Sarah Halfpenny Events

Let’s Talk Food | My 5 Event Catering Trends

by Sarah Halfpenny

Whether we like it or not, food is a really important element of any event. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or something in between, your guests, delegates and sponsors value and appreciate good food.

Certainly, for me, working with various clients and caterers, the key theme this year has undoubtedly been around serving locally produced, healthy and nutritious food. Clients are also looking to provide their guests with an ‘experience’ with unique displays and element of interaction. Dare I put it out there, a handful of clients, the rebels, are also wishing to indulge guests with sweet treats galore!

Armed with this client ‘wish list’, plus the need to ensure that you include catering options for those who can’t tolerate and choose not to eat ingredients such as gluten, meat and dairy, these requests can be challenging to even the most creative chefs and event planners.

In this blog, I highlight my 5 Event Catering Trends for 2017 with a few ideas that you may find helpful.

Event Catering Trend 1 | Brain Food!
The health and wellbeing phenomena is not going away. Super food ingredients are being used in abundance and often baked, poached, grilled, steamed or boiled for additional health benefits. So how do you mix up these ingredients to make a simple salad with salmon exciting to eat?

I shall start with the ‘Salad Bar’. Done well, this provides a great option if you want delegates to have a healthy choice. Delegates can simply choose whatever fresh ingredients are on offer, with the benefit of creating their own menu. Keep sauces and dips separate and providing different sized bowls, plates or jars to allow your guests to manage their own plate and portion size too.

Likewise, ‘Food Stations’ or ‘Cook as you go Food Bars’ that serve hot and healthy bowl food, delivers both on health and experience. Delegates can talk direct to the chef, control the ingredients and amounts of everything that goes into their bespoke bowl of food and then watch it being freshly prepared in front of you. Stir-fry or Noddle dishes work particularly well here.

If you are seeking something which will provide your guests with an additional fun experience, you could look at hiring something like a Smoothie Bike. Simply pop your smoothie ingredients into the blender and use peddle power to create your perfect smoothie! This offer great fun and great photos alike!

Event Catering Trend 2 | Locally Produced, Ethical, Sustainably and Organic
Increasingly I am experiencing clients wishing to only work with local, ethical, sustainable and organic producers and caterers, so what does this mean?

Typically, this means that the food is fresh, healthy and free from chemicals. With less miles to travel it means a smaller carbon footprint and above all it helps support local farmers and producers in the region supporting communities. So, whether it’s meat, fish, eggs or pickles, locally brewed beer, gin or lavender lemonade, do your research and seek out those small producers and suppliers which will add something a little bit special to the party!

Event Catering Trend 3 | Experiential
So, did this all start with the chocolate fountain? Crafting a foodie’s display that looks good, smells great and tastes amazing really encourages interaction which is fun and engaging. Things have moved on since 2004 and delegates are expecting not only increased levels of interaction with the food that is being served, but also an introduction to new ingredients, flavours and combinations.

Street food shacks (or stalls, vans or carts) are a popular way to provide guests with both choice and opportunity to try something new. Hawker stalls range from Chaat, a popular Mumbai street food, Pad Thai provides an aromatic taste of Bangkok, Crepes from Brittany to Californian Chilidogs. Part of the fun is just researching what street food hawker stalls are available in your area and to be daring with your choices!

Event Catering Trend 4 | Indulgence
Yes, I said it, indulgence! Those fattening, naughty, calorific treats that some clients are actively asking for. The naughty but nice treats specifically to provide a mid-morning pick up or to help battle the afternoon slump. Gone are the days when a humble piece of brownie or cookie cuts the mustard. Now it all about the fun. So, from doughnut trees, fruit fondue, popcorn stations to marshmallow kebabs
and ice cream carts, there are no limits!

I also love the personalised snack bag idea. Similar to a kid’s party bag, each delegate is given a personalised bag of sweet treats which they can then keep for the entire day and indulge on as and when they need a pick me up. Choose from a selection of nuts, liquorice fudge, popcorn, chocolates or retro sweets. Of cause these bags can also be filled with health nibbles too!

Event Catering Trend 5 | Dietary: Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free
From those that have to be careful with what they eat, to those who choose to eat alternatives to meat, wheat and dairy, it is the responsibility of the event organisers to ensure that all dietary options are made available. I realise this isn’t a ‘trend’ as such but I wanted to include it as it’s an important component of any menu selection.

Most caterers who I have worked with offer alternatives as part of their catering packages and are all happy to design equally amazing meals using alternative ingredients. If you have the opportunity to ask your delegates at the point of registration if they have any specific dietary requirements then I would certainly recommend that you do so. This definitely helps with the final menu selection and will help manage your budget too.

Alternatively, you could opt to serve a menu which is already vegan, vegetarian, sugar free and gluten free as standard. Although perhaps a little more challenging, this way delegates are not singled out and everyone can enjoy everything.

So, there you have it, my 5 Event Catering Trends for 2017. And my prediction, well I think there is a possibility that we may just get a little bit more indulgent and daring!