Food and Beverage Trends for Meeting and Events in 2023
By Beth Buehler
Over the years while covering the meetings and events industry, some of my favorite times have been visiting behind-the-scenes in kitchens and bakeries at large hotels like The Broadmoor, joining the food and beverage team from the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel in attending the Palisade Peach Festival and visiting food producers on Colorado’s Western Slope, and seeing many talented chefs and caterers in action at restaurants and events.
I also appreciated recently connecting with three Colorado industry pros to find out about food and beverage trends for meeting and events in 2023: Laura Zaspel, CEO and co-founder of Serendipity Catering in Lakewood; Mike Thom, executive chef at Hotel Boulderado in Boulder; and Kim Hall-Barry, director of event management for Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. All three businesses are part of Destination Colorado Meetings, which connects planners with destinations, hotels, venues, caterers and other meeting service providers throughout the state.
What are two or three food trends you are noticing for 2023?
Laura Zaspel: Specialty boards such as bread and butter boards, themed charcuterie boards, brunch boards, etc. Also, family-style meals … cozy meals, family recipes, lingering over a meal just a bit longer.
Mike Thom: Nutrition-based decisions, especially gluten-free; unique but tasty combinations based on 20- to 25-year-old classics; high-quality “real” ingredients; get-together places to meet and eat for a social experience; more acceptance of wild mushrooms, spicy options and pickled fruits.
Kim Hall-Barry: The biggest trend we are starting to see is being inclusive with menus for all dietary types. This is with both plated and buffet functions.
How about beverage trends?
LZ: The No. 1 by far are sober celebrations with water gardens, Italian soda bars, nonalcoholic spritzers, seasonal mocktails, and kombucha bars.
MT: Drinks that I’ve never heard of before!
KHB: Creative is the key. There are no real trends we are seeing, except to make it a fun experience for guests.
Are people going bigger with F&B again or being conservative and creative with smaller budgets?
LZ: Definitely going bigger on their vision when a creative professional is involved). Budgets are not bigger, but creativity and connections are the key. For example, we have a large in-house décor section that can be utilized to enhance the theme and message of an event for our clients. This is huge. Gone are the days of let’s just feed people without a story or message. Food always has a story and message.
MT: Costs are concerns but, in the end, I believe that we can continue to sell at a consistent pace, without much compromise. We continue to offer recognizable selections but present with flair and creativity in presentations.
KHB: Clients are definitely spending but not currently requesting anything too fancy or over-the-top.
Are health and sustainability part of F&B trends this year?
LZ: Absolutely. The pandemic was a wakeup call as far as what we put in our bodies. The plant-based trend is here to stay. We re-launched our partnership with Zero Foodprint (regenerative agriculture projects) and just launched our partnership with the East Denver Food Hub. People care about where their food is coming from. Local is popular amongst brides, especially destination weddings and creating that Colorado feel.
We also want people to understand agricultural practices involved with food production as that has more of an effect on carbon footprints compared to transportation. I speak to college students regarding the carbon footprint of food and how to be an educated consumer, as well as how to make positive changes to the entire food system by education and action.
MT: Seafood sustainability absolutely, and climate and sustainability will continue to be important for years to come. We always look at these things as we create new menus. Health is more important with younger guests as well but through real ingredients prepared simply and enhanced with spice, unique simple flavors, and colors.
KHB: Healthy eating and inclusion are very big right now. Almost every group has a yoga or active event component. I would say these are a bit more of a focus than sustainability. Our hotel is committed to sustainability and food waste and are ready when this trend comes back.
What are the challenges and opportunities?
LZ: We challenge ourselves to push the bar with sustainability, event design, and menu creation. Trendsetting is not easy, but being a trailblazer is in our blood.
MT: Challenges include cost of goods, government regulations, product availability, and the difficulty of local businesses to flourish and sell products at reasonable prices. The opportunities are making dining spaces conducive to social groups and creating plates that are colorful and show respect to simple, flavorful foods.
KHB: The challenge with F&B is two parts. The first is groups are growing in size and book very close to their events. We are generally getting an initial guarantee 72 business hours out, and that then increases anywhere between 30-50% in the last three days. So, we are having to order more, which is challenge number two. We aren’t getting all of food products in and our ordering windows have shrunk. It has become increasingly more difficult to accommodate the very late increases.
Any words of advice for groups booking F&B in 2023?
LZ: Plan ahead, dates are booking fast!
MT: Offer options for healthy, as well as making breaks a cool and social experience.
KHB: Work on getting a final guarantee that is as close to what the end number will be at least 72 business hours out. Also be as flexible as you can be, as we are still having supply chain issues. Do not be afraid to use the menus provided by the catering staff. Creating custom menus can be fun and sometimes necessary for dietary needs; however, the staff working aren’t all fully seasoned quite yet. They are used to the standard menus and make those well. Creating custom menus can sometimes cause confusion in the kitchen.
What tips do you have for groups as they deal with the rising cost of food and beverage?
LZ: Using seasonal food is a great way to fit a dream menu into a strict budget. … Taking the supply chain into our own hands helps keep costs relatively lower, strengthens local agriculture, and enhances the entire menu with the freshest ingredients possible.
In addition, we can play with the proteins on the menu to economize. A plant-based option compared to red meat is a way to work on the bottom line. With that said, we can also use a different cut of meat compared to a tenderloin, for example, for a similar experience for the guests.
We also recommend a “chef’s choice menu” when there are strict budgetary parameters. Our chefs review all the factors that go into an event, including but not limited to the time of year (season), timing of the event, and the demographics of the guests. I have a particular affinity for brunch menus any time of day! Having a big, beautiful salad on the menu followed by hot proteins and savory and sweet options is a great way to satisfy guests without a lot of exotic ingredients that could drive up the price tag.
Mia Opalka, director of sales and marketing for Hotel Boulderado, also shared some overall thoughts about working with sales teams to manage food and beverage costs. “Be upfront with your budget,” she advises. “Ask for an estimate. Don’t be shy! It’s part of our job to make sure our clients know what they are going to spend. Pick some menu items and ask us for an estimate so you can see hard costs. This also helps clients figure out where they can move money around in other areas of their overall budget to put toward food and beverage if needed.”
Also make sure to know any additional costs related to food and beverage. “If a venue does not list taxes, service charge, labor, or any other additional fees on their menu, then ask. These fees can add up quickly, so it’s best to budget for them,” she emphasizes.
When planning your next gathering, consider these food and beverage trends for meeting and events in 2023 and additional tips from the sales side. Most of all, enjoy the results!
Top Photo: Water garden, courtesy Serendipty Catering
Colorado native Beth Buehler has been editor of Colorado Meetings + Events magazine for 18 years, helped launch Mountain Meetings magazine, and is on the team introducing Southwest Meetings + Events this spring. She has planned numerous meetings and events and enjoys exploring Colorado.