How to Keep Your Catering Menu Fresh

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As a catering company, your menu can be the make-or-break factor that motivates a potential client to sign on the (virtual) dotted line. Those who do it well know it’s crucial to go beyond one-size-fits-all menu options for every type of event.

So, how do you keep your catering menu fresh with changing seasons and trends that will still appeal to a wide array of your clients? Below, we chatted with Stephanie Annis, general manager at Dogwood Catering, about the ways her company has kept their catering menus innovative — and scored more business in the process.

Seasonal ingredients

Seasonal ingredients are an easy way to update your menu and impress your clients. Not only will using seasonal ingredients (bonus points if they’re locally sourced) provide your team with new menu options to play with, but they will often be cheaper and higher quality, allowing you to bring in more revenue. “We get seasonal food requests all the time…they’re great because they not only keep pricing lower, but help us keep within the theme of events we’re throwing,” says Stephanie.

59% of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase an item on a restaurant menu if it’s described as “seasonal.”

Sit-down vs. buffet vs. passed apps

Coming up with a variety of menu options that cater to different guest sizes, event styles, and venue types shows clients you pay attention to detail and have thought through what will work best for their guests. For a sit-down dinner, you can offer items like pasta or steak that require cutlery. Buffet-style events are a great way to show off foods that work well in big batches. For passed apps, it’s wise to offer small, bite-sized foods that your guests can eat while standing and without silverware.

Themed packages

A fun way to update your catering menu is to offer themed packages for your guests. You could put a New Orleans-spin on your catering menu for Mardi Gras or offer food fit to eat in a ball gown (mashed potatoes in a martini glass, anyone?) for an Oscars extravaganza. Events thrown around national holidays like Christmas or the Fourth of July are also an easy way to add some color to your apps, entrees, and desserts.

Tip: Offering time-of-day specialty packages, like brunch favorites or a late-night dessert bar, can be a hit with millennial crowds.

Changing options for changing weather

Summertime is synonymous with grilling and outdoor fun in the sun. So, when temps rise, consider switching up your catering menu to add on some simple, light options for these events. Fresh fruit and raw veggies with an array of dips are always visually appealing crowd pleasers. The same goes for catering a winter event — consider serving foods that are warm and comforting like soups, chili, and hot beverages. “We are always continuing our education on trends and staying ahead of the seasons to keep our catering menus fresh,” says Stephanie.

DIY food stations

DIY is currently all the rage, so why not incorporate this trend into your catering stations? While particularly popular at wedding receptions, DIY food bars can also be featured at networking events, birthday parties and corporate meetups. These stations allow guests to personalize the food at the event, and gives them the opportunity to have some fun curating their own plates. S’mores, tacos, mimosas, fondue and pretzel bars are all memorable options that your guests will drool over. (And, let’s face it: They’re Instagram-friendly too.)

Menu descriptions

Changing up your catering menu doesn’t always have to mean introducing new items. Playing around with your menu descriptions is a simple way to make your catering menu more inviting and easier to read. Think of short, fun ways to describe your meals or themed packages instead of just listing ingredients below each item. Menu descriptions are a great way to feature your brand voice — whether that’s sophisticated, quirky, playful, or something in between.

Approximately 59% of diners look at a restaurant menu online before deciding to eat there. 

Different food options for small and large events

It’s a good idea to have various menu items depending on the size of party you’re catering. With smaller crowds, you can offer bigger plates or multiple courses. Bigger parties may require smaller bites to keep costs down while allowing partygoers to mingle easily. Keep in mind that you have to keep menu items fresh tasting for hours, potentially, and your warm or hot items may need to stay that way for a long period of time. One of the biggest lessons Stephanie has learned when creating catering menus? “Make sure you don’t get too fancy — you want to be able to replicate your menus for large volumes.”