Catering In The Age Of Social Distancing

Food is often a central feature of events. From your corporate holiday party to weddings to special events. There is something memorable about the time spent enjoying a celebratory meal together. At larger gatherings, the meal will be catered. We once queued up in a buffet line (using the same tongs) where tables of steaming, freshly-cooked canapes, sides, and mains delighted our senses. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of that has changed. Social distancing rules have forced us to examine our perspectives on what is safe for our guests and what is not. The phrase high-touch surface was out of mind before March and now, we’re more conscious than ever.

In order to gather in large groups once again and enjoy a meal together, we must re-do a few elements. The main one is how we present food to our guests, especially in the context of wedding reception venues. Self-served is mostly going by the wayside to be replaced with cafeteria-style. Below are some creative options I see becoming popular that are elegant, simple, and won’t leave guests hungry.

Omelette, Crepe, and Risotto Bar

While the trend of getting served a meal piece by piece greatly reduces your options, take advantage of what could be prepared to order. You don’t have to stop at the above three options. Pasta, shrimp, and even desserts can be made custom-order on a pan.

Canapes in Ramekins, Spoons, and Small Plates

Appetizers will also see a change. Instead of taking from a steamer in a self-serve line, we’ll select from single-serve ceramics off of a grazing table. This actually leaves your chilled options wide open as these small dishes can sit on ice much easier and safer than on heat. Offer a spread of cheeses, puff pastries, and pre-arranged bagels with lox. These grazing tables are great for small to large conference venues as they allow people to walk up when they need something and not spend too much time breathing near the fresh food.

Cupcake Trees and a la Carte Desserts

Since a tablescape is much more beautiful with levels and layers, our perception of the so-called “cupcake tree” might get a glow up. These tiered dessert holders can help the sweets selection stand out. This can really be used for any food presentation at your gathering, but it was first popularized with desserts. It also helps people see different options more quickly and reduce traffic at the grazing table.

Bartenders Serve All Drinks

Gone are the days of self-pour water, coffee, juice, and tea. You will likely pay a visit to your bartender whether you choose to imbibe or not. This practice ensures that high-touch surfaces like decanters, carafes, and jugs are not handled by every guest in attendance. Only the bartenders, likely with gloved hands, will serve refreshments to the guests. That said, you might see bars that are shorter so even the little ones can approach the drink station when they would like to have something.

The above are only my initial ideas of where I see catered events going. Food is only one element that is going to see a major change. In time, our new normal is going to give way to innovation beyond what we can even imagine for right now.

Re-Posted with permission by Jackie Gilna, Start-up investor and Founder-CEO of Venuetown Inc.