What are the trends driving event catering in 2007?
Here are five major ones, courtesy of Bennett Fass, executive chef and director of culinary standards for Aramark's Convention Centers & Cultural Attractions unit.
1. Sustainable Cuisine. "Increasingly, convention center caterers are experimenting with and exploring the use of menu items that support a more environmentally friendly approach to food preparation. As clients and customers become more environmentally conscious and educated about the health benefits of eco-friendly cuisine, executive chefs have started to incorporate sustainable ingredients, organic produce, and locally grown and sourced items into their menus. The use of ‘green' menus, as well as biodegradable service-ware reflects the convention centers' commitment to the well-being of the environment and the customers' health.
2. Formal Menu Tastings. "In an effort to increase customer satisfaction, it is becoming more important to standardize the tasting and menu development process. A formal tasting increases the comfort level between the customer and culinary team by encouraging positive communication and extreme confidence in the menu being developed. To foster this relationship, more pre-event menu planning sessions and tastings are being held in specially designed tasting rooms—an elegant and intimate dining area adjacent to the main kitchen. During the tasting it is important for the executive chef to provide complete menus and a variety of menu combinations so the customer can fully conceptualize the look and feel of the meal. A successful tasting will ensure every aspect of the meal meets everybody's expectations come the day of the event."
3. Display Cooking. "Action stations, such as a salad ‘bar' with chefs tossing salads and mixing dressings in shakers or individual bowls or a sizzling wok station featuring Kung Pao beef and orange zest chicken with jasmine rice, allow guests to interact with the chefs, while watching their food be prepared and plated in front of them. Within reception settings, this is an excellent way to engage guests in the culinary experience and to ensure they receive the portion sizes and accompaniments they desire."
4. Smaller, More Complete Portions. "In many convention centers, a served sit-down menu of elegant tapas-style options, including a protein, starch and vegetable, has replaced full, three-course meals. By offering smaller, yet complete portions as an alternative to a standard entree, chefs are able to provide a wider selection of interesting menu items that satisfy a range of guests' tastes and appetites."
5. Full-Service Package Solutions. "A guest's dining experience should mirror the experience of the entire event and include a wide array of details that excite their senses and enhance their overall enjoyment. As event planners look to create more interesting dining environments, catering sales and operations directors are beginning to serve as a single-source provider to help planners conceptualize the complete look and feel of the event. The more caterers can do to assist with the planning, including theme, centerpieces, decor, menu and entertainment, the more successful the event is likely to be."