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Catering Trends 2023: The Comeback and Top Event Ideas 

Good news – there’s a catering industry comeback! Last year, in-person holiday parties and catered corporate events were on the rise as companies hosted these gatherings as a way to bring people together again after what seemed like an endless period of virtual meetings and remote workplaces. This year, the trend is continuing, with many workplaces actively planning event catering and holiday themed events as the ultimate way to entice the entire staff to return, even if it’s just for the day or night, and build back the office culture. And big catered events aren’t limited to just corporate functions. Weddings, holiday parties and private events – outdoors and inside – are also ramping back up. For operators, now is the chance to regain some of that pre-pandemic magic as across the board customers and guests are craving more elevated, full course experiences, yearning for a bit of real-world party glamour. Catering revenue growth has the potential to boost sales by 20 percent or more, so it’s becoming an increasingly appealing revenue stream for foodservice operators of all types.  

It’s a super competitive landscape, however, so operators need creative event planning ideas to take catered functions to the next level. Here are some of the top Catering event trends for 2023 that can help guide you towards a successful season: 

Personalized Catering – Customers want experiences specifically tailored to them and their guests, not just a generic, one size fits all solution. This brings us back to the basics – it’s all about the relationship you build with the customer, and it’s important to listen to them and address their needs. Customers are looking for event menu customization. Be inventive, be flexible and create a menu from the ground up that reflects your customer’s unique tastes and preferences. Exceed their expectations and they’ll re-book year after year. 

Experiential Catering – In today’s social media obsessed world, people are craving connection to their food, the chef, and each other. They want to become part of the event, posting it on Instagram, and sending selfies and video clips to followers far and wide. Guests are craving unique event experiences through inventive menus, sensory-focused dining, eccentric or thematic decoration, theatrics, unique locations, and activities. It’s more important than ever to create a “WOW” experience that guests will remember and talk about months after the event. Need some ideas?

  • Invite a cocktail pro for a quick master class in mixology.  
  • Set up an “open–concept” kitchen – Guest facing kitchens turn into a culinary show and become a form of theater. It’s an opportunity for guests to get a peek behind the curtain and interact with the chefs, learning about the craft and seeing the inner-workings of the culinary team.   
  • Open-fire cooking – This style of preparation is dramatic and represents what sharing a meal means – warmth and kinship. Not to mention the visual excitement of fire and flame!  
  • Create Your Own Stations – Create opportunities for guests to become engaged in the cooking process, mixing and matching their own ingredients to customize a dish. For instance, a create your own pasta or pizza station with a trained chef and pizza oven on site, or a DIY sushi station with different toppings for guests to choose from.  

A great example of this type of catering comes from valued Sysco customer – Kenny & Ziggy’s Delicatessen in Houston, Texas. This hugely popular delicatessen has hosted a variety of theme nights, from various wine dinners to a Rumanian night with traditional folk dancers, even a Marvelous Mrs. Maisel themed party, complete with a 3 course menu featuring favorite foods from the series as well as specialty cocktails. Their team also hosted a hugely popular cooking class at a local Jewish Community Center that turned into an exhibition kitchen event. They brought in a bartender and had all the guests cooking and creating a variety of traditional Jewish favorites. A huge success, they look forward to hosting more of these events. To learn more about Kenny & Ziggy’s unique events, click here.  

Cultural culinary experiences – Be it cultural wedding ceremonies, holiday gatherings or other celebrations, guests really want to highlight the cultures they are from and focus on specific foods that represent their backgrounds.  One of the best things about food is how it lets chefs tap into their creativity to work with global flavors and create a sense of cultural immersion for guests. Go international with your menus and explore unique ingredients, unusual preparations, and incredible flavors.   

Farm to table catering – Post shutdown, guests have taken a keen interest in where their food and beverages come from. Guests are definitely looking for more that’s “local”, but this doesn’t just mean sourcing ingredients from local farms. This is a great opportunity to showcase what makes a city, region, or state special from a culinary standpoint. It could mean featuring a specific ingredient unique to that certain region, or embracing the type of cuisine as a whole.  

Childhood Classics  – The trend of childhood classics in catering is all about embracing the nostalgia of comfort food but adding a fun twist. Familiar flavors are back in style as people crave dishes they know will make them feel at ease and remind them of good memories from their childhood and simpler times. Chefs can breathe new life into these favorite items with a new sense of playfulness and fun, unexpected presentations. Who knew pop tart themed pastries, waffle bars and even mini hot dogs could inspire such delight.  

Vertical food stations – This is a great way to capture guest’s attention! Doughnut and pretzel walls were a big thing last year, and this trend looks set to continue. True to the expression of “one eats with the eyes first”, guests are attracted by the presentation and appearance of food displays almost more than the taste. Walls can hold a variety of food and drinks, from appetizers to cocktails, and be customized to fit any theme and style of event. These unique serving stations allows guests to enjoy delicious food and inspired conversation at the same time. These stations invite guests to serve themselves, so they also help free up staff to attend to other responsibilities.  

The Early Bird – While most events seem poised for afternoon or evening time slots, don’t miss out on the important meal of the day! Morning meetings and pre-lunch conferences are becoming ever more popular. Breakfast stations and “refuel” stations are a great way for companies to keep their audience fresh, more engaged, and more likely to fully participate in the event. Plus, brunch is becoming an increasingly popular choice for weddings and private events as well.