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Catering Nuances on the Culinary Highway

I always like to say that restaurant food is like fashion, with trends and fads. The same is true for catering. Whether you own a restaurant that offers catering services or are a full-time caterer, it’s important to stay abreast of the latest trends in dining. Here are 10 hot trends in catering, some of which have been around a long time, while others are fairly new.

1. Buffet. Dating back to the 1500s in France, buffet dining is the easiest way to feed a large number of people at once. Buffets are great for large events like weddings. They can be hot or cold, casual or formal and you can customize a buffet to fit most any budget. Read more about restaurant buffets.

2. Food Stations. This trend is also ideal for a large group. Instead of the food sitting on one long table, as with a buffet, the menu is divided up among stations throughout the dining room or event hall. Often the stations are comprised of an assortment of appetizers and other finger foods. Food stations are well suited for a cocktail reception, where people mingle casually about.

3. Chocolate Fountains. Nothing brings oohs and ahhs like a river of chocolate, making a chocolate fountain is a favorite at parties, showers and receptions. You can purchase a fountain from commercial equipment distributors, in a wide range of prices. Good quality chocolate can be pricey, but you can offset the food cost with lower cost dipping items like pretzels, fresh fruit, cookies and marshmallows.

4. Family Style Dining. Also known as English Service, family style features bowls and platters of food to share at each table, versus individual plated meals. Olive Garden built its concept around family style dining. Serving food family style adds an element of intimacy that can be lacking at large functions.

5. Food and Drink Pairings. How about a wine tasting in lieu of a traditional rehearsal dinner? Or a beer dinner instead of a bridal shower? These types of dinners offer a three, four, five or more course meal, paired with a wine or beer for each course. Note, these types of meals take longer than a buffet or plated meal, appealing to those who like a slow, leisurely dinner.

6. Artisan Food and Drink. Artisan food refers to foods that are produced in small batches. However, as there is no regulation on the term, you will see artisan thrown around by many large restaurant chains, like Panera Bread and even fast food chains like Wendy’s. Like local or organic foods, artisan has become a good marketing term. After all, a hand crafted sourdough baguette paired with an assortment of artisanal cheeses sounds rather decadent, compared to a plain old cheese and cracker platter.

7. Local foods. Local foods convey health, better taste and offer good marketing potential on menus. Local foods do offer some challenges. Fresh fruit and vegetables are not available all year round in many areas, making it hard to have a set menu of local foods. However, this encourages a rotating menu of specials, allowing chefs to flex their creative muscles. Read more about why restaurants should buy local.

8. Street Foods. One of the hottest trends in catering is offering menus inspired by the ethnic fusion of street food. From Mexican churros to Spanish tapas and Chinese dim sum, the more international a menu, the better.

9. Gluten Free Foods. Whether it’s an allergy to wheat or a conscious choice, more people are opting out of gluten. There are many health benefits to going gluten free and it also serves as an opportunity to experiment with many alternative cooking ingredients like amaranth, cassava flour and teff flour.

10. Mini Desserts. Cupcakes, mini wedding cakes, bite-sized desserts are all hot trends for catered events. Even if you aren’t a baker, you can purchase delicate petit fours and other small desserts that are both good in quality and taste.

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