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Taking on-site events to the next level

Whether planning for birthday parties, fundraisers, corporate picnics, weddings, or family reunions, on-site catering truly creates an inclusive atmosphere for event planners and their clients, and with rooms, tables, chairs, food, and equipment all readily available, on-site catering allows for ample creativity, customization, and cost-effectiveness.

Recent trends in on-site event planning have been taking typical event necessities such as type of event, budgets, themes, menus, décor, and logistics, and amplifying them. In particular, three prominent aspects of on-site events that are noticeably being taken to the next levels are: food and drink, sustainability, and entertainment.

© Jenny DeMarco Photography 2014 - Royal Fig Fall Fete S'mores bar

Food & drink

The style of event you are hosting determines the type of food and drink service that will work the best. Whether your event consists of a formal sit-down dinner with an intimate group of people, or a larger bash with a lavish buffet or food-stations, the menu has been, and always will be, critical to a positive experience amongst guests.

Trending now for on-site catering are multiple ways to enhance the guest experience by not only preparing high-quality food, but by including a bit of entertainment along the way.

Having a make-your-own pizza station or s’mores bar are just a couple great ways to allow customization for all guests. Gone are the days of being trapped sitting for hours at a table, so, by having a chef actually throwing the dough or flaming the marshmallows in front of guests can truly make the dining experience both exciting and interactive.

“It’s not just about the food anymore,” shared Angie Kemp, CMP, CPCE, Director of Event Sales at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “By taking the action out of the kitchen and including the guests in the actual process, caterers can enhance the night’s entertainment just by providing this in-your-face experience.”

A new food station trend that is surely going to be hot in 2016 is popcorn. I know, it sounds interesting, right? But it will be joining in the show amongst its other dessert colleagues like cupcakes and macaroons. I mean it’s one thing to have it being popped right in front of the guests’ eyes, but including a variety of spices, seasonings, sauces, and other customizations makes what could be seen as a simple snack, something way more thrilling.

Alcohol has also tapped into this trend of customization and action. By providing tasting bars for bourbon, vodka, or any other spirit of choice, caterers can offer more depth to what would otherwise be a standard open or cash bar. Similar to the popcorn stand, unique syrups, flavors, and add-ons for drinks like champagne, spritzers or non-alcoholic beverages will certainly enliven the guest experience. Trending flavors right now include rosemary and blueberry.

Kemp noted, “Although it is fun to make food and drink stations more entertaining, it is also important that you maintain their accessibility. Stations need to keep the crowds moving, so be sure to make them double-sided with several levels from which guests can grab food.”



Another aspect of on-site catering and events that will continue to grow in the coming years is sustainability. We all recognize the entire event world heading in the ‘going green’ direction for a while, however, reducing carbon footprints has become more critical for many vendors as environmental issues worsen and affect business.

The trend of farm-to-table is not just exclusive to restaurants. On-site caterers are using locally sourced foods more than ever and have become conscious of the standard of food they receive from purveyors. For example, caterers will often only purchase seafood if the Seafood Watch has labeled it.

One major concern for caterers has been regarding the conservation of water. Although many outside of California believe that they haven’t been directly impacted by water shortages, this is not entirely true. Vendors of fruits and vegetables feel the rift of the drought, which have caused prices to surge.

“With the drought in California, water conservation concerns have affected the entire industry, not just businesses in California such as ours,” stated Kemp. “On-site caterers should make modifications in the water service that they offer, such as providing water dispensers to cut back and educate guests on why they are doing so.”


Entertainment as décor

The idea of entertainment as décor has become a huge trend in the industry. It has evolved into much more than creative centerpieces or interesting pop-up backdrops.

Kemp said that she’s “been seeing a lot of interesting concepts in terms of assimilating entertainment and decorations. It can be anything from having greeters dressed in accordance with the event’s theme to hiring performers to walk on stilts in long, gorgeous gowns. You really can’t take your eyes off of it.”

Further examples of entertainment as décor could include laying down red carpets for a client’s guests to walk down upon arrival or having an option for body-painted servers.

Although trends often pervade all aspects of the industry, on-site catering must constantly push the envelope in order to create something unexpected or new from a venue that is utilized again and again for multiple events. So go ahead and let your imagination run free!

National Association for Catering and Events

The National Association for Catering and Events (NACE) is the premier destination for catering and event professionals of all backgrounds, specialties, and experience levels. Our members are a passionate and vibrant community of innovators, organizers, and creators who look to us for resources and networks that help them thrive. We provide education, certification and a network of resources for members in all segments of the catering and events industry.