As in-person events continue to make the comeback that we have been seeing over the past few weeks, planners, venues, and caterers are looking to the latest food and beverage trends in this new stage of event planning. This time last year, restaurants were pushing takeout packages and kits as most restaurants had to close for a little while. Now, we’re seeing new trends for food and beverage service at events that we could get used to again.

Individually packaged items

Events during the pandemic have often taken the approach of offering individually packaged items for guests, which is a food service trend that can be taken even past the pandemic. Not only does an event full of single-portion food items make guests feel safe, but it also makes for an Instagrammable moment!

Take Mary Giuliani Catering & Events in New York, for example, which is offering individually packaged mini sliders, bags of chips, cheese plates, popcorn boxes, pizza slices, and s’mores in a jar for live events. This cute and easy setup is a great way to get guests excited. Who wouldn’t want to photograph their mini slider wrapped in custom packaging?

Susan Gage Caterers is coming in hot with individually bagged cocktails with fun straws. Sip and enjoy a fruity cocktail from a pouch at an outdoor event. This cocktail, of course, will make it to an Instagram story.

For the elegant event-goers in New York, Deborah Miller Catering is creating deconstructed Caesar salads in champagne flutes. This classy look is both a creative and safe style of service for those guests slightly anxious about attending live events again. These individual portions can be served passed appetizer style or set into a buffet, which we will discuss next.

Challenging buffet style

On Tripleseat’s virtual panel, What Event Planners Want From Your Venue, the panelists discussed how they specifically seek out how venues have stepped up their game since the start of the pandemic. One way of doing this is to challenge the buffet style of food service. Yes, buffet style is a popular, cheap, and efficient way to serve food at an event, but how can venues go above and beyond to move past the standard feel of a buffet?

Take the element of individually served items and include it into your buffet setup. Dedicate a buffet station to appetizers, salads, main course, and side dishes to keep the event flow separated, yet contained. While post-pandemic events will hopefully not require as much stress upon distancing, many people may still have the instinct to stay more distanced than they would have before the pandemic and the single-serve items make for a quicker trip through the buffet.

Aside from the individually portioned items in the buffet, the panelists told the virtual attendees that having an employee working the buffet may still be important for the foreseeable future to move the buffet along and limit unnecessary touching. Again, even if this is not a COVID requirement, the physical act of having another person tend to the buffet will likely put guests at ease. The perception of safety is just as important as the actual act of following safety precautions. 

Lastly, when it comes to buffets, elevate the setup wherever possible. Place items on trendy serving trays, include handwritten name tags for each item, decorate the table with flowers, and use creative ways of displaying food on the buffet stations whenever possible: think wheels, boards, walls, etc.

Charcuterie galore

Who doesn’t love a delicious charcuterie board full of meats and cheeses? It seems like everyone is posting their latest charcuterie board creations on Instagram, and for good reason; they are definitely photogenic. But looking past the cheese and crackers, how else can you expand into creating a creative board for events?

Try a brunch charcuterie board spread for late-morning events that includes all of the brunch essentials: pancakes, bacon, eggs, toast, fruit, yogurt parfait, donuts, and more. Or stick to one food item per board, like a pancake-specific board with all the delicious toppings for building a tasty stack of pancakes. 

How about a casual event? Try a board of game day favorites, like mac and cheese bites, mini sliders, chicken wings, potato skins, and mozzarella sticks. Loop into holidays, themes, or color schemes whenever possible in order to get that “wow” factor. Imagine various boards, each only using one single color. Anything can be created into a unique grazing board with the right mindset!

Lastly and most importantly, create a dessert board. Try the DIY s’mores approach if you have the necessary equipment for guests to roast marshmallows, and then include graham crackers and chocolate slices, along with some extras like peanut butter cups or Oreos for a deluxe s’more. If the group doesn’t like the extra work to build their own s’mores, a dessert board with chocolates, elevated cookies, candies, chocolate pretzels, and berries should do just fine.

Cocktails: natural flavors and low sugar

According to an annual report created by Bacardi about drinking trends that will emerge after the pandemic, there is a lot to know. While the report specifics drinking trends and patterns in a general sense and not solely for events, it is still important because it could determine consumer interests for future events.

According to the report, gin, mezcal, and tequila were on an upward trend before the pandemic and will continue to boom post-pandemic. Does your venue offer specialty cocktails for each alcoholic beverage?

On the other hand, while many people still love a classic cocktail with liqueurs, syrups, or bitters, others are also looking for more natural flavors in their drink of choice. The trend towards clean eating can be seen in many parts of the country, and the demand for cleaner cocktails is the same.

Bacardi’s report says that consumers specifically will be seeking ingredients with fewer artificial additives and reduced refined sugar. How can your venue take this information and make it your own, creatively? Maybe it is through the creation of additional cocktails, a clean cocktail package, or a fun way to physically display this new trend at an event.

Updated menu items

We discussed the individually packaged style of serving food at events through passed-appetizer style or buffet style in the points above. Now it is time to consider any new items that should be added to your menu that seem to be trending right now.

Flatbreads, in many shapes and flavors, are a popular menu item in 2021. Get creative and think about the variety of flatbreads that could be offered to a planner looking at your menu packages.

Cheese is popular on and off the charcuterie board, with burrata-focused appetizers being a big hit. Served with tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a bit of salt, burrata is great alone, with bread, salads, or even on an elevated slice of avocado toast.

Cauliflower has been taking over as a healthy alternative for a while now, but it continues to make its way to menus everywhere in new forms. Cauliflower pizza, cauliflower buffalo bites, cauliflower tempura, and cauliflower mashed potatoes all make the guest feel a tiny bit on the healthier side.

Lastly, street tacos with a spin are always a great go-to and can always be revamped to offer a creative spin. Can you build a taco bar with the elements of an individually packaged menu item? What new flavors that pair well with the rest of your event menu can you include? Think outside the box for new ways to offer current items at events.

More resources

Event planning is heating up and you want to make sure your venue is ahead of the curve in terms of food and beverage trends for events and catering. Take a look at a survey Tripleseat recently published analyzing consumer plans and interests for events in 2021.

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