A year ago, it seemed as though the idea of serving food and beverages to any size group would be impossible. Now, the changing landscape of health and safety, coupled with a renewed desire for public interaction is looking to event hosts / planners to provide creative solutions for gatherings that feel just like they used to, or better.
This is excellent news since the hospitality, catering, and service industries have all spent the past year not only developing new concepts, but fine tuning them across smaller events. Today, they’re ready to bring these new solutions to larger markets, along with increased value and enhanced guest experience.
When the pandemic hit, most people assumed it would be the end of the line for buffet service. Instead, catering companies are finding renewed interest in the time-honored tradition by shifting to chef service
instead of self service. In this scenario, the guest still chooses what they prefer from various stations, but all service is controlled by a dedicated attendant observing all proper safety precautions and wearing protective gear. Even plates are passed “behind the line” of service, in view of the guest, allowing for a controlled environment throughout. This also presents a new way for catering operations to interact with the audience, communicating the subtle nuances of the preparation, or unique ingredients that otherwise would have been overlooked with a small buffet sign. Similarly, ready-made cocktails and cocktail mixes not only dramatically reduce wait times at the bar for guests, they allow for a level of pre-prep that has previously been absent in standard bar operations.
More Venue Options
People got comfortable with packaged meals during the pandemic, realizing that the quality of the ingredients and preparation will always outshine the container they come in. This has opened-up new opportunities for virtual and hybrid events to include food and beverage like never before. Whether shipped ready-to-eat or sent with the intention of cooking along with talent and other attendees, an acceptance of packaging meals anyone’s home can be a venue. The other benefit of this approach is that a venue need not have a fully equipped catering kitchen in order to effectively serve a large group. Mobile heating stations or a remote kitchen off site can easily finish final prep of items just before service. Pre-plated entrees with lids or hand-held service containers also streamline service as the bulk of work is completed before, not during the event. Clean-up is typically simpler as well. What previously eliminated a whole variety of venues because of catering challenges now brings more options back in play for all involved.
One of the most challenging aspects of any food and beverage scenario is managing dietary preferences and expectations of guests and organizers. Chef stations, pre-plating, and off-site preparation all demand more culinary creativity. Food that is being transported cannot be expected to taste the same
as cooked to order. At the Screen Actors Guild Awards a few years ago, Wolfgang Puck catering faced this issue for a different reason: at the last moment, organizers decided they needed to serve a vegan menu. While this initially seemed like a challenge, the plant-centric menu provided more flexibility for service that one of traditional meats and starches. The extra benefit? Plant-based offerings often come with lower food costs than their meat counterparts.
Slowly but surely, events are returning to something like what we remember. Will it be exactly the same? No. But in many ways, it will be better and an exciting new way to embrace the act of coming together.
About the VIBE Agency: The VIBE Agency is a Miami-based award-winning full-service production agency that specializes in the creation and orchestration of live and virtual experiences for the corporate industry. The agency is forward-thinking and was recognized as one of the 50 top event companies by Special Events magazine in 2019 and 2020. Most recently, Valerie Bihet, founder of the VIBE was named a Smart Women in Meetings 2021 Hall of Fame honoree by Smartmeetings, for her consistent work advancing the industry. If it can’t be live, make it VIBE!