“Chicken, fish, or steak?”
This age-old trio of options just won’t cut it when catering to event-goers’ food and beverage tastes in 2022. Why? According to industry experts it’s a result of shifting audience expectations.
“People have become a bit more demanding in many ways post-pandemic,” says Lenny Talarico, chief experience officer at Lental Productions. “And that has trickled over into the way they eat, the way they shop, and the way they consume food and beverage.”
One key to event success is catering to attendees’ needs. So it will come as no surprise that the event attendees of 2022 are driving food and beverage trends and influencing the culinary experience at events.
Avoid missing the mark with your audience by looking out for these eight event food and beverage blunders.
Food and beverage blunder #1: Abandoning the buffet altogether
The buffet isn’t dead — it’s just getting a little makeover.
“I believe that the buffet will continue to exist, and it’s going to evolve in the way that it’s serviced,” Lenny says.
This classic approach to event catering can still be a helpful cost-saver, so don’t throw the buffet out with the bathwater. Instead, consider reimagining the traditional buffet by:
- Plating up meals on demand: You’re more likely to minimize attendee wait times while also cutting down on potential crowding.
- Upleveling buffet service: Think about giving the buffet experience an upscale feel by serving personalized attendee meal selections that are prepared and plated in advance.
If it doesn’t make sense for you to serve a plated meal, there are ways to modernize buffet service to align with attendees' dining preferences.
Next up? Some renovations to another event staple: the bar.
Food and beverage blunder #2: Serving up the same old drinks
The bar has traditionally represented prime networking real estate at events. And while it’s still likely to be a gathering place at in-person events, according to Lenny, the pandemic is influencing how people imbibe –– and, in turn, what kind of beverages they tend to look for now when they belly up to the bar.
“Either [people] over-alcohol-ed or they cut off cold turkey,” he says. “So what we’re seeing now is a trend of people consuming alcohol in a more appropriate manner, and in many cases, drinking less.”
To meet today’s evolving drink preferences, consider offering:
- Sophisticated mocktails: Elevate the experience by serving up non-alcoholic beverages with zero-proof spirits and distinctive flavors.
- Signature cocktails: Make traditional cocktails like margaritas, manhattans, and moscow mules your own by adding new twists like fresh herbs or citrus.
- Pre-packaged beverages: Turn your bar into a grab-and-go libation station by serving individually bottled cocktails that contain a lower alcohol content.
At the end of the day, it’s worth putting in the extra effort to make sure people can get what they want at today’s event bars –– after all, they put in the extra effort to be there. Just don’t forget about the convenience factor.
Food and beverage blunder #3: Overlooking convenience
After living through years of an ongoing pandemic, convenience might just count even more than it has in the past. Just think about the growing popularity of food delivery services and the near-instant gratification so many have become accustomed to.
So, when it comes to your event’s culinary experience, expect attendees to continue to gravitate toward convenient and individualized meal options like:
- Grab-and-go prepackaged meals: Distribute prepackaged options like sliders, salads, desserts, and mix-and-match appetizers from pickup stations to reduce buffet line gridlock.
- Bento box-inspired fare: Package multi-course meals in bento boxes, cones, cartons, or other fun containers to give “boxed lunches” a modern feel.
- Temperature-conscious courses: Consider opting for course selections containing foods that can be safely served and consumed chilled or at room temperature.
By marrying convenience with design, you can help satisfy your guests’ appetite for both simplicity and eye candy.
Food and beverage blunder #4: Skimping on presentation
While you want to make it easy and quick for attendees to grab a bite, don’t forget to provide an added sprig of sophistication. Remember, we eat with our eyes.
“I think what we’re going to see is more upscale, bespoke packaging,” Lenny predicts.
Consider up-leveling the look and feel of your culinary experience by adding elegant touches like:
- Creative display designs: Contemplate incorporating sleek and striking design into your event’s food and beverage displays to please attendees’ eyes –– and their stomachs. Seconds, please!
- Bespoke, branded packaging: Consider including creatively packaged food, like entrees or appetizers in temperature-controlled jars. Cap off the experience by branding food and drink packaging using your logo and colors.
It’s easy to see why attendees are drawn to food that looks good. But, don’t forget they also want to feel good. And personalization is one way for them to get the experience they crave.
Food and beverage blunder #5: Taking a one-meal-fits-all approach
It can pay to rethink a blanket approach to food and beverage service. Satisfy attendees by serving up personalization when it comes to dietary needs and preferences.
Think about using registration tools that allow attendees to tailor their upcoming event dining experience to their distinctive lifestyles and a variety of dietary requirements. Aim to be inclusive and accommodating by providing a variety of options, such as:
- Vegetarian and vegan fare: Think about providing gourmet plant-based menu selections, so those who prefer to pass on animal products still get full meals that feel like a five-star experience.
- Paleo and sugar-free foods: Evaluate how your event can accommodate individuals who have restrictive diets by exploring whole foods and alternative sweeteners like maple and coconut sugars.
- Dairy-free and gluten-free selections: Considering the increasing number of people living with food allergies or food-specific medical conditions, like celiac disease, it might make sense to offer meals free of common allergens — like dairy and gluten — to everyone.
Providing diet-specific options can help your event feel more inclusive and personalized, especially as attendees seek to satisfy any wellness-conscious cravings.
Food and beverage blunder #6: Leaving wellness on the side
Lenny notes that lingering consumer questions about what’s in our food and, in turn, what’s going into our bodies, is likely to transform the types of food people want at events in 2022. His thinking mirrors recent Nielsen research, which indicates that health and wellness is a priority for today’s global consumers.
This focus on wellbeing is primed to produce an increased interest in event fare that includes:
- Immunity-boosting recipes: Consider staying on trend and catering to the focus on health and wellness by incorporating foods that may give immune systems a boost.
- High-quality ingredients: Fresh organic produce and proteins, plant-based offerings, and natural ingredients with global flavors are all poised to be fixtures on many event menus.
- Transparent preparation: Consider communicating a sense of security in how the food at your event was prepared and packaged to put today’s wellness-focused minds at ease.
Being transparent about the food served at your events also acknowledges consumers' hunger for an increased focus on sustainability.
Food and beverage blunder #7: Skipping past sustainability
While many attendees expect wellness-conscious event menu options for their individual benefit, they’re also looking at the bigger picture. In fact, nearly one in three consumers has stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had ethical or sustainability-related concerns about them.
With sustainability top of mind, attendees are more likely to notice how mindful event professionals have been around their events’ environmental impact.
To put these considerations front and center at your event, think about including:
- Locally sourced food: Provide attendees with a sense of their surroundings by using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
- Sustainable packaging: Consider catering to attendees’ sustainable and zero-waste wishes by reducing the use of plastic or styrofoam in utensils and containers in favor of biodegradable and reusable packaging.
Being thoughtful about your event’s environmental impact also has the potential to win the respect of today’s sustainability-focused attendees.
Food and beverage blunder #8: Catering only to on-site attendees
Virtual event formats take sustainability a step further due to their lower environmental impact. And just because attendees may be participating in an event online doesn’t mean they don’t value the culinary experience.
To satisfy the cravings of your virtual attendees, consider things like:
- Food delivery credits: Offer meal delivery vouchers to Uber Eats, DoorDash, or another delivery service so virtual attendees aren’t left out of the food and beverage experience.
- Mailed beverage kits: Send virtual attendees ingredients and recipes to make cocktails, mocktails, coffee drinks, or other satisfying sips. Have these drink kits delivered to attendees before the event and treat them to a tasting experience or mixology lesson with an expert.
Virtual attendees don’t want to miss out on something that makes an event hype-worthy simply because they’re not there in person. And nothing says, “you’re a valued member of our community” like delivering a culinary treat attendees can experience first-hand.
Expect event food and beverage experiences to be served with heaping sides of wellness, security, sustainability, personalization, and convenience in 2022. And, remember, the keys to event culinary success remain unchanged: focusing on quality and giving the people what they want.