Wedding table

Are These Event Catering Trends In or Out?

Food—it’s the one element of any event that guests are sure to remember. Jaw-dropping décor just can’t make up for a meal that’s mediocre. Done right, your catering is sure to astound. Done wrong, it can leave an event feeling flat and half-hearted.

Like any area of the event industry, catering has its fads, trends, and innovations. But how do you tell the crowd-pleasers from the passé? Here’s our take on the catering trends you should try out—and the ones you should leave well alone.

Build-Your-Own Bars: Still Sticking Around

From build-your-own taco stations to mix-your-own martini bars, this big-time wedding and event catering trend has seen guests getting hands-on with their food. As far as we’re concerned, this trend is definitely here to stay.

Why? Well, for one thing, it’s fun! Letting guests assemble their own snacks, meals, desserts, or drinks gives them a chance to mix and mingle. Plus, they get to personalize their food to suit their own tastes, however tame, wild, or straight-up weird those may be.

Ice cream sundae bar

Build-your-own bars also offer a whole lot of versatility compared with a traditional buffet. Food stations for fun appetizers, drinks, or desserts are easy to mix with a sit-down dinner. On the other hand, it’s not hard to turn a build-your-own bar into the meal’s main course for a more casual affair. Just make sure you still offer lots of seating—not everyone can eat one-handed! And whether you’re going for an upscale assemble-your-own ceviche bar or a fun sundae station, you can find a build-your-own bar to fit the feel of pretty much any event.

Traditional Buffets: On Their Way Out

Let’s face it—no matter how good the food is, it can be tough to make a buffet feel classy. Buffets are still well-suited to big-scale events like conferences or meetings where the food isn’t the focal point, but that’s about it. For weddings, parties, bar mitzvahs, and other celebrations, our advice is to stay away.

For many budget-conscious event clients, part of a buffet’s appeal lies in its apparent cost-effectiveness. In fact, buffets can often end up using—and wasting—more food, because there always has to be enough to keep the table from looking too picked-over.

If your clients don’t want to opt for a sit-down meal, bar carts laden with meals or courses can help keep that on-the-go element alive. “Grazing stations” filled with fruit, charcuterie, and artisanal cheeses and breads are another classy option for on-your-feet dining.

Healthy Dining: In, Thank Goodness

Gone are the days when weddings, parties, and special events demanded a menu of deep-fried appetizers, fatty meals, and rich cream sauces. Instead, many of your clients will be looking for catering options that are tasty and healthy. Dishes featuring fresh produce keep that flavorful punch but drop the extra calories. Bonus: a lighter, healthier meal can satisfy your clients’ guests without leaving everyone too stuffed to dance.

But hey, events are meant to be fun, right? While dishes featuring fresh fruits and vegetables are definitely delicious, there’s no reason not to indulge in a sweet cocktail or dessert. Keeping the main course on the healthier side lets guests really enjoy those special treats.

Molecular Gastronomy: Approach With Caution

Okay, we know molecular gastronomy and innovative food presentation are huge high-end event catering trends. But here’s the thing: unless you’re planning a super-artsy, cutting-edge, luxury event, it’s best to steer clear of dining options that look like they came out of a laboratory.

Does that foamy Earl Grey caviar martini look cool? Absolutely. Is coffee lasagna with milk foam going to intrigue your guests? For sure. But something a little more tame, presented artfully, will be just as effective—and probably more appropriate to the tone of your event. Advise your client to save that expensive vodka-spiked balsamic air for a private dinner date. Your average wedding or event guest won’t appreciate it enough to justify the price tag.

Molecular gastronomy

If your clients are looking for a spectacle, try bringing the food prep process out in the open. Letting your guests see their food being created gets them more engaged in the whole process and connect with their chefs. Plus, you get some built-in entertainment!

Local and Artisanal Ingredients: So In

Don’t dismiss the recent obsession with locally sourced and crafted ingredients as some sort of passing hipster fad. Yes, locally sourced ingredients are better for the environment, and artisanal goods help support small local businesses. But going local definitely isn’t a do-gooder “chore” like sorting the recycling!

Local and artisanal ingredients are fresh, flavorful, and downright delicious. Sourcing produce from a local farm or bread from a local baker lets you pack a mouth-watering punch into even the simplest dishes. A local vendor might also help you land your clients a great deal or an extra-special personalized treat.

Artisanal breads and cheeses

Global Ingredients: Also In?

Wait, what? We were just talking about how great local ingredients are. What’s the deal?

Well, when it comes to event menus, hosts and guests are more than ready to branch out. Dishes from other countries and cultures and innovative “fusion” cuisine are front and center at many events. While basic local ingredients pump up the taste and provide a unique local “twist,” there are some things you just can’t replace. Indian curry powders, Middle Eastern herbs, wasabi salt, and more can help make your clients’ meals something all their guests will remember.

Formal Sit-Downs: No Longer Essential

You’re no longer stuck with the choice between a casual buffet and a formal sit-down dinner. Like we mentioned before, you can easily turn a build-your-own bar into an elegant stand-up affair—or you can do the opposite.

Casual summer dinner party

The casual sit-down meal is gaining ground as an event catering trend. Involving shared dishes that get passed around the table, these relaxed meals take their inspiration from family style dining. Not only is the atmosphere more relaxed—passing and sharing dishes around the table also helps get people mingling.

If your client does decide to go with a casual sit-down dining arrangement for their event, be mindful of the table décor. Massive centerpieces make it tough to pass things back and forth. Instead, work with the caterer to let the food itself become the focal point of the table.

Late-Night Snacks: Yes, Please!

No longer does a wedding’s cake-cutting have to mark the end of the eating. The guests have had their dessert, they’ve put in several hours of dancing… and now they’re hungry again! Help your clients keep their parties going late by organizing a round of late-night snacks.

Your clients have already impressed their guests with the hors d’oevres, cocktails, main dishes, and desserts, so this is the perfect time to break out something a little homier. What about…

  • Sliders and fries
  • Popcorn in a customized container
  • Milk and cookies
  • Churros
  • Donuts and coffee (for a much-needed caffeine boost)
  • Tomato soup shooters with bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches

Remember, you’ve already served a full meal—whatever snack you go for, keep it small! Miniaturized versions of favorite comfort foods are cute, delicious, and perfect for a 10:00 p.m. pick-me-up. Place the snacks close to the dance floor to keep the party going!

What do you think? Are the “outs” really gone for good? Will the “ins” end up sticking around? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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