When it comes to catering, there are trends that are fleeting and some that stick. Sustainability is here to stay. In fact, a 2018 article by the Stanford Innovation Social Review reported that more than 90 percent of CEOs state that sustainability is important to their company’s success.
Eco-Friendly and Experiential
Experiential food stations, living walls and edible cutlery are just a few examples of how event caterers are appealing to this continued interest in protecting the environment. Other continuing trends include a focus on farm-to-table along with an overall commitment to cuisine creativity.
According to Melissa Johnson, executive director of Cameron Mitchell Premier Events in Columbus, Ohio, eco-friendly plates, cutlery, glassware and napkins will get increased awareness. China, glass and steel will be the optimal reusable choice, she says, but also look for plates and cutlery made of oat bran. Johnson adds that she and her team are also building garnish walls with herbs and edible plants and flowers so that they can snip and garnish right from the food stations.
However, Johnson explains, it’s not all new for 2019, and she believes her clients will continue to want to balance the trends with pleasing and approachable classic food and beverage favorites. While one station may be plant-based new food trends, another station is set with comfort foods. The drink menu may have a new barrel-aged rum cocktail, but you’ll also see a classic Manhattan, she says.
One classic favorite Johnson recommends is her specific take on deviled eggs. “We cut ours to stand in a more vertical shape and we have various ways to fold in or top them with fun ingredients such as bacon, salsa, crab, etc.,” she explains. “Another classic favorite is the meatball,” she adds. “We have a wonderful Ohio chicken meatball that we can butler on a platter with a clear mini fork and has a sweet chili glaze.”
Sarah Arel, assistant event producer at Feast & Imbibe catering in Evanston, Illinois, agrees that comfort foods are very much still top-of-mind, but with an ethnic twist. “From pho to tacos, BBQ to samosas, the growing interest in new flavors is a trend that we love because it gives us so many fun options to play with when creating new dishes for our guests to try.” Arel explains.
Arel adds that though more people are restricting their eating choices in an effort to look and feel better, it’s not just about healthy eating. “Coupled with this trend is the fact that people know more about food and are more interested in where their food comes from than ever before,” Arel says. “Love it or hate it, the Food Network and Instagram have changed who we are as Americans, and what we are looking for in the foods that we consume. This means that while people want all of the newest superfoods, they are still looking for really delicious and beautifully presented meals.”
Finally, Arel says one culinary style she’s particularly excited about is grilling with Binchotan coals, often called “white charcoal” and used in Japanese cooking. “We love cooking on-site and as caterers, we have to work in all sizes and types of kitchens,” she says. “Our portable grill with these Japanese Binchotan coals takes the flavors of our grilled foods to a whole new level, and we can make it happen anywhere.”
Kristen Stacy, owner of Royal Fig Catering in Austin, Texas, says that portability is definitely something her team incorporates into her clients’ events. In fact, roaming food stations are one of the biggest trends this year, according to Stacy.
“We have seen clients wanting to hold events in more non-traditional venues, therefore wanting to give guests a more fun and interactive dining experience such as a family style dinner,” Stacy explains. “Our clients can choose many of our stations to be ‘roaming’ by renting one of our food carts that is pushed around the reception space. We have a roaming raw bar that is presented on a concession-style tray that is worn by a server as he or she approaches the guests. We’ve used this style of concession trays to serve popcorn, tacos and desserts which creates a fun and interactive atmosphere.”
Stacy adds, her team will be debuting our new “Live Fire” station this season, which is a 360-degree outdoor grilling action station. “Our live fire station is a large chef-attended charcoal grill surrounded by four tables where we offer four different ‘small plate’ dishes that are coming right off the grill,” she says. “Items such as whole kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin), cowboy ribeye with green chile hollandaise and beef tenderloin with lobster grits and arugula are some examples of small plates that will be available from our live-fire set up.”
Finally, and not surprisingly, new innovations in technology continue to work their way into corporate events. iPads, specifically, are now being integrated into the catering experience. For Johnson, the idea of using an iPad stemmed from a space constraint. “We had a particular event that was challenged on space so we wanted to eliminate a station footprint, but not the menu items,” Johnson explains.
The iPad is featured on a floor stand with signage and instructions for guests to peruse images of various small plates and order them by inputting a first name, she says. The instructions remind the guest to stay in the general vicinity to await their food delivery. “The iPad is assigned to an area at the event, such as a terrace bar, and when the order prints in the staging kitchen the receipt will have the items, name of guest and the area for delivery printed on it,” she says. “We have servers assigned to running food and they will take the items to the location and find the guests by name.”