Happy new year, everyone.
Let’s talk trends. As I see it, 2013 isn’t going to be just about the food anymore. It will encompass many aspects of the entire experience.
At this time of year, what is on the minds of most people? Getting into better shape, of course. As planners responsible for meals in this first-quarter calorie-watch, you can help attendees along the way without sacrificing flavor or guest experience. That’s my No. 1 trend: Being creative with healthier food choices.
- Designate a meal as the Big Switcharoo and have the kitchen swap ingredients without sacrificing flavor, then label it so attendees know. Use apple sauce instead of oil, for example. I, for one, love cauliflower purees in lieu of mashed potatoes. I do think that chefs will continue using grains in salad and as a protein option, which I like if the salad is flavorful.
- Take charge of the salads, which are usually boring on banqueting menus. Check out magazines that feature healthy food choices — Every Day With Rachael Ray, Cooking Light and Weight Watchers are a good starting point. These recipes will give your guests a full belly without giving up flavor or texture. Plus, they’ve all been kitchen-tested and adjusted for maximum flavor. Don’t be shy about suggesting recipes to the chef. Corporate kitchens don’t do an honorable job of giving planners the variety they deserve, so it’s our job to get what we, as their customers, deserve.
- Work with the catering team to create food labels that show calorie savings. One idea is to create labels that represent a scale, and show attendees just how healthy their meal is. Ask the kitchen for props like scales, tubs of cooking oil and fattening ingredients to display, and push the point home.
- Have the recipes available with QR codes so people can scan them.
Other trends, we’ll likely see include:
- Seasonal nonalcoholic drink stations. Picture hot chocolate in winter and hot fruit ciders in the fall. I suggest having a variety of drinks and small cups in addition to full size. Many times people want to taste.
- Water stations. Infused waters in bulk, like cucumber mint, represent a huge cost savings vs. individual plastic bottles. Have Crystal Light packets on hand if attendees want more flavor. They’re not expensive.
- Coffee-break snacks. Tasty healthier items will show up — gluten-free chips and Pirate’s Booty puffed rice and corn snacks are good examples. Pirate’s Booty is popular because it has sweet and salty options. If you want fresh fruit, ask for syrup in which to toss the fruit or a low-fat whipped cream for on top. Replace cookies with mini-chocolate candies (I do, and never have a complaint).
- Jell-O and popcorn. Jello-O gets overlooked, but it’s one of my favorites. Nothing is more refreshing in the afternoon than a Jell-O parfait, plus it’s colorful and you have an array of flavor options. Popcorn is visual, smells good and hits the right spot. One word of advice: Make sure it’s served fresh and not individually bagged. Have fun with the bags — an inexpensive sticker allows for additional messaging.
- Presentation. Keep an eye on this. We’re going to see venues continue to invest in vessels and hot-food dishes. My advice: Really talk through with your chef what will visually enhance the dish and how the kitchen can take the meal up a notch. Chefs will continue to push small plates, but only agree if it makes sense for your group, the food item will hold well under a heat lamp or the kitchen can continue to plate up in real time. Ask in preplanning what vessels the kitchen has available. To me, the martini glass is not such an interesting option. Trying to eat a salad out of a pointed cylindrical vessel doesn’t make much sense.
If you keep a combination of these tips in mind as you dig into the first quarter, I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly ahead of the curve.
These are my predictions for now, and I’m sticking to them.