BY THE BITE
Abigail Kirsch, New York
For clients who don't wanted a formal seated dinner, "We’re seeing a lot of 'dinner by the bite' style of dining," management says, where guests are served what amounts to a full meal in smaller bites. "We offer four to five phases that are butlered to guests starting with light hors d’oeuvre, followed by heartier passed hors d'oeuvre, an intermezzo, then butlered small chef’s tasting plates and unique butlered sweets towards the end." Also big: single themed stations, whether savory or sweet, that play on an event or brand color. For example, an upcoming event will feature a dessert station filled with red and white treats, as a nod to the company's brand colors.
HOLD THAT MARGIN
Behind the Scenes Catering and Events, San Diego
Trends in food include soups (both hot and cold), Thai and Indian spices, salads with quinoa, lentils and grains, and food truck food "but guests seem to be over the trucks themselves," BTS president John Crisafulli says. Some caterers who cut their prices during the recession to hold on to business are paying the price now as clients think they can still get more for less; "Caterers need to be careful to maintain what they do best and not get caught in the trap of following or copying their competition. Clients are looking for genuine, knowledgeable professionals, and are willing to pay for that quality," he says.
GOT THE SPIRITS
Blue Plate, Chicago
"A creative twist on classics is a continuing trend," Blue Plate says. "We’ve been having fun with ethnic street foods at stations. There is a huge interest in micro-distilled spirits, which offers lots of pairing options."
GLUTEN IS GONE
Catering by Michael's Family of Companies, Morton Grove, Ill.
"Traditional buffets are out, stations and interactive experiences are in," management says. "More focused menus with fewer options, and clean and neat presentation. Garden/vintage chic is winding down but will continue to exist in mid-market weddings. Super foods and ancient grains are everywhere. Gluten-free is the biggest thing happening right now; it’s the new vegetarian."
MEET THE NEW KALE
Great Performances, New York
Escarole will be the new kale, they say, while kohlrabi and dairy-free will be other hot trends. Nut, avocado, grape seed and other nontraditional oils will come to the fore, while Southeast Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern menus will grow in popularity. Guests will gravitate toward more casual eating experiences featuring artisanal and handcrafted foods. The Great Performances team plans to play with guests' expectations about venues: "For example, we will build out an elegant party in a raw loft, or we will take a space within a cultural institution known for having more serious tones, and add fun, playful touches. Nothing is what it seems!"
McCalls Catering and Events, San Francisco
McCalls notes a trend toward smaller meat portions, amuse courses for seated dinners, small plates for receptions and bite-size desserts. Clients like a wide selection of vegetables and grains and demand healthier options that take food allergies into account. And make it fast: "More efficient service" and "fast service for seated dinners" is a trend that it picking up speed.
GIN IS IN
Occasions Caterers, Washington
What's in: Gin, vermouth, restaurant experiences at events, exotic grains, artisan stations, interactive food experiences, brunch, fish, micro spirits and whimsical renditions of classic dishes. What's out: Cupcakes, dual entrees, blue cocktails, sliders, gastronomy, and waiters in tuxedos.
CONSIDER THE ALTERNATIVE
Patina Group Catering, Los Angeles
Trends include special requests for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free guests, sustainable and organic ingredients, and creative alternatives to traditional dinners and receptions. "For example, a three-tier wedding cake could now be a fun dessert station with a variety of mini desserts and candies, to an ice cream nitro bar, or a pressed juice station added to a beverage bar," they say. "Comfort food and retro classics served mini style is another popular request," such as chicken and waffles, fish and chips, and whoopee pies. Also big: hand-crafted savory cocktails tailored to a specific theme, taking the place of the standard bar with beer and wine.
SEAFOOD? NO, SEAWEED
Windows Catering Co., Alexandria, Va.
Foods to watch: edible seaweeds including wakame, ogonori, hijiki, sea grapes and kombu; ancient grains such as amaranth, farro, wheatberries, black rice, freekeh and quinoa; acai; and gluten-free menus.
Read the full story in the May-June issue of Special Events, which is free to ISES members and delivered to subscribers. Not a subscriber? We can fix that; just click here.
Note: The complete list of these big caterers, including event count and revenue forecasts for 2014, is available for a nominal fee; to order for immediate download, click here.