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Trending Upward

Top event trends seen at Catersource + The Special Event 2024

 All photos courtesy Ivan Piedra Photography/AGNYC Productions/SpotMyPhotos unless noted otherwise
Cover photo: Attendees at Catersource + The Special Event had a great time at the Closing Night Celebration. 


Catersource + The Special Event is always a premier place to spot the latest trends. Between the venue tour, tradeshow floor, education and keynote sessions, and evening events, it was easy to see what your clients might be looking for this year. Here are the top trends we spotted in February at the show.

Customization & personalization

Logoed ice cubes made an appearance throughout the show.

Today’s eventgoers want a hyper-personalized experience, something that makes their experience different from that of other attendees, even. During the show, attendees witnessed products and activities that provide opportunities to weave in unique touches.

Take, for example, customized sugar cubes by Sugar Lab Pro, which was featured at Michael Cerbelli's: The Hot List™, this year’s Closing General Session keynote. This company uses 3D printers to create favors, desserts, and decor that match themes, color schemes, and feature logos in the form of candies, chocolates, and cocktail garnishes.

Attendees also witnessed hyper personalization in the form of logoed ice cubes by Abstract Ice, seen at the annual trend session David Merrell & Susie Perelman Present: Current Trends in the Event Industry. The ice was presented at the session and was etched with either an “M” or the logo “AOO” (representative of Perelman and Merrell’s companies, respectively). Later, Abstract Ice could be spotted throughout the showcasing events stamped with Texas themes like cowboy hats. 


Entertainment is a great (and expected) way to create spectacle. The Hot List™ brought acrobatic roller skating dancers of America's Got Talent fame to the stage, amping up everyone in the crowd.

Events are experiences, and these days, those experiences need to be filled with dramatic flair. Every aspect of the event should be entertaining.

“We have this crazy, upside-down world, and it’s such a heavy world, and people really want to escape from that world and enter into a dream,” said Perelman. “More is more, big, big, bigger, and get away from the heaviness that we’re all experiencing.”

Attendees witnessed examples of this spectacle approach during The Hot List™, with a drone bartender that picked up a filled Boston shaker, flew it high above the bar, gave it a little shake, and then lowered itself back onto the bar top to deliver the finished beverage. The crowd also watched performances by flair bartenders and blowtorch-wielding caterers. The Closing Night Celebration also gave attendees a taste of the spectacular with servers parading through the venue with signs above their heads flanked with eye-catching flares, announcing each course of the night.

“You need massive LED screens and pyrotechnics and lasers and everything to really satisfy the audience,” noted Merrell. “It’s been something that we’ve seen building and building, and fortunately there’s a lot of tools in our industry to create spectacle.”

The Hot List™ also showcased striking production, making the Closing General Session a spectacle that had attendees grabbing their cameras to capture the extravagant performances of contortionists and roller-skating acrobats. The session pulled in the audience with music, accompanying LED light work, pyrotechnics, and messages from celebrities.

Fire & smoke

Gastro Garage could be seen with their torches at the Closing General Session and on the tradeshow floor.

After The Hot List™, the blowtorch-wielding geniuses from Gastro Garage made their way to the tradeshow floor, where they offered booth visitors a freshly torched donut.

This brings us to the next trend: in 2024, everything will be on fire. Or at least, smoked. Between sessions like Where There Is Smoke, There Is Yumminess! (at the Art of Catering Food conference before CS+TSE), Fanning the Flames: A Culinary Journey into the Art of Fire Cooking, and Liquid Nitrogen: How to Wow the Crowd, caterers took notes on ways to incorporate fire and smoke into flavors, cooking, and service. 

“Smokin’ hot service, whether it is smoked charcuterie under glass, or the smoked bourbon stations, or the Flavour Blaster [an appliance that lays a smoke bubble onto the rim of a coupe glass] which you’ve been seeing for years, these are things that are becoming more and more readily available,” said Merrell. “This is something that just kind of creates an experience.”

Plus, between the sotol (a distillate with similarities to tequila and mezcal) attendees sipped on the venue tour and the mezcal trend Kristin Banta predicted isn’t going away anytime soon, we think smoke and fire are elemental to events in 2024.


Cazoshay Marie (Divine Intervention Design) during her session Beyond Barriers: Unleashing the Power of Inclusive Events.

While we’ve seen diversity and inclusion efforts ebb and flow in the past few years, Merrell and Perelman noted that neuroinclusivity is gaining traction. “Basically it’s the idea that everybody interacts and experiences the world around them in a different way, and there’s really no one right way or wrong way, so a neurodivergent person would be someone who has, like, ADHD, or OCD, or autism, or dyslexia—I would venture to say in this room, there are people that have certain variations or certain degrees of that,” said Merrell, “and this is not to make fun of it, but it’s actually to now start thinking about the fact that corporations are actually starting to pay attention to neurodiversity, and make sure that their content and what they do for available for everyone to sensory process in their own way.”

Several sessions focused on different forms of inclusivity and the various ways to incorporate good practices (Elevate Your Catering Sales & Management Through Inclusive Practices; Diversifying Your Workforce: From Back of the House to the Boardroom; Embracing Diversity & Inclusion in Wedding Planning: Creating Unforgettable Moments That Honor Love in All Its Forms; and Ensuring Inclusive Events for All). These conversations have moved past their initial “inclusivity is important” forms and now break down practical ways event pros can—and have—successfully created inclusive events and businesses.


LED drummers perform alongside holograms at the Opening General Session. Note: holograms are very difficult to photograph—I'll bet you can guess which are live and which are holograms in this photo!

If it feels like we’re living in the future, it’s probably because we’re seeing so many holograms lighting up events. Attendees watched holograms of drummers perform alongside a live drumline at the Opening General Session keynote. 

“You’re seeing a lot more of the 3D hologram,” said Deborah Elias (Elias Events) in her session The Wow Factor: Technology and Trends for Your Events.

Cerbelli featured a few types of holograms in The Hot List™, as well as Proto, a hologram communications platform that allows event attendees to interact with speakers from anywhere in the world. Elias also showcased several different types of hologram technology in her session, varying in quality and price.

“It’s getting less expensive to do because... the more people that do it, the more products are available,” said Elias.


An LED screen displays intricate, vivid imagery behind the live music at the Opening Night Party.

LED lighting has gotten better in quality and cheaper in price, making this technology a staple at events. Between the Keynote Stage lighting and the Opening Night Party, LED walls and lights told the CS+TSE story with eloquence.

“When I first started, there were no LED screens,” said Elias. “I would say maybe 15, 17 years ago they started coming out and they were very expensive, and the pixelation was pretty wide.” But over the years, technology has improved.

“We’ve now kind of come down to this new era, where it’s not just LED display screens anymore, we’re doing the lucid ones now.” Elias noted that a lot of AV companies are investing in these screens. But there’s more than one type of LED light display; she also spotlighted LED sparkler lights, curtains, and display signs as trending event tech that really sets up a space.

“LED technology is getting more and more immersive,” said Merrell. “You can wrap entire rooms, you can create a transformative experience with your guests, whatever the messaging is.” He pointed to the Sphere in Las Vegas, a venue that’s wrapped entirely in LED tech to create incredibly vivid, immersive imagery.

Attendees got a taste of vibrant LED screens, which were seen lighting up the Keynote Stage and the Opening Night Party, providing intricate, eye-catching imagery to set the scene and stimulate their senses.

Monochromatics & color drenching

Purple light washed over the venue at the SEARCH Foundation's Annual Signature Event.

Color trends come and go, but at this year’s show, we saw a lot of color unification. 

Monochromatic color schemes are those that use multiple variations of the same color, and they are hot right now. In honor of Valentine’s Day (and the SEARCH brand), varying shades of purple could be seen in furniture, decor, and atmosphere talent at the SEARCH Foundation’s Annual Signature Event.

Brian Green (By BrianGreen) addressed monochromatic color schemes in his session Applying the Principles of Color Theory to Elevate Your Events, describing it as “when we’re using one color effectively, using all the variations of lightness, saturation, dark, cool, warm, in one palette.” 

He confessed a personal tendency toward this color scheme, and noted how “in events, monochromatic works really well in corporate. People tend to like ‘shades of,’ it makes it feel more powerful and strong—works really well in a floral palette as well.” Green emphasized the importance of understanding the technical side of a monochromatic color scheme; if someone says they like white, for instance, you’ll need to walk them through all the shades and tones so an all-white scheme doesn’t look flat on camera.

The other way this single-tone color work comes into play is in what Banta called “color drenching,” a technique that involves covering everything with one saturated color for dramatic effect. “Imagine one room entirely in Peach Fuzz,” she joked, referencing Pantone’s Color of the Year.

“We’re also seeing a lot of ‘let’s just stick to the monochromatic, and let’s incorporate all of the different monochromatic pieces that we can,” said Liza Roeser (FiftyFlowers) in her 2024 Floral Tips, Tricks, & Trends in the Catering World. She showed the audience a photo of a tablescape in which the candles matched the chargers and noted that even the food's colors were considered.

The best example we saw of color drenching at Catersource + The Special Event were neon cowboys at the Opening Night Party and the tradeshow floor, courtesy of Champagne Creative Group. These atmosphere talents were dressed head to toe in a single shade, from their cowboy hats and face masks down to their boots.

Shimmer & shine

Every surface at the Closing Night Celebration was reflective, from the mirror walls, chrome greeter costumes, and sparkling disco balls.

We saw the disco ball trend take hold in 2023, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Reflective surfaces could be spotted at every evening event this year, from table decor to ceiling treatments to costumed atmosphere talent.

At Connect Social, disco balls were paired with roses and feathers for an eclectic tabletop; at the Opening Night Party, plastic disco ball cups with pink cowboy hats doubled as beverage containers and take-home party favors. The SEARCH event drew eyes with a performer dressed head to toe in shiny, silver mosaic pieces—a living disco ball. 

One thing to keep in mind: we’ll be seeing the disco ball motif transform into all metallics in 2024, Banta pointed out in her session, predicting chrome will be trendy. Think all things shiny, sparkling, silvery, futuristic, eye-catching.

This was seen in the Closing Night Celebrations’ “Prismatic Spectacle” theme, which draped the venue from top to bottom in metallics. Several variations of silvery, chromey costumes adorned greeters, dancers, and atmosphere talent; metallic balloons met attendees at the entrance and danced overhead, accompanied by silver tinsel streamers; and tinselly and glittery wall treatments sparkled behind attendees, who also wore their shiniest and glitziest attire. Everywhere you looked, your eye was met with a silvery, metallic dream.

These are just a few of the top trends we saw at Catersource + The Special Event, but as we make our way through 2024, we’ll be keeping our eyes open for everything new and exciting making its way into the spotlight and into events!  

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