experts. It’s an easy way to impress your guests and show them local culinary highlights. In short, give their taste buds an experience they can’t get in any other place.

Try this: Menus that have cultural influences and ingredients that are grown locally will continue to be popular. Hire a native restaurateur to serve up lunch or dinner featuring the destination’s famous foods.


Specialty drinks at a catered event


Local Spirits

Your event agenda may be done for the day, but your attendees evening is just beginning. And just like food, they probably won’t be attracted to the same old suds they can get back home.

Beer and wine from nearby microbreweries and vintners are a must to give your people a truly local indulgence. But don’t stop there. When planning a cocktail party make sure to add in a non-alcoholic signature drink.

A balance of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks make events more inclusive, and enable attendees to better choose for themselves what they’d prefer to be drinking.

Try this: Tie your local dinner together by serving regional beverages. Creative non-alcoholic cocktails based on fruits, flowers and spices are perfect ways to allow everyone to get in on the fun and be social.


Smart Menus, Smart People

The food you’re serving makes a real difference to the amount your people learn and can recollect from your event. It’s food for thought—literally!

Participants need to feel alert and ready to engage. And that starts with menu planning. No matter the setting, more people are opting for healthier options and foregoing the idea that special events make it acceptable to overindulge without consequences.

Try this: Healthy menus are what’s in. Plan your menu around high-protein, low-fat meats such as turkey, chicken, salmon or Omega-3-loaded fish (which have been proven to boost mental health); whole snacks that are not processed such as gourmet peas, edamame, popcorn, fruit and vegetables; superfoods, such as kale and avocados; and whole grains. And don’t forget healthy.


Server handing food to an event attendee

Grab and Go

At events, your hard-charging teams are there to make connections. A grumbling stomach might be more of an inconvenience than anything else. Give them an opportunity to grab a meal and get back to work—quick.

Try this: Bring in food trucks to let hurried diners get a taste of local flavors on the fly. But make sure the prep-time lends itself to a grab-n-go vibe.


Food-Based Entertainment

On the other side of the spectrum, event food can be the event in itself. Put food in the limelight of your event through immersive experiences that serve up your message with a side of fun.

Attendees of all generations and demographics love the experience of learning how to cook what they’re eating.

Accordingly, consider making food an activity in itself. A tour of a professional kitchen plus an interactive cooking class of local delicacies can give them memories they won’t soon forget.

Try this: Up your game with extra impact by turning plain old food stations into an experiential event. Offer fresh-to-order tortillas at your taco bar; have a pizzaiolo on hand to create and toss pizza dough right in front of guests; or bring in a chocolatier and have attendees create their own small box of chocolates rather than a chocolate fountain or fondue station.


Tea Station

Forget those poorly packaged tea bags. We’re talking authentic tea bars that offer many varieties of tea and tout its considerable health benefits.

You might be saying to yourself, this isn’t England who’s drinking tea instead of coffee? Turns out many as research shows three cups of tea per every cup of coffee are consumed worldwide.

Try this: Floral flavors could unseat the pumpkin spice obsession, according to the Whole Foods predictions. Botanicals and notes like rose and lavender will fill glasses for health-conscious drinkers looking to curtail their booze consumption.


Tapas and Drink Pairings

Small portions with the perfect pairing continues to impress. It’s all about ease for the attendee to have small portions that transport easily so they can mingle at the same time. It’s about serving up a gourmet dish with a drink that compliments it. Education is part of the experience and lends itself as an ice breaker and conversation piece.

Try this: Serve flights of beer or wine to compliment tapas of all tastes. For maximum impact, pair each food with its own drink, and display each combo on its own table. Placing the tables in different locations will encourage mixing and mingling, and offering small portions will allow people to sample everything without becoming overwhelmed.


Different plated meal options at an event

Inclusive Dietary Options

It is believed that 6 out of 10 Americans have some sort of dietary restriction, so it’s vital that a company understands and respects that a dietary restriction is more than just a “preference.” In some cases, it is medically necessary, and therefore every action should be taken to ensure the safety of the guests.

Create specialized menus that take into account all the possibilities: gluten-free, nut allergies, Kosher, Halal and more.

It’s a huge disappointment when a participant arrives at an event and can’t actually eat anything that is served due to dietary restrictions. This causes logistical headaches for the participant and takes away from the positive experience they have at the event as a whole.

Try this: Include unique flavors, selections and treats on the menu to ensure a memorable, enjoyable experience for people of all dietary needs. During the event registration process, ask if guests have any special dietary needs. Send out invites and follow up on specifics with RSVPs to specify meal selection (and note special dietary needs) on a per-guest bases. This reduces catering costs, waste and ensures everyone can enjoy their meal—and, ultimately, the event itself.


Food Waste Warriors

Global food waste is a major problem. In the two minutes it takes to scan this post, roughly 15,210 tons of food will be produced; yet 4,943 tons of food of that will be wasted. And you can bet people are noticing.

The notion of closing the circle is increasingly taking hold, with greater attendee expectation that companies and brands will be more resource-smart in their event catering incorporating ideas like tip-to-tail eating, innovative uses for food waste and more biodegradable and renewable packaging. Cutting down on food waste at events can mean lower costs and a greener planet.

Combatting food waste, both of extraneous packaging and food itself, should be a given at conferences going forward.

Try this: Choose in-season food that can be procured from local vendors who support sustainability initiatives to minimize the carbon footprint. Donate any leftovers to local food pantries or shelters, and boost recycling by adding more bins and educating participants about what is recyclable.

Truly immersive, strategic events are about engaging with people through all five senses—taste included. But how can you keep your audience engaged and coming back for more? Learn  the three steps for effective engagement and how to grow your brand through immersive experiences in this ebook.