When the Woodlands-based global hospitality company BENCHMARK released its top 10 meeting trends for 2019, coming in at number two was “food for the soul.” Defined by BENCHMARK, this is food that is fresh, flavorful, locally sourced and in-season with a more interactive family-style service.
The company noted: “Food brings people together, whether they know each other already or are just getting acquainted. It’s about engaging and savoring the moment. Since conference guests tend to be curious and concerned with wellness, learning what food they are putting into their bodies is essential, and they come to the table well informed.”
Being the foodies that we are, we wanted to find out what other trends some of our state’s top caterers have been seeing—and wanting to see—in the meetings and events world. Cozy up to the dining table and savor what they had to say. (Spoiler alert: mac ‘n’ cheese still rules.)
Our Culinary Experts
Whim Hospitality is based in Dripping Springs. ROB MCMAHON, Whim’s executive chef and leader of the catering team, originally started his cooking career in New Orleans and has worked in several fine dining restaurants. McMahon has also worked as a catering chef and garde manger chef at the Ritz-Carlton. He has been the executive chef at Whim since 2013.
Based in Austin, Royal Fig Catering is co-owned by executive chef DAN STACY. Chef Stacy has worked at restaurants and country clubs in the Austin and Houston areas. He also worked in New York City under Harold Dieterle—the winner of season 1, “Top Chef”—at his restaurant, Perilla, in the West Village. Stacy focuses on local and organic and visits Hill Country farms weekly to source the freshest ingredients for his clients.
Headquartered in The Woodlands, Wicked Whisk Catering is the private events division of the global company Spectrum Catering, Concessions and Events. The company’s venue partners include The Pavilion Event Center and the Woodforest Bank Club at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, and Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land. The company also offers a food truck for events. TRACY VANNOSTRAND is vice president of sales and operations.
MARGERY REINHEARDT, CPCE is the director of catering for the Hilton Houston Post Oak by the Galleria. The hotel offers 30,000 square feet of function space. Reinheardt and her team can design custom menus for groups, including kosher meals. This year marks Reinheardt’s 38th work anniversary with Hilton Hotels.
TXM+E: What fun food trends are you seeing at corporate meetings or special events?
I think the biggest trend I’m seeing for corporate events right now is incorporating interactive food stations. These food offerings are becoming more popular for our clients looking to bring an added touch of fun and excitement while promoting the social aspect of many professional mixers and events. I also enjoy this trend because it puts the food front and center. Having a station set up where event attendees can watch us prepare the food right in front of them while they network makes the dining portion seem more intimate and engaging.” — ROB MCMAHON
“Roaming food stations . We are seeing clients wanting food to be interactive and mobile. An example would be roaming oyster shuckers at a cocktail party. Also, there is more desire to know where we source our ingredients. And in general, whimsy is a very popular trend when it comes to food.” — DAN STACY
Comfort foods are big right now. Whether it’s a gourmet mac ‘n’ cheese station, loaded tater tot bar or a build-your-own-cereal station, meetings and events are finding ways to incorporate the tastes we loved as kids into the event world. It’s a great way to step out of the work mind-set and create a fun talking piece while providing the comfort and familiarity of what we all know and love.” — TRACY VANNOSTRAND
“Late-night snacks. More than ever, weddings, social and corporate events are asking for late-night food after an evening of dancing, drinking, or as a way to keep the evening going and people socializing. Hometown favorites—such as Whataburger, Shipley Do-Nuts and Chick-fil-A—combined with our own french fry bars, burritos or tacos and an elegant coffee/espresso bar make for happy guests!
“Practical is another trend or 'less is more,' such as two-course lunch menus with dessert served for later at an enhanced afternoon break. If you need shortened service time for your meal or you want to be sure your guests stay awake through the 'afternoon slump,' this is an efficient way to accomplish both." — MARGERY REINHEARDT
TXM+E: What food trends would you like to see go away?
Kale with everything (guests love it or hate it!). “Already out of trend, but truffle everything (except fries). “Mixed grill plates. Serving two smaller entrées on one plate is convenient for a planner who doesn’t want to offer choices, but not all proteins complement each other or make for a great presentation on the plate.” — MARGERY REINHEARDT
“Not that I want any food to go away (we love it all), but we prefer small bites to big plates. That being said, food stations and breaking up the long buffet line is the future, and I am very happy to see that!” — TRACY VANNOSTRAND
“Chocolate fountains.” — DAN STACY
TXM+E: What food trends that have gone away would you like to see make a comeback—and how would you update them?
Plating dishes on food skewers are kind of out of style right now, but they present an interactive way to present innovative new flavor profiles. Using mini hibachi-style grills with live fire coals allow guests to build their own assortment of pre-marinated skewers and watch the cooking process in front of them. I’ve seen some pretty out-there flavor combinations that have inspired me in my own cooking, and I’d like to see more events take their catering options to this level of personalization and engagement.” — ROB MCMAHON
"I would like to see casseroles come back but be done in a more refined and lighter way." — DAN STACY
“Nothing goes away forever. For a while, we saw a lot of soup shooters, but now they are dessert shooters. Minor changes and big flavors add creative and appetizing touches to the future of catering.” — TRACY VANNOSTRAND
“A return to the classic era of dinners with four smaller courses. Since most programs won’t allow the service time needed for this, the food becomes secondary to the information provided during the meal. Update the presentation of single protein traditional entrées— for example, deconstructed beef Wellington, interesting ceviches in lieu of shrimp cocktails, salad selections with proteins added.
"For meetings, I'd like to see a return to an updated hot breakfast service or continental breakfast. Since meetings generally start with continental breakfasts to save time (which are also carb- and sugarloaded), add in the egg dishes or meat options in easy-to-eat fashion, such as mini breakfast sandwiches, tacos or carb-free bowls. Give your guests extra energy to get through the morning.” — MARGERY REINHEARDT