Trading Food Fads for Food Trends in the Catering Business

By Ryan ONeil

Sliders. Sriracha. Matcha. Mini desserts. Flower flavors. Coconut.

The list of food fads over the years can go on and on. 

The truth is, however, that predicting food fads is nearly impossible, especially in regions where culinary traditions don't matter very much and well-traveled diners demand innovative dining experiences. Additionally, while food fads used to start at the top, in fine dining restaurants, and work their way down into casual dining, limited-service restaurants, and retail, they're now evolving from every segment of the food industry. Furthermore, social media sites, especially Instagram, have been breeding grounds for food fads designed to go viral.


It's tempting to try to keep up with every new food fad that comes along as a means of maintaining a strong flow of business. But, as fickle as these dishes are, it's an unwise business move to create your custom menus based on what is most popular on all of the catering blogs.

However, while keeping up with the food fads can be a mistake, keeping up with the food trends is something that will help sustain your catering business. A trend is something like healthy eating that gains momentum, whereas a fad is something we’ve enjoyed fleetingly, like cupcakes, cronuts or macarons.

Popular dishes will not remain constant -- turmeric lattes and coconut water are almost shorthand for clean eating -- but the broader trend they indicate are an interest in health, which is something with longer lasting power. It's important to take a look at the "in" dishes and ingredients are saying about people generally.

Today we're looking at four catering trends that are sure to help your catering business thrive no matter what food fads come along.

1. Destination-Specific Cuisine

We live in a globalized society where people are constantly traveling to new spots near and far for special events. When they do, some may want to take a small detour to see some sightseeing via taxi or subway while others, like myself, prefer to see it with a fork and knife. That's why people have flocked to local restaurants and food trucks in recent years: to get a taste of what it's like to live in the area they're visiting. 

Destination-specific food is a huge trend that can allow your chefs to flex their creative muscles when developing the menu for an event. Moreover, using local ingredients conveys health and better taste and offers great marketing potential on menus. 

2. Trading Buffet Lines For Interactive Stations

In recent years, there has been a surge in popularity for Do-It-Yourself activities, such as arts and crafts; the same rings true for cooking. Pople love making their own food, which is why  it pays to include food stations at events rather than the traditional buffet lines.  Allowing guests to pick and choose their own ingredients and create their own unique dishes brings an extra degree of entertainment. Plus something as simple as offering a few options for toppings at a grits stand (i.e. pimento cheese, smoked cheddar and jalapeño, and creamy corn) can allow guests with dietary restrictions to join in on the fun.
Moreover, this is the perfect opportunity for guests to have some interaction with the chef who can share spectacular stories about the dishes and all of the ingredients. As the desire for more entertainment provided by the events industry continues to grow, interactive stations offer caterers the opportunity to market themselves not only as the creators of delicious food, but as the makers of memories.

3. Catering To Special Diets

Long gone are the days where having a single vegetarian alternative to your meat-focused main dish was acceptable to clients and their guests. And, while it is true that everyone loves to indulge in sweets from time to time, the reality is that eating healthy is here to stay. Gluten-free, vegan, organically grown, nut-free, and all-around "healthy" diets are becoming more common than ever. As a result, planners and caterers do not only need to be aware of guest allergies but specific diet types various guests may have when crafting the menu. Moreover, as people become more health conscious, it would behoove caterers to trim the fat off their menus and opt for lighter sauces and even try air frying food that would typically make someone question its nutritional value.
This can be done in very easy, practical ways. For example, if you have an Asian noodle station at an event, you can accommodate more diverse diets by changing it to a rice bowl station with toppings such as lemongrass chicken, brisket, and vegetables that guests can choose based on their diet. Options don't need to be limited. You can still assemble a menu of delectable dishes that will have your guests' mouths watering. And because these dishes will be lighter, with fewer ingredients, and even possibly smaller portions, you can actually save money while creating an experience your client and their guests will never forget. 

4. Create a Custom Catering Menu

The events industry is all about creating a custom, one-of-a-kind experience to make the client's dreams come true. Everything from the music to the decor to the food must reflect their vision for the big event. For caterers, helping make the big event perfect starts with helping clients create a perfect menu that will leave their guests raving for months. That can't be done when every client is offered the exact same pre-planned menu where the entree options are steak, chicken, or vegetarian for X price per person. Not only is this approach boring for the client, it can actually minimize your profits. Using a catering app, like the Curate software, allows you to create beautiful custom menus to present in your client proposal while pricing for a maximized profit. 
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Final Thoughts

While food fads may come and go, there are some trends that are here to stay for a while. And while creating destination-specific menus, utilizing interactive stations, and adding more options for special diets will certainly help your catering business thrive regardless of the current fad, it's important to remember that, in the same way skinny jeans aren't for everyone, catering companies should stay true to who they are. Perhaps your specialty is amazing Southern cuisine in the North, to create a destination-specific menu would take away from your ethos. However, you might try to choose a very specific part of the South to take your menu inspiration from and share the story of that menu with the guests at your interactive stations. It's important to keep abreast of what the current food fads and trends are, but don't engage with them if they aren't part of who you are because you hear it's trendy.


Using catering software like Curate can help your business continue to grow beyond the fads and trends of the industry. Schedule a consultation to see how.

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Tags: Small Business Sally, Curate, Corporate Cate, Established Ed, catering


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