Plated Meals, Food Bars, Global Flavors, and Bite-sized Treats— What’s Taking Center Stage at Corporate Events?
Whether the corporate event is a seminar or conference, a company retreat or an appreciation event, a teambuilding experience or a product launch, the food and drink are essential components to its overall success.
No matter the event’s purpose or the unique charm of the venue, attendees are guaranteed to judge and remember the food and beverages dished up, whether favorably or adversely.
To tap into what’s trending at the table for corporate events in 2017, advice was sought from several in the know.
First to share her take on what’s leading the list is wedding industry expert Meghan Ely, owner of OFD Consulting and a member of the National Association for Catering and Events (www.nace.net).
“NACE,” Ely says, “is the oldest professional association dedicated to weddings and events, and its members represent all aspects of wedding and event planning, catering, design, and professional services.”
According to Ely, fun and experiential cuisine is what’s being served up at 2017 events. Termed as “on-the-go foods,” street-fare favorites like tacos and burgers are popular but are being served with new and innovative twists, “incorporating ingredients,” Ely says, “that you’d never think to bring together.”
She says the food trend is “shifting away from formal to a welcoming blend of fun and elegant.”
For a long time we’ve seen food trucks on the streets serving lunch fare, but now those trucks are appearing at corporate events and even at weddings.
“Every year, more event planners are turning to food trucks to satisfy their appetites. Current-day food trucks aren’t what many people are used to seeing in the past. Now they offer a wide variety of foods, including gourmet [items], local ingredients, and restaurant-quality meals,” says Drew Cordell, owner of Dough Heads Stuffed Waffles in Lancaster, which serves stuffed, yeast-risen waffle pockets. “Instead of making a mess at your event, we bring a commercial kitchen on wheels to you.
“And couples planning their wedding-reception menu love the versatility that food trucks offer, many scheduling a truck to pull up for the late crowd who is ready to keep the celebration going.”
Also gaining in popularity are foods with global flavors, so Ely says, “Don’t be surprised to see Moroccan tajine on the menu next to Japanese hand-rolled sushi.”
Nahid Farhoud of Nahid’s Global Events, which specializes in multicultural events, also speaks to this trend.
“Live-action food stations are very popular right now, with international cuisine highlighting different parts of the world taking center stage,” Farhoud says.
Ely says farm-to-table fare with “traceable roots” remains a prevalent trend. Besides the preference for foods made with fresh, local ingredients rather than with those shipped from miles away, Ely says “going local is also a great way to incorporate the region into the event, with flavors that speak to the area’s culture.”
However, Heather Jones, catering sales director for Wente Vineyards, adds that although “the farm-to-table option for large groups can be a popular request, they can often be cost prohibitive. We find that our event attendees are just as happy knowing that our food sources are sustainable.”
When it comes to menu planning, Jones says dietary restrictions also need to be considered, and that the “gluten-free trend is increasing.”
In order to meet diners’ demands for gluten-free options, Jones says their chef redesigned the menus to include “mostly gluten-free entrees and salad, with each menu item indicating whether it is gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, or vegan.”
The manner in which food is served is also a consideration for any corporate event. Engaging and interactive elements are part of the growing movement referred to as “experiential catering,” Ely says.
Options that provide guests with the chance to select their favorite ingredients, such as “do-it-yourself bars and made-to-order dishes are favorites” this year, Ely says, with setups “like macaroni and cheese bars, guacamole stations, and manned salad stations.”
A service that Farhoud says is “back in a big way” is family style. “We’re also seeing all sorts of creative ways to display the food while also incorporating it into the table design.”
For instance, she says, “Florists are creating suspended centerpieces so the center of the table is clear for the food, while elevated platforms are trendy and can be placed with different foods on them around the table.”
Jones points out that the goal of the function and who will be attending help determine the style of both the food and service.
For example, a trend she is seeing is that “more companies are planning thank-you events for their employees.” These events typically take place during the day, where barbecue buffets are served in a more casual setting “with an increase,” Jones says, “in vegetarian options as part of the standard meal.”
For more formal occasions, where guests may still be selecting three- and four-course dinners with paired wines, “we are putting a casual spin on the day by the style of décor and atmosphere we create.”
Jones notes that when “companies are entertaining clients, they often add experiences to the dinner.”
Classes added to the actual dining experience may include wine blending or food-and-wine pairings. In some instances, “a small class may be offered prior to the dinner,” she says, or “guests take the time after dinner to enjoy a dessert buffet outside, in order to continue the social side of the dining experience.”
And what about the meal that starts off the day—the all-important breakfast that fuels the guests for the morning’s activities and programs?
Ely says, “When it comes to breakfast displays, more is more!”
With personal preferences ranging from syrupy sweet to savory, she says, “Breakfast events stocked with high-quality ingredients, like fresh fruit and whole grains, help keep the energy level high.”
To continue the experiential trend, Ely says that “interactive food tables, like an omelet station or an oatmeal bar, are a great way for guests to create their own unique breakfast.”
“Expect to see yogurt parfaits with flaxseed granola and agave nectar, house buttermilk biscuit sandwiches, and house-cured salmon displays in this year’s breakfast breaks,” Jones says.
For those whose minds are already wondering what’s for dessert while the appetizers are being served, the trending word is “mini.”
“Bite-sized sweets are taking the industry by storm,” Ely says.
Rather than traditional slices of cake, look for small pastries, pies, and other desserts. But do take heart—with smaller offerings, you can treat yourself to several different samples without overindulging.
And again, Ely says the experiential-style catering trend makes room for dessert bars, including “gelato bars, s’mores stations, and pie tables,” allowing guests to pick and choose as they please.
Farhoud seconds the dessert bar trend, adding that “crowd favorites include doughnut walls, mini desserts, cake pops, suspended cakes, and cupcake towers.” Those in the mood for treats served up in a bowl rather than on a dessert plate can check out ice cream bars, “with the bonus,” Farhoud says, of “a wide variety of toppings and flavors to choose from.”
All this talk of trending food makes one curious about the beverages being offered—are the customary drink selections being swapped out?
Ely says that although wine and beer remain standard at any event, “there is a shift toward going local through sourcing of regional wineries and breweries.”
She says this trend presents a local flavor to the event and provides guests the opportunity to explore new drinks they would not ordinarily be able to order.
“Attendees are clamoring for local options—with local wines, beers, and spirits taking center stage,” Jones adds. BW