Event Catering: Ideas for Delicious, Creative Event Planning Menus

August 17, 2023 Jessica Stewart

Events aren't a one-size-fits-all approach, so why should the catering menu be the same everywhere, too? Gone are the days of rubbery chicken or tough and chewy steak menu catering options.

Event planners understand the importance of having customized event menu options, now, more than ever. Catering is a large part of the event planning process. But it doesn't have to be complicated.

More and more modern event planners and attendees are in favor of having a diverse catering menu with eclectic entrée options. This allows them to express their personal style and their unique preferences.

Interested in learning more about modern event catering trends? Then keep reading below for all of the juicy details.

Food Truck Feast Event Catering

For event attendees who are adventurous eaters, food trucks offer a unique culinary experience. Food trucks come fully equipped as kitchens on wheels, so there is little need for prep or clean-up. They can also be used in places like outdoor venues where a full kitchen may not be available.

Event catering is made easy with custom food options and a variety of different cuisine options. A food truck-inspired catering menu is also a great idea for a more casual event vibe.

Using a food truck may be a more cost-effective option as well since it can cost between $20-$40 per head versus $70 or more per person for traditional event catering.

If the event coordinator still opts to offer a formal sit-down catered meal, a food truck can be used as a supplement to provide late-night snacks to guests post-event.

Self-Serve Buffet

A buffet lets guests serve themselves. Instead of the standard chicken, steak, or fish pre-plated entrée options, event guests can choose what they want from a catering menu lineup of main courses and side dishes.

For example, event guests could visit a carving station to select from meat choices like ham, prime rib, and turkey breast. A buffet also ensures that event guests get their fill.

This means that no one leaves the event dinner feeling underfed. Not having proper food portions is one of the most common catering mistakes made.

More event planners are choosing a buffet option for their catering because it offers more entrée options. It also creates a laidback and relaxed family-style dining vibe.

Funky Food Fusions

Famous chef Wolfgang Puck started the food fusion trend back in 1983 when he opened his restaurant Chinois, blending Chinese and French cuisine with a California twist.

Today, fusion food has exploded in popularity. By blending cuisine from many different cultures and regions together, event planners can really up their catering game. You can find fusion options like:

  • French-Vietnamese
  • Chino-Latino
  • Cali-Mex and Tex-Mex
  • Indian-Chinese
  • Hawaiian-Asian

Fusion food allows event hosts to create a truly individual catering menu. For a corporate event or convention with a blend of two different heritages, this is also an ideal way to show the blending of two cultures coming together through food.

Savory BBQ Smorgasbord

These days, catering entrée options are getting bolder in flavor. Event guests are also no longer afraid of getting their hands dirty when they chow down at an event dinner. What's a little BBQ sauce between co-workers and mentors anyway?

For Country-Western-themed events especially, there's nothing better than the smell of barbequed meat cooking on the grill or sitting in a smoker. Offering guests a catering menu of BBQ ribs, smoked brisket, and pulled pork sliders, along with an assortment of sweet and tangy BBQ sauces is just the ticket for lip-smacking catering done right.

Hawaiian-Inspired Luau Menu

For the convention and corporate event hosts who can't take their event guests on an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii, why not bring a taste of Hawaii to the catering menu instead? Serving Kalua (roasted pig) is a Hawaiian tradition at luaus. Pork was considered to be a sacred part of rituals and sacrifices.

Hawaiians cook the pig in a pit in the ground covered by banana leaves for 7-8 hours to keep it moist. The end result is a salty and smoky flavor that melts in your mouth and falls right off the bone. You can complement the pork with other Hawaiian dishes like poi, pineapple glazed ham, and Haupia (coconut pudding).

Dietary Restriction-Friendly Menus

With stringent catering options in the past, event guests who were vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free were often sorry out of luck when it came to entrée options. At best, all they could get was a side salad.

But now, according to a 2022 survey by The International Caterers Association, over 95% of caterers surveyed are happy to accommodate dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian event catering menus.

This means every event guest in attendance will be able to eat, drink, and be merry equally along with the other event attendees.

Southern Comfort Food

Serve up some down-home cooking as part of the catering menu for the next big event. You can't go wrong with some deliciously crispy and juicy buttermilk fried chicken. Add in some savory sides, like homestyle macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.

Dish out some fried green tomatoes, collard greens, and deviled eggs for added effect. For dessert, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie will really hit the spot. And whatever you do, don't forget the biscuits and gravy.

Seafood Lover's Paradise

If you're in the mood for some good seafood, dive into some ocean-inspired event catering. Start off with a bowl of rich and creamy clam chowder or lobster bisque. After that, treat event guests to an open bar of clams, oysters, and cocktail shrimp.

Sea scallops and shrimp scampi make for a nice complement to seafood appetizers as well. Then, move on to the main affair of seafood offerings like crab legs and lobster tails.

If you want, you can even offer something exotic like swordfish or Chilean sea bass. Adding in a variety of different sushi rolls can also help round out the seafood-based event catering menu.

Alternative Dessert Options

Modern event catering is experiencing a change when it comes to dessert options as well. The traditional catering menu does not consist of just one or two desserts. Letting guests have a choice of several smaller desserts ensures they can sample a variety of different dessert items.

Alternative desserts can range from very fancy French pastries like a Croquembouche tower, macarons, or eclairs. You can also offer more common options like donuts, cookies, brownies, cheesecake, or cupcakes. Mini pies and tarts also make terrific dessert offerings for event catering.

According to PureWow, some trendy dessert options for 2023 are vintage cakes along with revamped variations on the traditional Tiramisu dessert. These Tiramisu recipes contain new flavors like coconut, strawberry, lemon, and even Matcha, in place of the standard coffee flavors.

Some event catering menus even incorporate elements like a candy buffet or a build-your-own sundae bar. This gives everyone a chance to sample something sweet of their choosing to end the evening.

Build-Your-Own Taco Bar

The taco is a versatile food item that lends itself to customization for everyone's taste. A build-your-own taco bar is a great idea for event hosts who want to give event attendees the opportunity to concoct their own tasty taco creations.

Offer different kinds of tortillas like flour and corn in hard and soft shell varieties. Then, have guests head to the protein section for meat options like seasoned shredded chicken, ground beef, and steak.

Guests will also want to select their preferred type of beans, before moving on to other elements like tomatoes, cheese, onions, avocados, and jalapeños. And of course, what build-your-own taco bar is complete without the assortment of salsas?

Small-Plate Catering Menu

Instead of a large-scale sitdown-catered meal, some event planners are setting their sights toward an emphasis on smaller-plate event menu items. Small-plate event catering does not mean a lack of food, though. Think of it like a cocktail hour on overdrive.

Event guests are treated to a seemingly non-stop assortment of roving hors d'oeuvres and tasty appetizers throughout the night. Some examples include BBQ meatballs, spring rolls, mini sliders, chicken wings, mini quiches, kabobs, and stuffed mushrooms.

The aim of a small-plate catering menu is to offer event guests a much larger variety of smaller bites. This way they can focus on a more expansive food palate, instead of just the usual large-scale entrée options.

Custom Drink Menus

Creating an event drink menu is just as important as planning the food menu aspect. Many event hosts opt to have at least one signature cocktail offering at their event. Much like the food options, these cocktails are a fusion of the event host's preferences and tastes.

Cocktails and other beverages can have cute names often associated with the event's branding and marketing. For example, a blended strawberry, blackberry, and raspberry cocktail called the "Berry Berry Extraordinary" or a raspberry and rosé drink called "Everything's Roséy."

It is a good idea to also offer a selection of virgin, or non-alcoholic, beverage options as well on the catering menu. This way everyone can partake in the fun.

Discover More Event Catering Menu Options at Event Planner Expo 2023

Event planners are always seeking out new and innovative ways to expand the catering repertoire of the clientele they serve. In the modern era, event catering is different for every event. The catering menu can be just as diverse and unique as the company hosting the event itself.

The Event Planner Expo 2023 is the place to be for all those in the Events and Hospitality industry. Come and network with industry professionals, attend informative keynote speaker panels, and browse over 150 booths to stay up-to-date on all the latest industry trends. So, what are you waiting for?

Get your tickets to The Event Planner Expo 2023 in NYC today and we'll see you October 10-12, 2023.

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