Attendees want amazing Instagram-worthy food displays AND exquisite tastes. This article will help you master both areas with 200 ideas to get them talking, sharing, and eating.
Top 10 Examples of Event Catering Ideas
- Tacos and Mini Margaritas
- Charcoal Lemonade
- Mini Pails of Food
- Floral Ice Bucket
- Bacon Bar
- Share Boards
- Willy Wonka-sized Chocolate Fountain
- Savory “Lollipops”
- Caramel Garnish
- Trash Can Nachos
Table of Contents
200 Event Catering Ideas and Inspiration
In this list, we cover hot trends and suggestions on ways to make them your own. Some are easy, and others are completely over the top.
You’ll notice several repeated themes: mini food, personalization (in the forms of bars and choice), and Instagrammable items.
Why is that?
Because if you want people to notice your food and count it as part of a memorable experience, you need to give them a WOW! moment and those come from not only their taste buds but their eyes as well.
Looking for specific catering inspiration?
If so, jump straight to the section you need from the list below. Or just browse the whole post.
Exciting Catering Menu Ideas and Additions
Event planners these days have many things to think about when balancing attendee needs and desires. Here are a few delicious catering menu ideas to try.
If you’re looking for something more health conscious, look here.
Portable Shrimp and Grits
This southern favorite has largely been ignored at conferences until now. With the help of a cute martini glass shrimp and grits is now a networking food. It can also be made gluten-free.
When considering food menu ideas, a frequent concern is keeping your food themes healthy but appealing to guests. Fermented meals like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha are all exotic but extremely healthy. For centuries in many cultures, fermentation was the go-to option for food preservation; today we love them because they’re both delicious and healthy.
Brunch is the best of both worlds, delicious breakfast dishes and heartier lunch items. Choosing a brunch menu can make many people happy.
Tacos and Mini Margaritas
Mini is a hot trend on our list, and many things appear to be something out of Alice and Wonderland. But they are so cute. Your attendees will just want to gobble them up. Don’t be surprised if they take those darling tequila bottles home with them.
This is a beautiful way to showcase your sushi. It shows off its colors in an appealing arch design.
Champagne Jelly Cubes
These tipsy bites provide a quick dessert taste with fresh fruit, champagne, and the delightful texture. The oversized spoon is an excellent utensil for this grown-up treat.
Along those same lines, this dessert catering idea turns macaroons into whimsical cacti. This dessert is perfect for a desert conference or western theme. You can construct cactus flowers out of fondant.
Who would ever serve a personal pineapple for dessert? Yet, this image is very tempting. Look closer, and you’ll realize it’s not a pineapple at all but a beautifully constructed cake with a meringue topping. This dessert is definitely going straight to their Instagram page.
Stir-fried Ice Cream Parlor
This frozen treat originally from Asia is the ultimate dessert experience you can offer your guests. Think sumptuous gelato, flattened and then fit into a cylinder. But with additional toppings and a spoon in it. It’s that simple and you’ll have yourself a fun catering idea that’s Instagrammable by attendees!
Creme Brulee Shooters
These decadent bites are fashionable and flavorful. They’re just enough richness to top off a meal without being too much.
Great Catering Ideas Your Guests Will Love
For great catering ideas, you want to either do something that is rarely if ever, seen or do something that has been seen but in a completely different way. Here are a few suggestions for catering food ideas and arrangements:
Chef’s Outdoor Kitchen
If you’ve been searching for outside catering ideas, this does it. Everyone loves a good cooking show and watching a gorgeous meal whipped up before your eyes is definitely a great stimulant for whetting the appetite. This is like a cooking show that allows event attendees to interact with the chef while he cooks. It makes for a lively experience every outdoor event should have.
Booze-Free Cocktail Bar
As attendees get increasingly conscientious about their health and more and more people are opting for alcohol-free options, virgin cocktails are making a comeback. Get a professional mixologist to put up a zero-proof cocktail bar and event attendees can enjoy the highs of revelry void of hangovers.
This fun station allows guests to select a pretzel and slather it with their favorite kind of topping.
Okay, it may be a tad overdone at this point, but we had to include it just in case there was someone who was unaware of this hot trend that has been embraced by the younger generation. Like a good song that’s been overplayed, the donut wall may be moving into the realm of passé, but it still gets the toes tapping.
Rainbow Chocolate-Covered Strawberries
These luscious fruits now come in all colors of the rainbow thanks to a little help from their chocolate dresses. This treat makes for a great dessert for an outdoor or tea party or anything else where pretty is a major crowd pleaser.
Nothing says refreshing outdoor beverage quite the way lemonade does. Want to surprise your guests? Serve up some pitch black lemonade. Just make sure to get the big reveal on camera.
Salads on the Go
Salads are a nice addition to any picnic in that they are light and refreshing. Problem is… they’re not that portable. At least not until now.
This is one of the best catering ideas to bring out the love for desserts in your guests. Traditionally a treat from Hawaii, shave ice has gone global and seems to have “shaved” the general admiration of snow cones away with its more exotic and healthier topping options from the tiger’s blood to lychee.
Fruit and Veggie Animals
Want to add some interest to a buffet table or create an intriguing centerpiece? Get out the knife and carve these adorable animals into existence using fruits and vegetables. Works of art!
These “roses” make a sweet dessert, place setting, addition to a beverage, or decoration on your table or buffet. The deep jewel color of the strawberry is very appealing and, best of all, these roses are edible.
Loveable Lunch Catering Ideas
Lunch should never be boring. It serves as a break in your event and should be a respite. Here are a few lunch catering menu ideas to captivate your audience.
Salad on Ice
If you don’t have space for a salad bar, this is a cool mini alternative that still makes the healthy options appealing and fresh. These salad buckets are served on ice, and they are build-your-own with toppings and dressings. A tray this size could serve individual tables and still be decorative as an interactive centerpiece.
Credit: Sherly Hermawan
Vegan Lunch Options
Plant-based meals are getting a lot of buzz lately, as the current focus on environmentally sustainable practices and healthy living builds. Offering vegan lunch options, whether full metal vegan or a tempeh Reuben option, give your vegan event attendees a nod of affirmation that says “we get it and we put you in mind”.
Egg Cups or Walking Quiche
Here’s another walkable lunch idea. Instead of using a traditional flaky crust for your quiche and your guests end up wearing the crumbs, you can use a more substantial crust like that of a biscuit.
Open-faced sandwiches can give your audience the flavor and satisfaction of a sandwich but with fewer carbs. But before you go placing a piece of ham on one slice of bread, check out these colorful options.
You could write a book on the varieties of sliders out there, or you could host an interactive slider bar for your guests. If you do not feel that inventive, try this delicious blend of savory and sweet.
Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Fresh poke bowls are an excellent event food idea for lunch that’ll settle your guests’ hunger and keep them energized for some hours. From octopus to salmon to ahi, pair a fresh catch with delicious toppings and fresh veggies.
Traditionally from Vietnam, Bánh mì is Vietnamese for “bread” and is a sandwich that mixes ingredients like spicy chilis, cilantro, and pickled daikon. Usually a casual street meal, Bành mì sandwiches are a perfect a less formal lunch for your event. They’re great for foodies who love a stand and eat lunch at a busy event.
Mini Pails of Food
This delightful catering display idea incorporates bite-size servings of food in cute little pails. They also used lights to add drama and draw attention to the display. For additional benefit, pails can be branded and messages can be left behind each one so that when they are consumed, it’s not just a blank space the attendee is looking at.
Starter Seedling or Dessert?
This light dessert resembles a starter seedling but at closer look one realizes it is delectable chocolate mousse, peppered with crushed chocolate cookie, and a sprig of mint. It’s a great dessert for a garden party or underpinning corporate messaging about growth.
Mini Crab Cakes with Lime Chive Mayonnaise
These mini crab cakes are perfect for large crowds. With every dip guests will certainly get a unique taste and love every bite.
Inexpensive Catering Menu Ideas For Small Budgets
A small budget needn’t mean bland, boring options. Here are a few inexpensive catering ideas that will still make an impression at your event. You don’t want to serve noticeably cheap food items or compromise on taste. Sometimes the key is presenting food in a way that makes the item go further so it works well for your budget but looks anything but cheap.
For low budgets, repurposing furniture can be ideal rather than event rentals. Turn ordinary feature furniture, like this ornate dresser, into a food display for a quirky station that attracts attention at the venue. If it’s sturdy enough, you could also fill the drawers with wrapped food or even have a cutlery and napkin drawer.
Credit: Arroz Con Leche
Finger foods are generally less expensive than a sit-down, or even buffet, dinner. Since they are often passed and not openly grabbed by guests, you can limit the numbers and circulation easily. If you’re looking to save money, hors-d’oeuvres are an excellent way to do that.
Looking for more Canapé inspiration?
Here’s a list 18 Scrumptious Canapés and Finger Foods.
And here are 23 more portable eats.
Floral or Flower Ice Bucket
These stunning ice cubes are as easy as obtaining water and flowers (or herbs and veggies, if you’d prefer). They make a gorgeous presentation in water or lemonade or any light-colored spritzer. When the ice melts, the drinks will be peppered with lovely color. Just make sure you select edible flowers!
While we’re on the subject of ice, a floral ice bucket is a perfect idea for keeping drinks cold or even seafood. It’s a temporary work of art. And it’s easy enough to make on your own. Just make sure it’s contained for when it starts to melt.
Baked Potato Bar
A great affordable event catering idea is the baked potato bar. And it’s as simple as it comes. You just need one large baked potato per person (and a few extras for the extra hungry). For the toppings, you could go with sliced green onions, red pepper, BBQ sauce, bacon crumbles, parsley, ham, and chopped broccoli pieces. Serve buffet style so each guest can top their potato as they wish.
Hot Roast Beef Sandwiches
This inexpensive catering idea receives positive reviews every time. You’d just need chuck roast, chopped onions, Worcestershire sauce, pressed garlic cloves and beef bouillon cubes. You can serve this alongside any type of salad or with chips.
Cracker, Cheese and Fruit Tray
Traditional, perhaps, but prudent nonetheless. Crackers and cheese provide valuable fibres and fats that will satiate guests while the sugars in fruits give them the fuel to last the rest of the event. To serve this cheaply, purchase cheese in bulk and cut it yourself (pre-sliced cheese is expensive).
Yes, we’ve learned you can put almost anything on a stick but there’s something about these grape skewers that are just perfect for easy event eating. They’ll transport well and are visually appealing.
Mirrored Display Stands
Mirrored display stands have a multitude of benefits, and they’re inexpensive. They add height and interest to the display table as well as reflect light and give the appearance of more significant amounts of food.
Deviled eggs are a great appetizer option if you’re on a budget. For under $10, you should be able to serve your events guests 36 deviled egg halves. Use spicy brown mustard and real mayonnaise for the inside rather than yellow mustard if you’re going for that extra kick.
Cheese cubes are a staple at most events, and inevitably, if the pile is high enough, some runaway cheese hits the floor and get ground into the carpet. You can keep that from happening by opting to a much more orderly display like this cheese star.
Breakfast Catering Ideas for Hungry Event Attendees
Breakfast catering ideas are crucial because breakfast is likely to be the first impression of the day and set up your attendees for the program ahead. Make it count with these breakfast catering suggestions:
Cake and Punch Bar
If your guests are hungry, a cake and punch bar should do the trick for a yummy and great first impression. Keep in mind that “cake and punch” doesn’t mean strictly cake and punch; you can mix it up with different drinks and healthier snacks to choose from.
We’ve all seen donut walls by now, right? Take a look at this cute idea offering donuts and bagels. It not only makes serving easy but adds architectural interest to your table as well. Just beware of iced donuts and room temperatures.
Yes, seriously it’s a thing. You’d be surprised all of the different types of bacon out there: maple bacon, Canadian bacon, bacon on a stick, applewood-smoked bacon… we could go on. Let your guests sample them all.
Of course, don’t forget to offer a vegetarian alternative kept separate from the meat.
Pierced Donut Holes
We all know one donut hole is never enough so why not serve your guests a whole bunch skewered on a stick? For a little healthier option alternate donuts with fruit.
Waffles are very tasty but hardly ever considered portable unless you’re referring to the kind that comes out of the toaster – or this brilliant idea. Thread a stick through your waffle, serve it with a cup of syrup or other delectable toppings, and your guests can now circulate over breakfast.
French Toast Sticks
Cut French Toast into sticks, use a colorful cup and dust your concoction with cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar.
Mini Pancake Towers
Here’s another cute mini pancake idea. Alternate pancake, whipped cream, and strawberries or come up with your own creative concoction like pancake, peanut butter, and chocolate.
These black waffles certainly make a statement and will get your guests talking. Would you give them a try?
Fresh Fruit Platter With Wheat or Bran Muffins
If you want to give your event attendees a healthy start to the day, fruit platters are a perfect choice. When served alongside whole wheat muffins, they offer immense health benefits. Citrus is packed full of vitamin C as well, so this is also a good pick for the winter season to keep off the flu.
This bar offers different types of yogurt and mix-ins such as fruit and granola. You can also include different varieties of cereals and offer both bowls and parfait glasses.
Fun Catering Food Ideas for Parties
Party catering ideas need to be fun and exciting. Try not to smile when looking at these catering ideas for party inspiration:
When it comes to your display, tying the theme or food choice into the concept can yield cool results like with this sushi boat. Fresh fish couldn’t be served in anything else, and this sliced layout makes it easy for attendees to get their hands on the food for nibbling which is the appeal of sushi. Logistically this could hide ice underneath to keep the fish chilled, and it can allow for a wide food selection to go in the center of the table or at the buffet.
Credit: Mr. Sam Sushi Boat.
Dress to Imbibe
This hoop skirt sure does draw a crowd and make serving duties much more manageable. Still, it’s a fun idea that will make the server the center of many Instas.
Cheeseburgers may seem casual but not when you add some presentation to it. If Parks and Recreation is to be trusted, they are an undeniable favorite. The key to bringing out the luxe with cheeseburgers is the miniature option. Instead of large, sloppy burgers, these miniature cheeseburgers are clean, portable and practical. Decorate with some high-end ingredients for a little added pizzazz, or just serve the tried and tested version that everyone knows and loves.
Macaroons are delightful but here’s a way to make them extra special. Serve them singly in a tiny gold carriage made out of wire.
Here’s an adorable way to dress up mints or some other candy in a little tulle and jewels. It’s an excellent catering idea for a birthday party or brand it to your corporate colors.
Layered Rainbow Cupcakes
Cupcakes are already pretty cute, but layered rainbow cupcakes are as cute as it gets. These are baked with a basic white cake mix and padded up with colorful gel layering to make for a yummy fun-filled edible rainbow. If you want to go all-out, add a unique element to each color: strawberries or red velvet for red, blueberries for blue, banana or pineapple for yellow, etc. You can top them with a whipped cream swirl and rainbow sprinkles for that extra zing!
Make Your Own Trail Mix
Assemble an array of salty and sweet mixtures and invite guests to create a mix of their favorites. Give every guest a fun little branded bag to take it home.
Smoothie or Juice Bar
Let guests pick out the ingredients for their own smoothies. Include plenty of fresh fruit, spices, and veggies along with different types of milk and yogurt. You can even offer a splash of flavorings like vanilla or caramel syrup. Let the healthy be healthy and those who prefer a yogurt shake to go for it.
While similar to a smoothie bar, you can offer freshly squeezed juices with pick-me-up additions. Or add an alcoholic beverage option for a mimosa or bloody mary bar.
Whether your event attendees love to eat healthy with a variety of veggies and fruits or not, rainbow smoothies are one of the best catering ideas for your event. They’ll leave your guests wanting more. Not only does it look fun, but it offers a unique layered taste and is a great way to introduce your guests to new fruits they may not have tasted before and in a convenient format. Just remember to use biodegradable straws, or pair it with a great metal straw gift bag item!
We’ve all seen those beautiful coffee art pictures but try a rainbow-colored, tie-dye coffee for real wow factor and to start your morning off right.
Easy Catering Ideas To Steal or Do It Yourself
If you’re looking for something that’s simple to put together, we have a host of easy catering food ideas:
Salads in a Box or Bag
This idea seems upscale but is decidedly simple. A few greens in a box or bag with attractive cutlery attached with clothes pins.
This idea is very easy. Just have a few flavors of coffee and add-ins like different flavored sugars, creams, whipped topics, maybe even some adult beverages. Let your guests mix up their favorite coffee concoctions, Don’t forget the ice and a few favorite snacks that go well with coffee.
Colored Salmon Skewers
This is a perfect outdoor catering idea as colored salmon skewers are extremely easy and healthy for events during barbecue season. They are easy to make and usually take just 30 minutes to prepare!
Slices of fresh salmon fillet are put on top of each other with varying colored bell pepper, fresh lemon squeeze, and red onions. You can serve these colored skewers on a regular vegetable salad if you’re going for a light meal or on a plate of couscous if you’re aiming for something more substantial.
Fruit and Flower Topiary
Add some color and texture to your table with this fruit and flower topiary. Colors can be customized to the season, theme, or branding of the event.
“Pineapple” Drink Topper
These creative “pineapples” made from kumquats, form an ideal drink topper when placed on a brandy snifter. But why leave an empty glass? Fill it with a tasty beverage or some other treat.
Make Your Own Bruschetta Bar
With a variety of toppings and bread bases, you can invite your attendees to create their own favorites. Don’t forget the aged balsamic vinegar. Simple and delicious.
Waffle Bowls with Fruit
This is a nice light breakfast in a fun edible bowl. Serve it with a dollop of yogurt or a drizzle of coconut or honey.
Italian Sausage Rolls in Parmesan Pastry
This is one of the easiest catering ideas you’ll find for serving your event guests something simple but classy. It’s certainly a meal that’ll leave your guests gushing about it after the event is over.
Another trend we see often is placing food already on the serving utensil. These items are ready to just pop in your mouth. No fuss. Try this seared tuna.
New Tastes on Comfort Foods
Take something tried and true and change it up a bit. Make macaroni and cheese out of gnocchi or try these new toppings for traditional deviled eggs.
Easy Catering Ideas for Large Groups
Catering ideas for large groups can be a challenge because of excessive wait times and food that looked better five minutes ago. Here are some suggestions for food and traffic that you can put into place for your large group.
Portable stations make it easy to perfect the moveable feast. But it also helps caterers adjust with the flow of traffic and make sure the food gets to the guests as quickly as possible.
This fun idea allows everyone to get their favorite flavors. It’s festive looking and leaves all the assembly work to your guests.
Set up a waffle bar at your event and let guests pick their own toppings like whipped cream, ice cream, syrup, fruit or yogurt. For added customization, offer different batters as well, like chocolate, banana, blueberry, etc.
Chafing Dish Alternative
Chafing dishes and warming plates are so 1980. They can distract from your beautiful spread but who wants cold food that used to be hot? Instead, try this option with bricks built over warming tiles to hide the burners.
If you’re looking for a crowd-pleaser, fried anything would do it. Fish fries relatively quickly and is a healthy option rich in amino acids. You can serve it alongside various dipping sauce options to add a little variety. Just remember to debone the fish, as this could create unnecessary mess and hassle for attendees.
Fried Chicken Benedict Hash
Want some pictures of your event on Instagram? Serve up a little of this craziness. We’re not sure what’s in it, but it appears to be most of the refrigerator. Just make sure your attendees don’t try to carry it across the room.
Build Your Burger Bar
This is as simple as it sounds and gives guests full flexibility in their meal options. Offer a range of meats (patties come in beef, chicken, and fish) and a vegetarian option. Throw in a few less common toppings, like kimchi, sliced radish, or avocado.
Strawberry Table Decor
This giant berry bonanza will surely get their attention and if it doesn’t, the cute “eat me” message will. Pass the whipped cream.
Create a grazing table that encourages people to come and go during snack time, breaks, or other times to mingle. With large groups, you want to avoid the lines if at all possible.
Simple Do It Yourself Catering Ideas
If you’re into do it yourself catering ideas, we have a few easy ways and simple catering ideas to impress your crowd.
French Fry Hors-d’œuvres
Just because you’re going sophisticated or corporate does not mean you have to give up on chips on the catering menu. But they can be particularly difficult to serve at a buffet because no one likes the cold and soggy ones at the bottom of the tray. Plus they don’t look appetizing (or chic) in a heap. This is an awesome alternative that turns mini portions of french fries into hors-d’œuvres that are individually dished out. Using this tray makes them mobile and creates a stunning display. The newspaper wrappers are a cute twist too and could be branded to your event or a reprint of a significant day in history.
Particularly useful if you have feature food such as cakes or towers, you can incorporate these branding and signage opportunities into the buffet or station. This is an excellent example with each podium containing a different sweet treat at different heights to create a dynamic display that is decorative and interesting. Segregated platforms are stepping up the food display game.
Credit: All Things Sweet Boutique
Not just used for signage, chalkboards can create an awesome food display idea for build-your-own stations. Although excellent calligraphy would be perfect here, it’s an informal but classy way of sprucing your display and completely adaptable if you need to reuse tables throughout the event. Clearly labeling food is a must to keep lines flowing and anyone with allergies and dietary requirements well catered for.
Credit: Royal Fig Catering
Some attendees are only in it for the bread selection but it can be challenging to spruce it up. Give attendees a more extensive choice with this rustic picnic display that makes use of old wooden crates to separate bread types and easily stacks them. The addition of the succulents add an understated and on-trend foliage decoration and the gourmet sliced cheese is perfect for the ultimate carb lover at your event.
Use everyday items to make your food display stand out, like this open ladder that uses boards to create adaptable and mobile shelves for catering. Each shelf could follow a theme and with plenty of room in the middle, you could incorporate a feature piece too as the central part of your structure. This is a stunning example of how you can combine food and décor for a beautiful finish without having to bust the budget.
This easy DIY idea incorporates sandwich fixings. Everything is labeled on butcher block paper but the same thing could be done with chalkboard stands.
Mini Sandwiches Need Mini Drinks
If you’re trying to limit alcohol, using smaller glasses is a good idea. However, if you serve giant plates of food and “tasters” of alcohol, things will be off scale and your drinks will look painfully inadequate. Sliders and mini finger foods are just the right scale for smaller drink samples.
Rustic Fruit Servers
Rustic themes are very popular right now and this one’s a beauty. Simply drill holes in blocks of wood, add some clay in the hole, and insert a kebab stick. If you don’t have clay, that’s alright. The first piece of food on your kebab will keep the stick from falling through the hole. You can also do this with twigs and build a base from driftwood. The wooden blocks are easy to carry around or stand on takes.
Placing food directly on silver or ceramic platters is kinda dull. So we turn to materials. But you needn’t be caught between fabric or the original surface. You can add texture as well. Consider things like beans, kernels, or smooth stones as a backdrop for your food.
Champagne Popsicle Infusion
Champagne is epic all by itself, but the addition of popsicles gives guests the opportunity to create their own incredible cocktails at your event.
Exciting Sandwich Catering Ideas (and viable alternatives to sandwiches)
We’ve all been to events with the same old boring selection of sandwiches. It’s time to ditch those with these exciting sandwich catering ideas.
International Sandwich Choices
Leave ham and cheese behind with these cool ideas. Here it’s not only exciting flavors but also fresh presentation that makes an impact.
Charcuterie, Cheese and Bread Bar
Put your own stamp on this tried and true pairing. All you’d need to do to make this unique is to ensure that your guests have enough options to make this serving their own. You can place the bread, olivers, charcuterie in a visually appealing way that entices guests to have some of it.
Gluten-free and Low-carb Sandwich Alternatives
This gluten-free and low-carb sandwich alternative retains all of the portability of a sandwich without the bread. Lettuce wraps work as well.
Sandwiches don’t have to be two flat pieces of bread on either end of something. Instead, look for ways to enjoy the portability of a sandwich without the boring predictability – like with these tapas. You can make them small, bite-sized items or larger main focus wraps.
These cute wraps are actually made from sliced bread and not pitas but they are also beautifully displayed. Plus, it’s a well-known fact that food tastes better on a stick.
Grilled Caprese Sandwich
This makes for a delectable vegetarian option, but you could still add a little protein to the mix by providing tempeh or grilled chicken breast as options.
Everything looks more beautiful in ribbons and sandwiches are no exception. They’re easy to grab, and the ribbon helps to keep all of the contents within the bread as people take their selections from the display.
Chicken Avocado Pita Sandwich
Healthy meals don’t have to taste boring, and you can achieve that with pita pockets stuffed with veggies and shredded chicken, They’re so easy to whip up and one of the best catering ideas for healthy but delicious sandwiches. For a little crunch, try adding sliced, breaded tomato.
Grown-up Grilled Cheese
This family favorite is now chic enough to eat out. Slices are served along with a dipper of tomato basil soup. It’s portable and comforting.
The salad sandwich is exactly what it sounds like: bread stuffed with veggies like tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, cucumber, and spring onions. You can slather the bread with Heinz salad cream or butter.
Cool Catering Ideas Your Guests Will Be Keen To Share
By “cool” catering ideas, we mean Insta-worthy opportunities to get your guests excited and catering appreciation across the social networks.
Shrimp cocktail is a traditional favorite for starters but don’t restrict it just because you’re having a buffet instead. Rather than pre-making 1980’s prawn cocktails, go extravagant and futuristic with this chilled shrimp tower. It uses the ice to keep the shrimp chilled and guests can choose from squeezed lemon or Tabasco sauce as an accompaniment, plus the shrimp luge is a funky wave to make it more interesting too. Attendees will think it’s fun to watch those little guys careen down the ice slalom.
Credit: Chisel It Ice Sculptures
If you want to turn your dessert station into a showcase, this is how you do it. This stunning example is made out of black acrylic and features shelves for different desserts. Perfect if you have an amazing event caterer that you want to show off. Food displays like this turn into a feature décor piece and using a backdrop and height can fit more food in that attendees will love to capture. Be warned though, at first some may feel it’s too good to disrupt by eating this work of art.
Food bouquets can be used as decoration for tables or as an interesting catering buffet idea. They are pleasing to the eye and offer smaller serving sizes. The sticks can be held in place with dried beans or florist foam.
Room Design Ideas
Most interior decorators will tell you layering and texture is important in an interesting room design. This presentation example benefits from good room design. The platter is layered with moss (texture) and then uses a smooth surface (tile) to provide some visual interest for finger foods with an earthy color scheme. On the other hand, if your food is bright you may opt to serve it on a white subway tile instead.
Glass and Fairy Lights
Fairy lights have become very popular with events because they are an inexpensive way to add some “magic” to the decor. This example spreads food out over a glass table with fairy lights underneath. It serves as an inexpensive uplighting and can help capture the theme depending on what kind of lights you use and the colors. The shimmering Christmas ornaments hanging in the background are also a nice touch.
A popular theme on this list is bars: dessert bars, coffee bars… well, you get the idea. One of the reasons for that is because most people want things their way now. The increase in bars is attributed to a growing desire for more personalization. Here’s another way to give your guests more of what they want by allowing them to craft their own artisanal lemonades.
Okay, so it’s not really a stackable game but it could be the inspiration behind this watermelon dish. It’s deceivingly easy to make but very elegant in its presentation.
Cotton Candy Champagne Cocktails
This cocktail combines an adult beverage and a childhood favorite. The delicate pastel colors are also a big hit.
Is your crowd more into Cosmos? That works too:
Artisanal Drink Options
An artisanal drink is something that’s unique to the event, and the trick is to use interesting and ideally local ingredients. Artisanal drinks are a perfect way to showcase a bit of what makes your event destination special from a culinary perspective. An alternative to local ingredients is local talent. Invite a local chef to design a drink for your event.
Outrageous Bloody Marys
It’s less about the drink and more about what you can get your attendees to put in it. From shrimp to sliders, make it an interactive contest for the most outrageous.
Fun Catering Ideas To Add Some Pizzazz
Event food should be an exploration and experience. These fun catering ideas ensure that your event catering will be far from boring.
If you don’t have much floor space or are looking for ways to incorporate a buffet table, without the table, go wild with this swing invention. If you can pull this off without disaster it would be a quirky and whimsical idea that definitely makes an impact.
If you are lacking table width at your venue and want to sneak more food in a really cool idea is this treat tree. This option has desserts on every level but you could incorporate brain food instead by having savory and sweet snacks on different tiers. It works really well in confined spaces. A few well-placed trees spread around the venue would negate the need for as many wait staff to keep the budget down and attendees can pick up their appetizers as they mingle. This would also be an interesting idea for samples at an exhibition or trade show.
Credit: Catered by Design
If you’re opting for smaller snacks for the tables, you still don’t want to miss out on the decorative element and these miniature lines are an option that attendees won’t forget. In addition to the gourmet catering, the little tiny buckets are for dipping too so everything serves a purpose and looks great on tables for a quirky but quick interactive snack idea.
Credit: Samantha Kay Photography
Hanging Edible Spoons
This is an interactive food idea that creates a really unique display. The multi-height cookie “spoons” that are suspended from the ceiling can be picked by attendees so they can pair it with their favorite pudding. You could experiment with different flavors and even ask attendees to decorate the spoons as part of a participatory event activity.
Credit: Miit Studio
What would this list be without a croquembouche, which is an edible self-sustained structure that does all the displaying itself! Obviously, you still need a stand or plate but add this to one of the podiums we mentioned earlier and you’re onto a winner. This particular example is just amazing and incorporates the mermaid/unicorn themes that are popular at the moment for a food display that can act as an edible centerpiece or hold its own in the room.
Pipettes for the Win
What about people who love sauce? Chocolate, cheese, raspberry… whichever. Chefs love to throw a little “drizzle” on but sometimes your guests want a little more. Problem is that extra liquid can ruin a dish and make it soggy when dozens of people are waiting in line and the dish is prepared hours in advance. That’s where popettes come in. Check out this creative way to save the best for last and allow each guest to get exactly how much sauce they want.
Almost as overdone as the donut wall, the unicorn theme has entered events and catering in a big way. Still, we had to include it for those who are looking for a “fun” snack. Unicorns are even being embraced in corporate as a term used in reference to one-in-a-million start-ups.
Cherry Vanilla Coke Floats
This treat is excellent for creating a nostalgic feel for carefree summers. To make a cherry vanilla coke float, pour the syrup into a glass, add some coke, and gently put in two scoops of vanilla ice cream. There you have it: a yummy treat that evokes feelings of summer freedom.
Possibly the cutest dessert ever, this sheep cake (or is it a cupcake?) is hand assembled made with fondant, drizzled icing and a cake body. It’s adorable for a farm theme or a political statement.
Glow-in-the-Dark Ice Cubes
If your event is held in the evening and a low-lit event (or club gathering) consider this fun idea for your ice. These ice cubes are easy to make but you’ll need a black light for the effect.
Outdoor Catering Ideas to Take Outside Events to the Next Level
When the weather’s right, you can’t beat an outdoor event. To maximize that experience here are a few awesome outdoor catering ideas.
This idea is not only darling but it keeps away all of the little pests you often run into when outdoors.
Rustic Outdoor Serving
Taco and rustic decor are big winners in outdoor events. This napkin/taco holder makes nature the star whether your event is outdoors or in.
The beautiful wisteria-covered trellis makes a romantic backdrop for this food table. But to tie it all together, the event organizer incorporated flowers alongside the food displays too to tie together the outside catering ideas.
Keeping along the lines of salmon that’s good enough to be mistaken for candy, check out this idea. Delicate salmon pinwheels that look just like a bit of taffy.
Ditch the sticky rice and go with a thinly sliced cucumber to create this greek variation on a cool classic.
There are many mobile food truck options and they’re enjoyable on their own but if you’re creating one from scratch, might we suggest using a tipi? First, it’s a fun design but if you print what’s at the truck on the tipi, people can read it no matter how many people are standing in front of them.
Speaking of food trucks, there are many ways to incorporate them into your theme or entertain with them. Here’s a cute “cottage” food truck that serves up 100% vegan dishes. You can incorporate so many cool themes with food trucks, which is what makes them a great option at events.
Check out some of the coolest food truck ideas around.
Grain bowls are layered bowls of veggies, grains, sauce, and protein. To accommodate vegetarians and vegans, use high-protein grains like quinoa, farro and barley. Offer beans as a topping or a base. Guests can match and mix options according to taste.
While most event planners want to do everything they can to keep the pests away, these adorable ladybugs will be gladly welcomed.
Ice Cream Bike
Food trucks aren’t all monstrous entities. There are smaller versions too. Some even move by old-fashioned pedal power.
Picnic Catering Ideas for a Fresh Event Vibe
A picnic is lots of fun but you can forgo the basket with these fresh picnic catering ideas:
Sometimes a boring boxed lunch can reach new heights of cool with just a few presentation changes. In this one, a paper-wrapped sandwich, cool cutlery, and some tissue paper wrap makes a big impression.
Multiple Courses with Ease
These containers make transport easy and set up a breeze. Plus, they’re recyclable, unlike some other containers.
Mini Picnic Baskets
With this idea, give each guest their own picnic basket. Inside they have everything for their own little spread. Notice the paper straw is not only a cute design, but it also won’t endanger local wildlife or the environment.
Fruity Iced Tea and Water
This delightful beverage not only looks good, it tastes delicious. Just add gem-colored fruit or even herbs to tea or water and serve in a Mason jar. You can do the same for lemonade or other beverages, including wine.
Watermelon is no longer relegated to sticky-chinned children. This dish is a nice grown-up spin on the sweet favorite. It’s relatively portable and won’t make a giant mess. Plus, the flavor trend of creamy, savory and sweet is an appealing one.
After Meal Mints
Everyone loves a chocolate mint after a meal but what about this more natural idea? Cover a mint leaf in chocolate. It makes a nice accompaniment to other desserts, can be added to tea or a hot beverage or simply popped in the guest’s mouth.
This adorable cake looks like you stumbled upon a beehive. But how it’s constructed might surprise you. The icing is not a real honeycomb but one constructed from, of all things, bubble wrap. Don’t worry it’s only used for the imprint.
Heart-Shaped Caprese Skewers
This food on a stick is darling for a romance-themed event or for theming an event around valentines day. At first glance, this may just look like a portable Caprese salad but closer up you can’t help but notice how the little tomatoes were cut in heart shapes. Don’t be surprised if you hear lots of “awwws” from your attendees.
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you and those aren’t carrots. They are melons with thinly sliced ham in between. Rosemary was used to look like the carrot stem.
While we’re on the trend of food that looks like something it isn’t, check out these darling “mushrooms.” They look like something straight out of a fairy tale but they were really made out of mozzarella with a tomato cap and a parsley base.
Casual Catering Ideas for Informal Events
If you’re looking for casual catering ideas that still make an impact, we have some for you:
Bring the Outdoors In
Many event planners want to host outdoor events but don’t feel like taking the chance with the weather. With decor and food, you can bring the outdoors in. Check out this plate idea.
There are a lot of flavors of popcorn out there. Plus, the fun food isn’t full of sugar, is reminiscent of childhood, and can be garnished with all sorts of toppings making it a fun food for a buffet or self-serve bar.
Dip can be a messy thing. There are double dippers, not getting enough dip and running out, getting too much… all sorts of dip conundrums can occur. But not with this self-contained dip idea. Hollow out part of a baguette. Add some dip and throw in some veggies.
Bonus: it’s visually pleasing too.
Grilled Cheese Bar
Okay, so this is the second time this delicious sandwich has made our list and for good reason. Everyone likes different add-ons with their grilled cheese. Some want tomato. Others bacon. And let’s not even get into an argument over the perfect cheese for a grilled cheese! Guests can have it their own way with a grilled cheese bar.
This red, white, and blue dessert is one you might very well find in your mom’s cookbook or a family magazine but it is very festive and healthy. Not to mention easy and it holds up well. You can tailor it to the colors of your country or company.
Hollow out a melon and carve a design around the rim. You have nice little bowls the catering crew won’t have to wash afterward.
Chalkboard Serving Trays
These artistic options can keep your servers from having to answer the same questions of what’s on the platter over and over again. There are many creative options when it comes to these plates from inspirational quotes to allergy ingredients.
Berry Banana Snake
This cute creature makes a fun dessert that will bring out the inner child in your guest. Or, for a little added fun, hide him among your fruit basket on the buffet table.
These stands, or should we say blocks of wood with metal picks, allow the food to be the main focus. There’s also something whimsical about how the food stands as if animated.
This fun, warm-weather dessert is Instagram-worthy. It’s also healthy and refreshing. If you’re having a casual catering event, it’s perfect.
Quick and Fast Catering Ideas
Sometimes you just don’t have the time for hours and hours worth of planning or catering. When that happens, we have some quick catering ideas to come to the rescue – and fast.
This antique napkin holder not only holds the napkins, but it also holds miniature fruits and flowers. It made our list of quick catering ideas because it’s likely you have an organizational structure like this around your home or office already. A mail sorter makes an ideal napkin or cutlery holder.
Add Height Naturally
If you have an outdoor or rustic-themed event, this idea can help you add height to a buffet table quickly and with things you likely already have on hand. Simply turn over several flower planters and lay a vintage board over top of it, creating a second tier to your table. Add greenery for a festive effect.
Quick Serving Idea
This quick catering serving idea uses Chinese food containers for plates. You can put almost anything in them and they’re highly portable. They’re also less expensive than fine china and can be stacked for easy serving. They also provide easier branding opportunities than plates do.
Natural Elements for Color
Use natural elements like fruit and flowers for more color. If you gather many of them into an elongated vase like in this example, you can make a statement without a lot of wasted decor.
Lit Ice Blocks
Add lighting in the center of your ice blocks or around them. It not only adds drama to the table but gives the look of elegant glass blocks. Play around with colors for even greater effect.
Use rows of similar-sized apples (or hard fruit of your choice) topped with glass to create a stunning special shelf for your buffet.
Yes, more food on a stick. But check out the delicate curve of these peppers and how they complement the “dots” of cheeses and veggies at the top, almost like an edible exclamation point.
Cucumber Killer Whale
With a couple of quick cuts and a nice thick dip, you can have a very memorable piece for your buffet table.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Think spaghetti and meatballs is off the menu for a fancy event? Think again. You can have your pasta without the mess.
While it may closely resemble a Bloody Mary, this little delectable is completely allowed during business hours. Add a few tablespoons of this cold favorite to a large shot glass and finish it off with a shrimp on a stick.
Catering Ideas for Corporate Events That Shine
Need some more catering event ideas for business events?
Of course you do!
And we’re not done. Read on for more corporate catering ideas:
Make the Food the VIP
Food displays are important but this display allows food to take center stage when it’s brought in like a VIP carried in on a special lounger. The rod service should be saved for a very impressive course. This could include something flaming or a pig fresh off the spit depending on your event.
If you have a bold branding color, think about going with a snack break theme that serves only foods in that color. Content Marketing Institute’s color is orange and one of their snack breaks at their 2011 conference served only things like oranges, cheese curls, orange soda, and the like. It made a big impression and felt a little like Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving.
Make anything more special with this beautiful, edible art. Place it atop cakes or cupcakes, even a danish. You can make a design or reinforce your branding with a caramel construction… or if you’d prefer, chocolate.
Gum Ball Machines
There’s always one employee with the candy stash and they are almost as popular as the water cooler. There’s something about candy and snacks that draw people to congregate. Check out this handy snack array. It doles out small portions and adds whimsy to even the most serious business events.
Food Arrangement that Mirrors the Venue
One creative way to display your event food is by taking a hint from your venue. For instance, a modern venue with crisp clean lines can influence your display as this one did. Salt Lake’s Gallivan Center was the inspiration for this sleek white design.
If your buffet or food spread is wide and flat, look for opportunities to go tall. This example incorporates a decorative tree and dramatic lighting but you could easily tie some goodies on the tree and make it functional as well as beautiful.
Modern Ice Sculptures
Ice sculptures have been around for a while but today’s ice is also functional. Check out this tiered display for seafood. Some events are also using ice shoots as we showed in a different example. Beverages flowing over ice cliffs, and ice bowls are also popular items. Using ice sculptures these days is all about form and function.
Salmon Mousse Ribbons
These beauties are so delicate they should be placed behind glass and admired. The bread is topped with salmon mousses and a thinly sliced cucumber is soaked in water and then would around like ribbon candy.
Simple foods like fruit and cheese can be transformed when paired with a floral sculpture. It adds texture and deep color in this example:
Glass Floating Display
Glass floating displays place all the interest on the food because everything else fades into the background. They have an ethereal quality because you don’t notice plates, tablecloths, or other arrangements. Only the food.
Delicious Dessert Catering Ideas
A lot of what goes into spectacular desserts is the recipe and ingredients. But there’s also the display and the uniqueness of the item. In this dessert catering ideas section, we cover ideas to make your desserts more creative, tastier, and more attractive.
Apple Nacho Bar
It’s a good idea to include fruit in your dessert options for those who prefer something with less refined sugar. But throwing the fruit in a bowl with some prongs is so very boring. Instead, look at this dramatic presentation using a tree. You can use a variety of different string or ribbon that goes along with your theme. Invite guests to pull or snip the sweet treats they want from your tree.
S’mores bring out the kid in all of us but most event planners don’t think about them for an indoor event. But why not? They’re interactive, fun, and delicious. And with this design, they’re easy to do inside or out.
The display is as important as the food. In this example, the food is “organized” in a square shelving unit with a rainbow of colored lights. This is a good way to solidify branding or make an impression in what could otherwise be a very low-lit room.
Macaroons are pretty darn special no matter how you choose to arrange them but this hanging display with flowers is almost too pretty to eat. Of course, we wrote almost.
Don’t blame your guests if they don’t immediately recognize these clipboards as the beginning of a delicious dessert. But once they do, the clever concept will captivate them and they’ll look upon them entranced wondering for a moment how it was done.
Walking Ice Cream Servers
Ice cream at an outdoor event is a nice idea but it requires a lot of staff and running back and forth to serve it before it melts. But not if you use this idea of a wearable serving tray.
This is a nice retro/rustic idea that is fairly inexpensive and won’t have your attendees blowing their diets. Think of it as a precursor to food trucks. You can design the bar on wheels to move it around your event or you can add stations for topics or decorate your own activities.
Speaking of cookies, these bite-sized cookie stacks are almost too beautiful to eat. You can use any kind of cookie and piping in your favorite flavor of icing. Garnish with an edible flower.
Small Is In
Mini is definitely a hot trend these days: mini sliders, mini beverages, mini donuts, and mini desserts. Smaller servings mean you can control portion sizes, cut back on waste, and offer more variety. For guests, it means they can sample without feeling too full or without having to decide between one thing or the other.
Catering Display Ideas To Win Over Your Guests
The presentation is almost as important as the taste.
This is the time of “food porn.” Presentation is everything. Here are some delightful catering setup ideas to create a stunning catering display.
Bonus: Don’t forget to check out our favorite fun and quirky food stations.
We have included donut walls and bagel walls earlier in the post. If you are looking for something delicious and pleasing to the eye without the over-the-top sugar binge though, here’s a healthier rendition with a salad wall.
Creative Cupcake Display
Want a beautiful way to display your desserts? This design attracts the eyes and attendees’ interest. How can you say no to one of these delectable items? Then again, how do you stop at one when they’re displayed so beautifully?
Embrace Your Theme
We’ve already talked about how food is more fun on a stick but the base you use to support your sticks can totally transform your catering display. For instance, if you’re hosting a book launch or academic event this is a great tie-in.
Here’s another idea for a creative holder and creative sticks. This idea uses an old shutter for the holder and clothes pins for the sticks.
This display was used for a tasting event but it could easily work for any catered event. Notice the categories of food and the wall organization against a plain white canvas that makes the colors of the food the star of the show.
These beautiful globes create a whimsical display that is reminiscent of childhood bubble blowing. The circular snack carriers make it easy to transport the goodies without the awkwardness of multiple plates. They easily fit into the palm of the hand.
This display is not only colorful it tells us how each color makes us feel. You can also accomplish this same look but instead of labeling each item with the psychology behind the color, you can refer to the nutrients of each grouping such as “purple foods are the richest sources of things like anthocyanins.
Wine Bottle Display
This display or service idea takes halved wine bottles to use as practical serving platters. You can place a number of different finger foods in there and it makes an especially nice theme tie-in for a wine tasting or vineyard event.
A wheelbarrow full of food may not be surprising at an outdoor wedding or barn event but you don’t expect to see one at an indoor corporate meeting like the Adobe Digital Marketing Symposium. Still, when someone wheels in a wheelbarrow full of potatoes and fries with different flavored sauces and ketchup, your guests will take notice.
A Palette for Your Palate
This charming idea incorporates an artist’s palette as a serving platter for food. It’s the perfect idea for a studio opening or art show but could also be very effective in an event that is focussed on creativity.
Oversized electrical spools can double as innovative tables or catering displays, as shown in this example. They add a rustic or warehouse vibe to your event.
New and Unique Catering Ideas To Inspire Your Event Planning
Now let’s really get those creative juices flowing with these unique catering ideas for your event:
It can be difficult to display catering on circular tables because it means everyone has to walk the entire way around and few items can be reached in the middle (particularly with larger diameters) so you’re often stuck with a ring layout that gets boring. However, this wave idea uses plenty of space without making the table look cluttered and offers easier access from different angles. You could easily incorporate more waves into this design without overfilling the table and the combination of food colors in their uniform waves looks great aesthetically.
Credit: Blue Star Burgers
Potato Chip Break
This unique catering idea is from the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta. Here you see they offered several varieties of potato chips. Since salty and sweet are wonderful accompaniments, they added some candy. Finally, they served it in rustic, wooden supply boxes.
Donut Ice Cream Cone
Why create a heart-stopping donut ice cream cone? Because you can, that’s why. And because your attendees want to have something totally crazy to show their peers that couldn’t make it to your event.
Trash Can Nachos
What’s that phrase? Everything but the kitchen sink? Create trash can-shaped nachos for a fun and delicious centerpiece.
Flowers are a beautiful addition to any cup of tea and a delightful surprise for your guests. But why stop at tea? Add edible flowers to all of your favorite beverages.
Wood Display Base
This multi-tiered wood display base is ideal for an outdoor event or picnic. The rustic use of wood provides many levels for all different types of food.
Paper Cones to the Rescue
Outdoor and picnic food must be portable. Here is a brilliant idea that requires fewer servers and allows people to help themselves without leaving the food out on a blanket on the ground.
If you’re planning a nautical event or outdoor party, an old rowboat can work as the perfect table for your food. Check out what this event did with its seafood options. Best of all, there’s plenty of room in a boat for ice.
Hot Stone Serving Plates
These smooth black stones make for unusual serving plates. Their deep color places the focus on the food and if you heat the stones up, the food will stay warm on them for a little while. Just be careful they’re not too hot to be handled.
In keeping with the natural materials for serving, this driftwood or charred wood platter adds wonderful texture and perhaps flavor (if you cooked with it) to the presentation. You’ll want to make sure you clean it before use.
Event Catering Best Practices: Problems and Solutions All Event Planners Should Know
Running Out of Food
This is one of an event planner’s biggest nightmares. Hungry guests and no food. Sometimes there’s plenty of food but the staff isn’t keeping platters full so guests assume you’ve run out and that puts guests on edge.
Solution: Address Expectations to Avoid Empty Platters
There are several ways to handle this:
- Overestimate the amount people will eat and tell the caterer you need more ahead of time. This will be more costly though and you could end up wasting food.
- Tell the wait staff to consider a platter empty at half and replenish accordingly.
- Offer a moveable feast where foods are moved in and out so guests don’t know when numbers are low.
- Insist upon a kitchen contact on speed dial and assign a junior staffer to keep an eye on the food so it can be replenished before it gets to empty plates.
- Before signing with a venue or caterer ask critical questions about their staff and numbers. A caterer being short-staffed shouldn’t leave you with empty plates.
Not Understanding Your Audience
Donut walls and candy buffets are a hot trend but they are not a good fit for a health and wellness conference.
Solution: Personalize Your Offerings for More Wow Moments
Solution: Personalize Your Offerings for More Wow Moments
When deciding on catering menu ideas, take into account audience preferences of what they’ll like and what they’ve already seen, as well as their food tastes. Provide a well-balanced menu that offers something for everyone.
Some event planners know exactly which conferences their audience attend in addition to theirs. They research those conferences to better understand what attendees have already experienced and they adjust accordingly. You want to be a trendsetter, not a copy-cat to your competitors.
Forgetting the Space
Will your caterer need access to a kitchen? Can your venue provide one? If not, what adjustments will need to be made? Will they bring their own chafing dishes? Cool, unique venues are awesome but only if your caterer understands the limitations.
Solution: Talk with Your Caterer on a Game Plan to Ensure Everyone is Satisfied
Solution: Talk with Your Caterer on a Game Plan to Ensure Everyone is Satisfied
Most caterers are familiar with the most common venues. However, there’s a trend towards using inventive spaces these days. If you’re going with a unique venue or dry hire, make sure your caterer knows exactly what to expect. Take them with you or arrange for them to see the spot themselves.
Getting “Pinterested” and Losing Sight of the Budget
We’ve all fallen down the rabbit hole that is Pinterest. Everything looks so good and it’s one amazing idea after another. Each of those ideas comes with a price tag. While we may love the room-sized chocolate fountain, if that eats away your entire event food and beverage budget, you may have some hungry and disgruntled attendees (and client).
Solution: Organize the Budget for More Splurges
Solution: Organize the Budget for More Splurges
Don’t look at your food and beverage budget as the entire number or you might just find yourself ordering that giant squid butter sculpture. Instead, amass all the things that budget needs to cover and give each area such as snacks and breakfasts their own mini-budget. Then you can see what you have to work with and what you can rearrange for some effective splurging.
“Effective splurging” is spending money on those things people will notice. The ones they’ll talk about next year.
Ineffective splurging is doing something like paying more for the heirloom tomatoes in the salsa instead of ordinary, hothouse tomatoes.
Not Taking into Account Differences
We’ll get into the details of how to excel with special dietary requirements in the next section but it suffices to say, if you think one meat meal and one vegetarian meal has you covered, you haven’t gone to an event recently.
Solution: Make Guests Feel Comfortable with Food Choices
Solution: Make Guests Feel Comfortable with Food Choices
There are religious reasons, health and allergy limitations, diets, political statements and a host of other reasons why you and your caterer need to be more flexible in your menu. More about this in a bit.
Which brings us to…
Special Dietary Requirements
As an event planner, you and your caterer will likely need to accommodate a lot of special dietary requirements. The easiest way to handle these is to ask in the initial registration process about any special dietary needs and/or allergies. This gives you the longest lead time to prepare. Here are a few other ideas to ensure your attendees’ dietary needs are covered:
When asking about dietary requirements during the online registration process ask about allergies and special preferences. List examples as some people may forget to tell you they’re on a Keto diet, for instance.
Assemble the information and calculate percentages so this can go into your menu planning and be passed to the catering team.
Discuss dietary requirements and the process for attendees to access their special meal with the catering team before confirming the final menus. Recap the day before or on the morning of the event.
For those who mention dietary preferences or requirements and attend events regularly, keep this information on hand so that at the next event you can ask if they would still prefer a Keto diet, for instance. Don’t annoy attendees by asking them for the same info every time but always give them the option to tell you if their needs have changed.
Where applicable, list ingredients at the point of service. This is especially important with allergies. Ensure someone knowledgeable is on hand in case of any detailed queries that need to be answered.
Go over and above expectations. If you have a large percentage of vegans, for instance, consider adding information about local vegan restaurants in their welcome packet. Customizing a list with vegan restaurants at the top for the self-identified vegans can make them feel well catered to.
Confirm dietary details upon check-in. If you don’t see any special listings, confirm that is the case. While it’s not ideal to get them this late, better now than at the table.
Express expectations to the caterer (especially in a multi-day event) that the special meals should never be the same for each sitting. You don’t want a caterer who only does one type of vegan meal or only produces salads everytime someone requests a special diet.
Making across the board changes could make things easier and less costly. Do you really need nuts on the salad? Agreeing to a nut-free environment may work for everyone at the conference not just those suffering from allergies. It may even save you money.
Take every request seriously. Some allergies and dietary requests could be life-threatening. Take time to talk to the attendee and understand the severity of any allergies. Be upfront and honest. If the venue cannot guarantee a 100% nut-free kitchen this should be communicated to the attendee ahead of the event so they can make alternative arrangements or you can find an alternative solution.
Need more information about special dietary needs?
Event Catering on a Budget: How to Save Money on Event Catering
Here are 25 surefire ways to save money on event catering.
Snacks and appetizers are cheaper than dinner. Hosting an event in-between meals will help you save.
Host a cash bar or eliminate alcohol altogether.
Use in-season fruits and vegetables.
Breakfast is the cheapest meal. Serve it for dinner.
Host your event outside of the most popular season, day, and time.
Buffets are cheaper than boxed lunches and food bars are very trendy.
Go for cheaper meat in dishes – like chicken alfredo versus filet.
Select add-ins instead of the main thing. For instance, shrimp and grits versus shrimp cocktail.
Splurge on pairings, not the entire menu. One interesting, upgraded appetizer or treatment will upgrade the whole experience for less.
Ditch the waitstaff (unless you’re using them to control the number of appetizers people eat).
Serve smaller portions with greater attention to display.
Re-evaluate the need for four courses and instead spend money on fewer items but ones that impress.
Serve only wine and beer.
Switch your event to the daytime so you don’t feel the need to have a bar. Serve artisanal lemonades instead.
Serve a signature drink or two. A limited selection will save you money.
Shop around for your caterer and pick a venue that allows you to do so.
Host a grazing table with no formal meal and self-serve food.
Use smaller plates to limit what people take. Most people will take less and won’t continue to go up to the buffet over and over.
Understand hidden fees like upgraded linens, glasses etc.
Cut the amount of hors-d’oeuvres choices you’re serving.
Individualized servings ready to eat in cups and or bites on cutlery are cute unless you’re paying to use the utensils. Be aware of this. Some caterers price with a certain number of cups in mind.
Remember set-up equals more money. Whenever you see a staff person set up, you’re paying for it. So instead of asking them to set up a coffee service in the back of the room for break, go to an area already set up for the event like a central break location for all meeting rooms. It’s better to pay for one set up than five.
Provide snacks in the room. It’s less expensive to add a few snacks in your guests’ rooms at night than it is to have your caterer bring out an end of day snack tray.
If it’s a multi-day event, host a dinner away from the venue. It’s usually cheaper to rent a restaurant and you won’t pay for set up.
Use one large, impressive decoration on the table instead of many individual pieces that get lost anyway.
Hopefully, your mind is abuzz with all the ways you can incorporate these catering ideas into your next event. From mini foods to “build your own” food bars, event catering make a big impression on your guests. Create something amazing and they will talk about you and share it on social. Give them a lackluster experience and you likely won’t see them again.
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