It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the dining experience, especially at live events (so long, buffet tables). While many event professionals have already experimented with individually packaged meals and staggered serving times, much of the future of catering is still unknown. To get an idea of what it might look like, BizBash tapped 15 industry experts to gain insights and share ideas. Here’s what they had to say.
How will catering change at live events in 2021?
“Although it’s been a difficult year, I think people have become closer to restaurants, bars, chefs, winemakers, mixologists, and owners of food and beverage companies since they have been offering classes and virtual dinners, which have given more intimacy and background to the companies. As a catering company, we have done more cooking classes and demonstrations that have also helped us come closer to our client base.”
—Pauline Parry, founder and CEO, Good Gracious! Events, Los Angeles
“We’ll see continued engagement with technology and convenience services such as food orders placed and purchased in advance and picked up from sanitized food lockers. There will also be more self-serve and check-out kiosks with little to no communal dining environments.”
—David Parker and Grant Kosch, co-owners, Parker Grant Hospitality, Detroit
“There have been so many new packaging options to make items easy to see, eat, and enjoy while being fully seated. We have always loved using Mason jars because they are adorable and allow for guests to see what is being served while also being eco-friendly!”
—Deborah Miller, owner, Deborah Miller Catering, New York
“Family meals, comfort foods, craft cocktails, and curated wine pairings will remain as people look to nourish their senses. Virtual cooking demonstrations, smaller portions, and plant-forward foods are rising. In catering, the demand for smaller micro-meetings, virtual conventions, and social gatherings is evident. Prepackaged and single serve offerings are also in high demand, and we expect food pricing will continue to increase.”
—Kris Reinhard, general manager, Bold Catering & Design, Atlanta
What trends are you predicting?
“I predict more action stations where chefs will be preparing foods in front of the guests—a la small plate style. I think this will give caterers the ability to be creative with their food offerings while allowing guests to feel more comfortable seeing their dishes prepared for them.”
—Michele Pokowicz, president, Mary Giuliani Catering & Events, New York
“The sustainability trend started several years back, and we’ll see this become more popular as we move into 2021. Supporting local small businesses has been important to many of our event clients lately, so we’ll be incorporating small local purveyors into our menus and events as much as possible.”
—Katelyn Webb, director of catering, Constellation Culinary Group, Miami
“We’ve seen a move toward events that have a continuous flow for guests such as 'grab-and-go' stations that prevent people from congregating in small areas and encourage guests to move quickly. Seated service will continue to be the safest service style, and companies that can offer this service the most efficiently will have a competitive edge.”
—Anthony Lambatos, CEO, Footers Catering, Denver
“There will be more focus on positively impacting our environment as we move past the pandemic. Clients will want to know exactly where their food and beverage is coming from.”
—Alexandra Hammond, director of sales and event production, GetPlated Catering, Indian Head, Md.
“Many of our clients are hyper-focused on not only providing interesting foods that are beautifully presented, but they are also trending toward eating for health. This desire may address dietary restrictions, and we are already seeing clients making decisions based on eating healthfully as a lifestyle, which could mean a gluten-free or primarily vegetarian menu, or even focusing on keto and paleo diets.”
—Andrew Gerstel, CEO, Windows Catering, Alexandria, Va.
What is definitely off the table next year?
“Shared, oversize tropical drink bowls are definitely out. Buffets, where guests can take food with their hands, are definitely out, too.”
—Peter Callahan, owner, Peter Callahan Catering, New York
“The traditional buffet as we know it is off the table for the foreseeable future in 2021. As we saw when COVID-19 hit, people were looking for expanded delivery offerings—particularly to corporate clients.”
—Susan Lacz, CEO, Ridgewells Catering, Bethesda, Md.
“We’re certainly not anticipating any Champagne towers and guests ponying up to the bar in an unorganized manner. In the meantime, we are ideating how to make the bar a more intimate experience that can follow socially distant protocols such as utilizing smaller, revolving bar carts.”
—Matt Landes, founder, Cocktail Academy, Los Angeles
“We’re sad to see it go, but, unfortunately, family-style service is off the table for 2021. Everyone loves the shared experience of passing platters around the table with friends and family, but next year is all about keeping our hands to ourselves. Family style–it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later!”
—Jen Schepps. sales manager, Abigail Kirsch, New York
Keep scrolling for a look at what a few caterers are already doing in preparation for 2021.