Food fads come and go, but trends find their footing and evolve. How are corporate event planners hitting the sweet spot today? They’re designing event menus that are culturally relevant, creative, practical, and sustainable. Sounds like a lot of ground to cover in one menu? Not so!
Overall, the primary menu trend that we’re seeing (and loving) is that inclusivity is everything. Event planners shouldn’t be afraid to step out of their comfort zone, ask the chef questions, push for creativity and try something new. Here are a few of the latest menu trends we’re seeing in meeting and event planning.
Menu Trends to Serve up at Your
Global Menu Mashup
International cuisines will be joining forces in 2022 to deliver flavor combinations that will not only excite guests, but that allows chefs to experiment in their own kitchens. One of the newest emerging mashups: Itameshi. Itameshi simply means “Italian Food” in Japanese, but it’s also become synonymous with a new fusion cuisine that combines Japanese and Italian cuisines together for something truly unique.
Rethink and Rewrite
There's a new focus on menu writing and descriptions based on flavors, spices, and ingredients rather than ethnicities. Approach your menu as an opportunity for creativity instead of relying on expected descriptions.
Take your F&B up a notch and deliver your ideal selection of palate pleasers. Opt for a hotel, caterer, or restaurant that offers completely customizable menus, presenting a golden opportunity for creativity and even more specific tailoring to your attendees. Aim for food choices that reinforce your event theme, speak to your participant personas, or authentically celebrate a destination. Aside from enriching your guest experience, the ability to carefully customize a menu can also mean a more strategic use of your spend.
Smell, Savor, Sip & See
Nothing creates a premium vibe like a well-designed, experiential food event at your meeting. Think sushi stations, MOET champagne vending machines, donut walls, and fashionable food trucks. Foodie shows like Top Chef and world-class events like the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen have made the concept fashionable, but their staying power is simply this – food can be full-sensory fun. On a large or small scale, creating beautiful and innovative food stations allows guests to experience diverse flavors and is a sure way to offer something for everyone – delicately arranged doughnut walls, sizzling tacos, steaming dumplings, wine tastings, and more.
Up the Energy
There's a re-emergence of mindful eating inspired by ancient practices and beliefs, such as Ayurveda. Focus on choosing the right combination of foods, herbs, and flavors that reach specific goals in healing and pleasure. For example, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg are considered warming spices and offer a comforting inner balance.
Embrace the Mocktail
While your participants might not all appreciate a completely dry cocktail hour, there are plenty of people who do not drink alcohol. In fact – the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates that to be around 30% of your adult group. Also consider that after a drink or two, some people like to switch to an option that will benefit their morning routine. Stay on the more inclusive trend and include intriguing alternatives. Non-alcoholic beers, alcohol-free spirits, and home-brewed cocktail syrups are all gaining popularity with venues, these options can keep your menus relevant for your group. And for the alcohol you do serve, be intentional with the options; choose beer selections with a lower ABV, seltzer options with less sugar, and lighter wines to help people your guests feel stellar in general session the next day.
From ingredients to brands, basking in all things local is a great, on-trend way to celebrate a destination. Locavores will relish the fresh, in-season ingredients on event menus and at locally owned restaurants, while local brands can be creatively incorporated into the program. In Chicago, Garrett Popcorn as a snack; in New York City, catering by a favorite food truck vendor (head to Smorgasburg to sample some favorites); in Raleigh, Lonerider Brewing Company; in Denver, mountain trout for dinner; and in Atlanta, organic peach cobbler for dessert paired with Jitty Joe’s coffee. Focusing on the locals can not only help generate creative, distinctive ideas in the planning stages but ultimately produce a more memorable experience for your attendees.
It’s time to appreciate some F&B options that are often overlooked. For a multitude of reasons, more and more attendees are passing on meat and animal products, and caterers are ready to accommodate. It’s customary to offer a separate plated vegetarian or vegan entrée. But today’s chefs can go beyond blanched beans and get very creative with a veggie-based diet. Consider branching out with plant-based meats or just-so-happen-to-be-vegan dishes. Well-thought-out vegan entrées can absolutely enjoy broad appeal, while likely accommodating other dietary restrictions, like allergies, or simply fit the bill for a lighter, plant-based meal in the day.
Pro-tip: To make food experiences more comfortable for everyone, you might try color-coding your event name badges according to dietary requirements. That way, staff can clearly identify and anticipate the preferences of participants.
The deep blue sea offers limitless potential when it comes to innovation. In addition to sustainable fishing practices, and sustainable oyster farming, new ingredients are also being discovered underwater. For example, seaweed and kelp offer an alternative to traditional greens and garnishes. Additionally, salt water and sea botanicals can contribute to reinventing snacks, seasonings, cocktails, and even charcuterie boards. Underwater botanicals offer a fresh, earthy flavor to savory meals and cocktails, while saltwater brings a fresh and briny bite to foods and beverages.
Lastly, the global pandemic has increased our vigilance toward safe service. Continuing the need for individually-packaged, handheld fare served food like cones and cups etc.