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Cameron_Mitchell_zero_proof_drinks_2019.jpg Photo courtesy Cameron Mitchell

A Catering Pro’s Take on 2020 Catering Trends

Melissa Johnson of big-time caterer Cameron Mitchell shares a forecast for the foods, looks and fun for events in 2020.

Melissa  Johnson of Cameron MitchellWhat will inspire event themes and design in 2020? What menu inspiration will chefs use as they create new dishes and fine-tune traditional favorites? We are excited about the trends below as we create our events for 2020!

is a still a top trend in catered events for 2020. It is important to people to continue their commitment to the diet and lifestyle they follow. We are designing menus in the ways below with this trend in mind:

Photo courtesy Cameron MitchellCameron_Mitchell_Plant-based-sausage-risotto.jpg

Plant-based sausage risotto.

Plant-based foods: In 2020 we will be designing menus with more plant-based foods than ever! These menu items are a tasty solution for vegan guests as well as vegetarian guests. Other guests aren’t 100 percent vegan or vegetarian, but they do enjoy these items for their overall health benefits, such as lower cholesterol and saturated fat. The goal is to add in healthful plant-based menu items, all throughout the menu, that are as delicious and satisfying to eat, with both the eyes and the palate.

Some ingredients with a starring role in 2020 to swap in for a healthier choice:

Meat swap: Jackfruit. This comes off the jackfruit tree, which is very hardy and easy to grow, making it good for the planet. The texture has a stringy consistency, making it a popular plant-based substitute for shredded chicken and beef or pulled pork. It is also full of nutrients and fiber. We will see it on menus as jackfruit barbecue, jackfruit cake (think crab cake, but not), rice bowl topping, jackfruit "non" meatballs, and much more.  

Dairy swap: Oat milk. This dairy-free alternative will be everywhere in 2020. It is rich in essential vitamins and fiber, and is a plant-based tasty ingredient for coffee bars, ice creams, savory dishes to add creamy texture, and more!

Protein swap: Pea, mung beans, hempseed, beets, chickpeas and avocado. These are some of the top swaps to add protein, gaining popularity and helping to avoid items that are more commonly allergens, such as cashews and soy.

Exotic cocktails: Ingredients such as bee pollen, teas, hibiscus and matcha will be found mixed in creative drinks at the trendiest events.

Photo courtesy Cameron MitchellCameron_Mitchell_zero_proof_drinks.jpg

Exciting--and alcohol-free--cocktails.

Zero-proof cocktails: Alcohol-free drinks that are intentional, composed and thoughtful are also trending for 2020.

Healthy business meetings and conferences: There is a trend of not only including healthful menu options, but balancing this with physical movement. Some suggestions have been music and a group “dance” for one song to break up a session and add energy. We added this at a meeting of event planners  recently, and it was so well received! Allow time for breaks where people can get in steps and move--maybe there is a prize offered for who has achieved the most steps at a meeting. Event planners are finding creative ways that make sense for the meeting--and what attire attendees will be wearing--to add opportunities for physical movement.

Mental wellness. Finding ways to create quiet spaces that reduce stress and calm are popular for breaks during meetings. Soothing music, comfortable seating, teas, infused waters, and screens with calming images are just some examples of how to add a de-stressing break during a meeting.

Pairing experiential interactions with events is a continuing trend that is evolving for 2020. Some ways to incorporate this trend will be:

Demonstrations with or without attendee involvement and workshops--especially those where you can “get your hands dirty”--and adding ancillary live events to experience creative spaces with more engaging opportunities throughout.

Champagne-hand wall: A wall with curtained squares with gloved hands holding out champagne (or another offering) for the guests to take as they walk by.

Photo courtesy Cameron MitchellCameron_Mitchell_cake_balloon_station.jpg

A cake-ballon station goes up, up and away.

Simple food interactions that include anything from the guests squeezing a pipette into an item or choosing a flavored spray and spraying it on their food to large helium balloons with small cloud cakes inside. The guests pop the balloon, take their cake, and enjoy it as is or add a frosting. Fun food bites attached to small parachutes falling from above for the guest to catch and enjoy add surprise, "wow" and delightful interaction.

Interactive cocktails are on the forefront for 2020! TheButterfly Tea Martini” is a blue cocktail to which the bartender adds lemon juice. As the guest stirs it, the drink turns purple! The “Szechuan Button” is a bigger commitment! An edible flower bud, this “button” can be added to a drink and, when consumed, releases a naturally occurring alkaloid that creates a tingly or numbing feeling in the mouth, followed by salivation that then feels like a cooling sensation in the throat.

Mosaic picture wall: Guests create a physical mosaic wall at the event from live event photos or online hashtag photos in real time. Guests can take part in creating a large work of art by placing their picture on the wall that will, over time, reveal the overall image.

Augmented reality vs. virtual reality at events: AR is a hardware filter that can be used with a smartphone and can be live in the real world with an effect--like sound or an image--layered on top of it. VR totally immerses the person in a different reality and requires more gear. By learning more about AR and VR and how to add elements of them to events, event planners can add new dimensions of creativity and experiences.

Instagramable food, beverage and experiences are very popular in events, so incorporate this opportunity from your initial planning. Have creative hashtags displayed for guests so they can use what you want them to use.

Photo courtesy Cameron MitchellCameron_Mitchell_healthful_crudite.jpg

Local veggies in a crudite array.

Continuing to lessen our footprint on earth and offering sustainable practices and products is a trend that continues to grow—and rightfully so. Caterers are going after green certifications and highlighting sustainable practices and products on their websites.

Straws, plastics in general, and extra non-essential items are being removed from events entirely or replaced with more sustainable options. Companies are analyzing what is non-essential or easily replaced with a better, eco-friendly option. This is also touted on websites, social media and proposals to clients, as it can be a determining factor when choosing a caterer.

Sourcing and buying local is still a growing trend. Complementing the sustainability mentioned above, supporting local business, highlighting local flavors and products, and creating the local experience are trends that make each market unique and interesting. Craft products--whether small-batch spirits, beers, breads, sauces, coffees or other food and beverage products--add a special intimate touch to a menu by offering flavors, items and stories not commonly found with mainstream products.

Design and style play a huge role in events. New trends are mixed with traditional favorites and unique preferences for events each year. For 2020 we are seeing:

Photo courtesy Cameron MitchellCameron_Mitchell-herb_wall-snip.jpg

A living herb wall.

Bringing the outdoors indoors is a sensory-altering 2020 trend. Transforming an indoor event environment with elements from outside can alter the guests’ senses as they navigate the event. Trees, outdoor furniture, greenery and floral walls, fountains, and other outdoor elements all help create the outdoor atmosphere to fit with or enhance a particular theme. Combine these with subtle sound effects that lean towards that theme or with fresh scents of beachy salt water or wintery birch and tobacco.

Relaxed and comfortable design environments for events--with detailed composition that keeps sophistication in play--will be a trend in 2020. There will still be the elegant and lush events, but the more approachable and relaxed elements are finding their way in. This could be with aspects such as fun dessert bars with the late-night bites, or adding comfortable seating with sofas or banquettes at dining tables for seating at galas.

Non-traditional venues are also on trend for 2020 but might need some creative transformation. Using the trends above will help transform these spaces.

The Pantone color of 2020 is Classic Blue. This choice installs a feeling of calm, connection and dependability as we enter 2020. In addition to Classic Blue, ocean-inspired colors of blues, cooler greens, sandy-colored neutrals and browns will be mixed in.

Melissa Johnson is managing director/operating partner with Columbus, Ohio-based Cameron Mitchell Premier Events. She manages 75 full-time and 200 part-time team members, generating more than $15 million in revenue for the Cameron Mitchell Restaurant group, one of the largest and most successful independent restaurant groups in the U.S., best known for its Ocean Prime restaurants. In addition to overseeing Cameron Mitchell Premier Events, she is a part-time lecturer at Ohio State University for the special events class and serves as a member of the university’s hospitality management advisory board.

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