What’s an event without food and drink? Food and beverage are the core of so many events and meetings, and oftentimes, they’re one of the largest expenses for the event itself. And, arguably, the fare is often the most memorable aspect of an event or meeting.
Ever been to an event where the food was sensational? We bet you remember it. And we bet you asked about the catering for your own future event.
Knowing what’s trending in the catering world is crucial, so you can plan accordingly and ensure your menu is current and innovative and make certain your guests remember your event for years to come.
We asked expert chefs about what food and beverage they expect to trend in the events industry, and here’s what they had to say.
The biggest trend to watch as we enter 2023, according to all the experts we spoke with, is the increase of locally-sourced menus.
“Locally-sourced menus are still trending even after COVID,” said Dave Stratton, managing partner of one of Toronto’s most renowned catering companies, Daniel et Daniel Catering & Events. “There are more requests for that coming through than we’ve seen before.”
Tawfik Shehata, the food and beverage manager at The International Centre, agreed and added that locally-sourced food will only increase in popularity as time goes on.
“It’s such a big trend,” he said. “And it’ll only get bigger as a larger variety of food and spices are grown right here in Ontario. Now, I can get turmeric and ginger and things I never thought would be local here, which only allows me to do so much more with local ingredients. This local trend is one that’s here to stay.”
The Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s executive chef and culinary director, Duff Lampard, added that not only are locally-sourced menus delicious and trendy, they are also advantageous to all parties involved.
“Local sourcing and the subsequent interaction with local producers, farmers, and vineyards is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” he said. “I enjoy learning about the collective stories of local businesses and their passion for their products. It is great to get out into the fields and get to know individuals behind the scenes and see first-hand the quality and freshness of what is available. Supporting local gives a voice to local products and communities. It educates and stimulates growth in our hospitality sector, and reminds us how cool it is to be involved in such a dynamic and evolving industry.”
Getting creative with vegan and vegetarian options
The biggest trend to hit catering, according to Shehata, is the mainstreaming and creativity of vegetarian and vegan options.
Gone are the days of vegetarians and vegans having penne pasta and plain tomato sauce at catered events, he said.
“Vegetarian and vegan food has been terrible for so long,” he said. “They’ve been afterthoughts. But not anymore. With the increasing trend of vegetarianism and flexitarian diets, chefs have had to get more creative.”
For example, at The International Centre, Shehata says they do fun takes on comfort food when it comes to their vegan and vegetarian dishes. Take for example, its vegan sushi, where cooked golden beets are rolled up to look like a salmon roll, and red beets to look like tuna. The International Centre also offers a vegan mini hot dog, where they roast baby carrots in spices, and serve it up like a traditional hot dog, bun and all.
“So, it looks like a hot dog, and tastes like a hot dog, but it’s actually vegan,” he said. “Another favourite is our ‘pulled pork’ slider where we take roasted and shredded spaghetti squash and mix it with caramelized onions and barbecue sauce. So again, it looks and tastes like the real deal. And that makes the dish so fun. And that little bit of whimsy makes all the difference to our clients and their events. And we find, when we do things like that, it takes those events to the next level.”
One of the biggest trends Shehata found at The International Centre post-pandemic was the increased demand for healthier options.
“Throughout the lockdown, I think people have become more comfortable with ingredients they may not have used before,” he said. “Our clients are more experimental than ever, and we are seeing a large trend towards healthy food. We currently don’t serve any white rice, because of so many requests for brown rice, quinoa, and other healthy grains. In fact, we recently hosted an event for a segment of the construction industry where fish, chicken, and beef options were served, and the healthier fish option was by far the most popular dish at the buffet.”
Shehata said to expect healthier food options, especially healthy grains, to trend in 2023 and beyond.
Daniel et Daniel’s Stratton added that right now, more and more of his clients are having conversations about and requesting sustainable menus.
“That’s definitely an increasing trend we are seeing at Daniel et Daniel,” he said. “So, when we pre-package items, we do so with sustainable packaging. And instead of using disposables, we use reusable china and rentals. Because, yes, we have to wash it, but then we can use these items over and over again.”
Shehata said he is also noticing this trend at The International Centre, where more clients are requesting reusable food vessels.
“The focus on sustainability is really increasing,” he said. “And I think people are really realizing the damage we are doing because we aren’t using as many disposables at receptions anymore. We are getting more and more requests for interesting presentation options when it comes to the vessel the food is served in, like cool spoons and unique containers.”
Stratton says that service, particularly a more refined, elevated kind of service is being sought-after and will likely be a trend to watch in 2023.
“Things like table-side service is trending up right now for us,” he said. “For example, doing a Caesar salad action station at the table is gaining more and more popularity.”
Though Caesar salad isn’t earth-shattering, Stratton explains, the extra touch, and out-of-the-box experience of eating and enjoying a Caesar salad takes the meal and event up that extra notch.
“And I think making meals just a little more special is what event planners and their guests are looking for right now,” he said.
Non-alcoholic beverages and mocktails
Move over speciality cocktails and craft beers. Mocktails are the trend to watch in the beverage world in 2023 and beyond.
According to Shehata, at the events level, The International Centre is seeing non-alcoholic beverages and mocktails trend upwards.
“We used to only have non-alcoholic beverages on our bar menu upon request,” he said. “But now, they are standard on our bar menu. And we are working towards having signature mocktails on our menu because of the demand alone.”
And while it may sound like your bar bill will decrease with this trend, Shehata says to think again.
“A lot of the ingredients to make non-alcoholic beverages interesting, like the botanicals and bitters, are just as expensive as alcohol,” he said. “So, you’ll find sometimes that a mocktail will be just as expensive as a regular cocktail.”
*This article was originally published in the 2022 CMEExpo Show Guide.