The Best of 2014

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Translating Trends into Dollars

Squeeze, paint, and then get a lovely piece of seared Ahi tuna for the top.

Squeeze, paint, and then get a lovely piece of seared Ahi tuna for the top.

Has it been a good year for you? Back in January, Catersource magazine offered a prediction that, “catering industry sales are rising substantially — more than the economy as a whole” [Carl Sacks, Catersource, January]. But building a business takes teamwork.

Throughout the year, Catersource has focused on the trends that make the industry tick, based on research and dissemination of information we have gathered at our conferences and trade events, as well as from press releases we have received and discussions we’ve had with partners, sponsors, and readers like you.

We reported the responses to our annual trends survey early in the year, clearly showing what was hot (gluten-free eating, action stations, food trucks, small bites, and more) and what was not (carbs, classic plating, traditional sodas, sugars).

If “knowing the trends translates into dollars,” [Lisa Carrouth, Catersource, September/October], then we hope this recap of some of the most popular trends of 2014, sure to be going strong in 2015, will give you impetus when bidding out jobs through the end of the year.

Here are a few things that stood out in 2014, straight from the pages of Catersource magazine.

Lights! Camera! Action!

“We are seeing a definite shift from the typical buffet or plated dinner. This year we have cocktail-style receptions with small plates, action stations, tasting menus with wine pairing, and family style service.” —Veronica Osbourne, Catersource, January

It’s dinner and a show, and it was all the rage in 2014. From torched sushi to grab-and-go food stations, heavy hors d’oeuvres and action stations were preferred over traditionally plated or buffet dinners. In 2014, we saw chefs finishing up and serving items on the spot, as well as guests putting together their own preferred elements — and various combinations thereof.

Some terrific examples of this trend were seen at the A la cARTe party at the 2014 Art of Catering Food conference. For example, at the “Graffiti” station, guests first squeezed a choice of colorful sauces, syrups, and glazes onto their plates, used paint brushes to smear and play, and then moved to a nearby chef’s station, Sterno ablaze, to top their plates with made-to-order sesame seared Ahi tuna. Across the room at the “Industrial Arts” station, chefs hand-torched pizza bruschetta with Pomodoro sauce, basil, sweet Italian sausage, and buffalo mozzarella. Finally, at the Rijsttafel station (Dutch for rice table), small dishes of rice could be dressed by partygoers with a variety of Indonesian delights, such as coconut chicken curry.

What is resonating with many catering companies, however, isn’t that they can do these dinner and a show-type events, it’s more about how they accomplish it. Action stations are hard work. Thus, wind guards, unusual grilling techniques, hot boxes, griddles, and portable canned heat made a tremendous difference.

Food Trends

Sushi can be assembled and transported to an event cold, then torched in front of guests.

Food Trends

Bowls with colorful rice layers awaiting filling.

Food Trends

Exclamations Catering, a 2014 Catersource ACE Award winner, showed a fajita bar in the April/May issue, preparing meats and vegetables on a Mongolian grill and then kept them warm on a tiered heated station, using a Sterno.


Tiny Treasures

“Our fascination with diverse tastes and textures may account for the huge popularity of small plates.” —Roy Porter, Catersource, July/August

Be they small starters or enough to make a meal, clients love miniature food experiences in accompanying diminutive serveware. This is an unabating trend. The rising demand for mobile tastes suits today’s grab-and-go culture, even at the most swanky of events. Smaller portions equal more options to taste and allow for less waste.

Of course, mini portions have been a staple of many events over the decades, but the ever-growing preference for tiny tastes and bites is also fueling new developments in large spoons, darling milk bottles, miniature mason jars, tiny galvanized tubs, push up cups, mini martini glasses, picks and pipettes, tiny ceramic fry pans, ceramic tin cans, pint-size “metallic” cutlery, and more. In addition, look to re-purposed items used in unusual means, such as lab beakers, test tubes, and other items associated with chemistry to hold beverages and shooters.

Food Trends

A bite, maybe two, all skewered on a mini metallic fork, offers a taste without being too filling.

Food Trends

At Atlanta, GA’s A Legendary Event, small Bamboo Studio containers with accompanying serveware offered just the right amount of Super Duper Food Salad with sweet chili vinaigrette.


Dessert Circus

“Whether kids and adults eat together or in a separate lounge, everyone loves to come together for a fabulous dessert.” —Cigall Goldman, Catersource, July/August

Innovative flavor pairings in desserts, coupled with (again) the trend in mini, totable tastes continue to gain popularity, though traditional flavors — chocolate among them — are still crowd favorites as we reach the end of 2014. Today’s crowd, however, is becoming more adventurous in their sweet combinations, with savory hopping on board for a complex one-two punch.

At the 2014 Art of Catering Food conference, Executive Chef Rachanee Keovorabouth of Indianapolis’ Thomas Caterers of Distinction offered an informative seminar devoted entirely to dessert, showing such varied delectables as mini coconut pineapple and basil popsicles; lemon brownies topped with rose crystals; Frangelico peanut butter and Chambord raspberry nitro pops; and Cracker Jack “popcornsicles” — the newest twist on the continued trend in cake pops.

Food Trends

Common Plea Catering showed a short plate dessert selection in the January issue.

Food Trends

Samples of Rachanee Keovorabouth’s zesty lemon brownies topped with Fresh Origins’ rose crystals were passed to attendees.


But Without a Talented Crew

“Good service is a requirement for any type of client, nonprofit or otherwise, and it’s one of the foundational elements of any successful catering company.” —Art Fortuna, Catersource, July/August

But beyond trends, a company is as strong as its weakest link. Here are some inspirational quotes from the past year to motivate your team through the rest of 2014 — and beyond.

“You’re only as good as the last meal you put in front of somebody, so work on your relationships with vendors. They are your partners and they want you to be successful.” —Ronnie Davis, Catersource, April/May

“A great sauce shows your true talent as a chef.” —Chef Adam Gooch, Catersource, July/August

“The first sale that is made is YOU. The moment you engage with a bride [to be] they are judging you first, then they are judging what they are buying, and then they are judging the company. If you’re not selling you, then you’re not selling.” —Meryl Snow, Catersource, June

“We’ve served a few courses as a seated meal, but when it comes to the entrée, we beautifully present the protein on the plate and the sides are served family style, giving guests the opportunity to share.” —Chef Elgin Woodman, Catersource, June

“Do not be timid about charging premium prices on the busiest nights of the year when all of the caterers, hotels, and banquet halls are busy. Conversely, be willing to cut a good deal during the slow season.” —Carl Sacks, Catersource, September/October

“We maintain our holiday business by focusing on quality and not overbooking ourselves. We’d rather do three over-the-top fabulous events than six mediocre events.” —Melissa Tibben, Catersource, September/October

About the author : Catersource


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