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The changing world of event catering

Event catering is top of the menu, so how is the industry adapting to changing needs?

 

Getting the food right at events has always been a key consideration, but in recent years the expectations have increased. Gone are the days of the tiny solid croissants and egg mayo sandwiches.

Today, the discerning delegate wants lamb shank in a lemon jus, raspberry compote with their Camembert, and the vegan-friendly option of cucumber and quinoa salad should they so desire.

What venues and caterers serve is heavily under the spotlight, so how do they cater for the variety of tastes and dietary requirements to ensure delegates are satisfied?

 

Dean Hoddle, head chef, Silverstone Circuits

For years chefs have worked on a 5-10% uptake on alternative dishes and these were always created as a secondary thought, or as a tick boxing exercise. I openly admit that I was one of these chefs who felt that catering for vegetarian or vegan diets was a distraction to the main menu. Today, it couldn’t be further from reality. Plant-based diets are here to stay, and chefs need to adjust menus to become more vegan-friendly and stop regarding these dishes as ‘special menu’ options.

At Silverstone, prestigious, large-scale events such as the Formula 1 British Grand Prix mean that the kitchen must produce a menu which is equal in quality, thought, and quantity for all our guests – no matter what diet they may have. It’s simply not good enough to offer a fruit salad for vegans when the ticket price is so high.

 

Jon-Paul Reed, group food & beverage director, De Vere

We are finding that guests are increasingly expecting healthier working lunches throughout the year, no matter what their dietary requirements. To achieve this, De Vere’s Group Nutritionist, Wendy Martinson OBE, has created nutritionally balanced menus as part of the innovative Smart Space concept, designed for meetings and event bookings. The menus offer hearty, nutritionally balanced dishes, including vegan, vegetarian and free-from options.

Just 5 years ago, we didn’t pro-actively cater for vegans, unless we had a specific request. However, now approximately 10% of De Vere food sales are vegan, with the actual percentage differing across the portfolio.

We already have plans to expand our vegan offering at De Vere on the back of the increasing popularity of and demand for vegan dishes. We will be including vegan dishes as part of our central banqueting menu, which spans our portfolio of country mansion houses and event destinations; and at De Vere Wokefield Estate, we are creating a separate vegan menu for guests.

 

Gabrielle Gant, community marketing manager, Linnworks

As an event organiser one of the biggest challenges is getting catering right. You can plan a comprehensive, engaging agenda, only to have it undermined by a delegate’s lasting impression of a bad lunch.

There are a few areas that set the good caterers apart. The days of the ‘beige-buffet’ are over. Keeping delegates high in energy through the afternoon hours is a challenge without adding a heavy lunch into the mix.

Gluten-free, vegan and other dietary options should never be an afterthought. As the statistics continue to rise, high-street chain restaurants continue to build these options into menus as standard.

Finally, caterers should be looking to work with organisers as early into the planning process as possible. It’s shocking the number of in-house caterers that don’t want to know what you’re looking for until a month before the event.

In-house caterers should be looking to operate in the same creative way that independents do, looking at creative ways to bring catering in as an extension of your event design concept.

 

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Agency view

It's not just venues. Agency Venues and Event International recently partnered with caterer Dish, so what benefits does this offer?

Anita Lowe, chief executive at Venues and Events International, said: “As a boutique event agency we consider every element of our events, most larger agencies will simply send a menu to a client and ask for their choices – we like to take this a step further and partnering with a catering company such as Dish allows us to do this.

“We are able to get under the skin of our client’s events, understanding their audience and objectives tailoring their menus appropriately. We have made creative changes such as bespoke cocktails in brand colours, logo coffee stencils and fully themed menus aligning with the event identity.

“By partnering with a caterer, we not only gain creative control but also have an increased input in to the logistics. We recently organised an event at a public museum where access times were a real challenge, we were able to work hand in hand with the caterers to ensure that set-up was methodically planned, and we could plan for all contingencies. Food is such a huge part of any event; these partnerships allow us to give it  the attention it deserves.”

 

Case study

The Tobacco Dock Food Team relished the chance to create an entire menu dedicated to ethical eating. The caterers intricately planned and created a two-day menu which included options such as raw vegan ‘Snickers-style’ bars, wild mushroom macaroni with truffle oil garlic bread, the ‘Lush Dog’ with sautéed onions, Frenchie’s mustard and harissa ketchup and carrot, pecan and cranberry cake.

Tobacco Dock Food fed snacks, lunch and dessert to over 3,000 attendees across the two days. The conference was organised to showcase the company’s spring collection as well as profile their charity activities. The event was for 1,800 internal delegates and then the doors were opened to the public, press and bloggers from 11am each day.

Tim Stevens, managing director of Eventist Group, commented: “The team at Tobacco Dock Food embraced the challenge of providing a range of natural, guilt-free dishes at the Lush Summit.

Hilary Jones, ethics director, Lush, added: “Not only did Tobacco Dock Food pull out all the stops to be inventive, flavoursome and vegan with the food, but it was also served by happy and friendly staff, which made the whole experience pleasant. The food seemed to go down really well, and the choice offered was much appreciated.”