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Catersource State of the Industry 2023, Part 2

Corporate catering makes a comeback; Making a moment

Editor's note: This is part two in our Catersource State of the Industry 2023 report. Check out part one here.

From the nuances of business events to the tailored experiences demanded by corporate clients, 2023 proved to be an interesting one for the corporate catering industry. According to Catersource’s 2023 State of the Industry (SOI) survey, just 30% of respondents indicated that the corporate catering market is strong, whereas 47% said they still see the market segment as still improving. However, 35% of respondents did indicate that they generated the most business in 2023 from corporate catering. According to data from Datassential, 41% of restaurants offer catering in some capacity, resulting in catering being the most offered service by restaurants.

Apple-Y Ever After Market Salad (shaved brussels sprouts, candied walnuts, Granny Smith apples, currants, pecorino, and red wine vinaigrette) during 24 Carrots Catering & Events’ Autumn’s Up Fall Festival ACE-winning corporate event. Photos courtesy Andy Rodriguez 

Elote-style mini street corns 24 Carrots Catering & Events’ Autumn’s Up Fall Festival ACE-winning corporate event. Photos courtesy Andy Rodriguez 

The advent of remote and hybrid work models has profoundly impacted corporate catering. In 2023, caterers have had to meet the demands of virtual events, creating innovative solutions for delivering culinary experiences to dispersed teams. Virtual tasting sessions, curated meal kits, and technology-driven catering services have become essential offerings as corporate clients seek ways to foster team engagement and connection in a digital workspace. 

The beverage stand featuring several specialty cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages during 24 Carrots Catering & Events’ Autumn’s Up Fall Festival ACE-winning corporate event. Photos courtesy Andy Rodriguez 

In its annual Lunch Report, ezCater surveyed 5,000 workers across the U.S. to explore the relationship between food at work—specifically around lunchtime habits. At a high level, findings show that providing a catered lunch is a win-win-win for companies, employees, and restaurants.

  • Lunch breaks benefit both workers and employers, showing the value of workplace catering for restaurants. Most (78%) workers agree on one thing year after year: taking a lunch break improves their job performance, with over half (53%) saying they have more mental clarity when they stop for lunch.
  • In addition to increased productivity, 67% of hybrid workers say free lunch would impact their decision to work onsite and commute.
  • Workers in Atlanta were the most likely to say their employer pays for lunch at least once a week (44% vs 31% nationally) 

Star Trax Events designed a custom bar, which served specialty Detroit cocktails, for the 2022 North American International Auto Show. Photo courtesy Star Trax Events

Additionally, consider these statistics from the Catersource survey: 

  • Lunch is the most prevalent mealtime in corporate catering (53%)
  • Full-service catering is the most prevalent type of corporate catering (47%)

RED VELVET hosted the Gala-nominated Jimmy John’s Château JéJé corporate event. Photo courtesy Holly Cowart

Custom sandwiches from Jimmy John’s were delivered to guests fine dining style during the Château JéJé event. Photo courtesy Holly Cowart

Corporate catering in 2023 is not just about feeding employees either; it’s about nourishing their well-being. The trend toward healthier, plant-based options and customizable menus that cater to diverse dietary needs has gained momentum. In 2024, expect corporate caterers to delve deeper into wellness-oriented menus, integrating nutritional expertise into their offerings to align with the growing emphasis on employee health and vitality.

Star Trax Events hosted the Allure - Corporate Charity Preview Event as part of the 2022 North American International Auto Show. Photo courtesy Star Trax Events

According to ezCater, some ideas to capitalize on the current trends in corporate catering include: 

  • Creating menus to target: Bleisure travelers who want a meal with friends and family in a hotel; Remote workers who come together for meetings and teamwork
  • As the remote work trend continues, coworking can create opportunities too; these rented out spaces also fuel catering sales
  • Creating unique dining experiences for affluent customers, e.g., a seasonable menu with extraordinary ingredients
  • Blending entertainment and dining experiences for customers, e.g., a themed menu

Making a moment

If 2022 was the year for getting back to pre-pandemic event levels, then 2023 has been the year for getting reinspired. Catered events were no longer just about great food, but an experience as well. 

Contemporary Catering wanted to ditch the “boring” plated salads for its CATIE-nominated event. After some brainstorming, they took the traditional “champagne wall” concept and applied it to tasty, fresh salads! Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/Contemporary Catering

Throughout 2023, caterers have been exploring customization, personalization, and interactive dining concepts to captivate the taste buds of their clients. Personalized menus tailored to dietary preferences and cultural considerations have become a hallmark of successful catered social events, reflecting a commitment to inclusivity and customer satisfaction.

Immersive experiences 

In the realm of event catering, a transformation is unfolding—a shift from traditional behind-the-scenes kitchen work to immersive and engaging dining experiences. 

During the CATIE-winning La Caille Tasting, LUX Catering & Events designed a culinary experience to ignite varied senses—olfactory, visual, touch, and taste. Photo courtesy Billow & Mull

Immersive experiences are not necessarily new, but according to SupHerb Farms’ 2024 Food & Beverage Trend Report, there is a new breadth of experiences now available to consumers, as well as the venues in which these experiences can be found. 

At-table preparation, interactive dishes/beverages, or items that require some prep can help create mini-immersions for consumers. 

Marcia Selden Catering & Events’ Boursin Panna Cotta with Sunchoke Bisque and Crispy Garlic Chips. The soup is poured tableside, which makes for a beautiful presentation. Photo courtesy Julie Bidwell 

“Weddings are becoming more experiential as couples want to get their loved ones involved in their big day,” says Hannah Friedenbach (Culinary Canvas).

“Clients are seeking a new, different, and unique experience,” adds Porter. “Give it to them because they will pay more for it!”

Schaffer’s Edible Garden: bite-sized crudite plated in edible soil made from puffed rice and breadcrumbs, and accompanied by watering cans filled with dressing. Photo courtesy Lex Gallegos

Eventbrite found that 75% of diners believe it’s worth paying more for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Experiential catering is the natural progression of the open kitchen concept. Think back to those classic omelet and carving stations; they’ve been a staple in catering for years. However, today’s guests seek more than just a meal; they desire an active role in their culinary journey. The rise of social media and a desire for shareable, engaging experiences to share with their followers has shifted expectations and made interactive catering stations an ever-more attractive event integration.

Guests opened these white boxes to reveal a smiling message and the CATIE-nominated torched avocado toast with blue crab salad, lemon ricotta, and colorful edible flowers from Footers Catering. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/Footers Catering

“Immersive catering means crafting experiences that go beyond presenting to or at a guest, but rather actively inviting the guest to become a participant in that experience,” according to an article from Schaffer. “It’s no longer simply about serving food; it’s about creating unforgettable moments. These experiences engage the senses, spark conversations, and leave lasting impressions.”

Fried white and green asparagus with a truffle fig aioli served during LUX Catering & Events’ CATIE-winning La Caille Tasting. Photo courtesy International Caterers Association/LUX Catering & Events

Taking the immersive concept even further is sensory dining, where guests use all their senses to enjoy a meal: smell, sight, touch, sound, and of course taste.

Details matter

In 2023, and moving into 2024, caterers are placing heightened importance on the aesthetics of their culinary creations. From meticulously arranged platters to avant-garde serving vessels, the visual appeal of food is a powerful tool for creating a lasting impression. Instagram-worthy moments are not just a trend; they are an integral part of modern catering.

“We’ve made cakes with hyper-personal touches like a topper welded by the groom or decorating end-of-the-night cookies with the bride and groom’s silhouettes,” says Laurie Lewis (Culinary Canvas).

Culinary Canvas likes to add hyper-personalized touches to desserts, such as a cake topper welded by the groom. Photo courtesy Culinary Canvas

Next up, vague menu descriptors are in the past as more transparent listings become en vogue, according to Technomic. Cocktails won’t contain just any apple flavor, but rather that of a Granny Smith apple. 

Generic red wine vinegar will move aside for Barolo wine vinegar. And raw beef dishes will become more distinct as filet mignon carpaccio and tenderloin steak tartare. Not only will ingredient varietal types find momentum in menu descriptions, but so will callouts of regions or countries of origin and influence, especially lesser-known ones, such as Haitian honey and Senegalese-style chicken. This in-depth menu detail will further push quality, premiumization, and transparency in the consumer mindset.

Culinary Canvas has been utilizing native state flowers and wildflowers for cakes, while also exploring drying florals and using them for a pressed look. Shown: these flowers were handpicked from the groom’s grandfather’s garden. Photo courtesy Culinary Canvas

Additionally, the era of one-size-fits-all catering is fading. In 2024, successful caterers will go beyond crafting personalized menus; they will extend customization to every aspect of the dining experience. From tailored table settings that reflect the event theme to personalized service styles that resonate with the client’s vision, attention to detail will be a hallmark of bespoke catering services. Every element, from linens to lighting, will contribute to a cohesive and immersive experience.

“Think about going fully custom with your food and cocktails by implementing cocktails that pair with every part of the meal,” says Friedenbach. “One drink introduces the appetizer, another pairs with the main entree, and a final glass pairs with desserts. You can even go the unexpected route and play with salty, spicy, and umami flavors with the evening’s entree. Plus, guests might not always leave room for dessert while dancing the night away, but they’ll sure be intrigued by a decadent dessert cocktail or boozy ice cream scoop.”

Check back next week for part two of our State of the Industry 2023 report where we'll look at supply chain, inflation, staffing, and technology.

Get industry insight from these experts during Catersource + The Special Event, February 12–15 in Austin, TX.  

Amber Kispert

Senior Content Producer

Amber is the Senior Content Producer for Catersource. Amber previously worked as a Communications Specialist for LeClair Group and a reporter for the Woodbury Bulletin, both located in Woodbury, Minn.  As a self-described "foodie," Amber loves to experience the world of food and beverages, and is excited to help share the stories of Catersource and the world's caterers.