Catering plays a central role in any event and is something that will be talked about long after the occasion has finished. Not immune to trends and external influences, the face of event catering has changed significantly over the years. Caterers are facing a barrage of challenges, from staff retention to designing elaborate menus for a growing group of demanding consumers – who are not only seeking the freshest ingredients cooked in the most unusual venues – but highly personalised, unique food experiences that raise the bar amongst their peers.

Big Ideas – Small Plates      
Event caterers have had to radically re-think service since the pandemic, replacing buffets with individually portioned plates and wrapped, handheld items. The result is an explosion of creativity which has transformed the offering and how it is served….or should we say styled! From noodles housed in mini branded takeaway cartons with chopsticks artfully poised, to individual cakes served under mini glass domes, charcuterie cones stuffed with portions of cheese, flatbread, meat and fruit and vintage teacups containing soup, the sky is the limit when it comes to quirky displays that enable socially distanced dining.

“Canapés, bowl food and light bites are the most popular items on our event menus, as they offer variety and facilitate a sociable atmosphere at an event – perfect for the increasingly popular standing receptions. We love being experimental with these, and we find that our clients are growing increasingly interested in foreign cuisine and fusions, flavour combinations and textures. People increasingly want to try new things and experiment in order to have an experience.” Comments Robert Hunningher, Managing Director, Humdingers Catering.

Demand for experiences is at an all-time high and with this comes a willingness to experiment, but it is worth bearing in mind that experimentation when it comes to food can be an elevated take on a traditional dish or a new flavour profile, so keep an open mind when designing your menu.

Healthy Eating & Speciality Diets

Although special occasions are typically seen as a good excuse to indulge, an increased focus on health and wellbeing is leading to a rise in popularity of fermented foods and probiotics appearing on the menu. Whether its Korean kimchi or a prebiotic soda with
apple vinegar, event planners and guests are eating up the chance to improve their health wherever possible.

Healthier lifestyles are a key contributor to a reduction in alcohol consumption. Growth in the low-and-no-alcohol beverage sector is soaring, so seasonal signature mocktails such as a mango margarita or a hibiscus iced tea and a range of mixers will be increasingly important as we progress through 2022.

As host are becoming more aware and willing to accommodate their guest’s dietary restrictions, caterers can have quite the challenge on their hands! “As we emerge from the pandemic, our clients want to have an enhanced experience, and relish our rediscovered freedom to socialise and entertain. This means we are seeing an uptick in making dishes and selections more inclusive e.g. more vegan options, more vegetarian options etc.” Notes Robert.

Offering the right nut-free vegan or vegetarian dish such as maple tamari seared tofu or a lentil, beetroot and rosemary naked burger can easily satisfy guests who are health conscious, have nut allergies and a speciality diet, so although there is no simple fix to the increasingly complicated needs of guests, it is possible to design a menu that is suitable for a group of individuals with a range of requirements.

A Return to ‘Greening’

The toll of the pandemic has certainly sent efforts to be more sustainable sideways, however eliminating plastic and waste is back on the menu and event hosts are more conscious of their environmental impact than ever before. “We are finding that buffet and sharing style catering is resuming, however for our corporate lunches and shoot and filming catering, while we once served this sharing style, we have kept the individual packaging, as it is more convenient for the client. We do however ensure that all our packaging is biodegradable or recyclable. When choosing suppliers, we look at their sustainability and environmental impact, especially when it comes to our meat and fish and are increasingly expanding our vegan and plant-based options. We also try our best to support smaller and local businesses like ourselves,” says Robert.

Reducing single-use plates or using materials that are compostable such as banana leaves, sugar cane, palm leaves or coconut not only adds value to the way food is presented, it also improves your sustainability credentials too. For those looking for a challenge, try creating a carbon-zero catering package that uses locally sourced ingredients, is plastic free, composts all waste and recycles all remaining materials, off-setting any emissions with a tree-planting program.

As the demands of event hosts increase, it is more than likely that caterers will need to combine multiple factors into their menu and catering execution. The team at Brock Ice have done just that, with locally made ice cream served from a traditional ice cream bike. Not only does the bike attract attention on its travels, it also delivers a memorable experience for guests who delight at making their own personalised ice creams from the various flavours, cones, toppings and syrups available. Event planners can choose to include compostable ice cream cups and spoons or minimise all forms of waste entirely by opting solely for edible cones. The empty plastic tubs which contained ice cream are sent back to the manufacturer to be cleaned and re-used.

Although the challenges and trends within the hospitality sector can be applied to most operators with broad brush strokes, there are particular nuances for specialist areas such as events. Any single event caterer could be installing a mobile kitchen in an office one week and preparing a hog roast for 300 guests in a field the next. Agility, organisation and the ability to think on your feet are the hallmarks of any event caterer and these skills are going to continue to be tested to the limits as consumers push the boundaries of what can be achieved in order to make their event a moment to remember in 2022.