London’s Post-COVID Catering Trends – Are Buffets Dead?

by Catalina Reano,

23 September 2020

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Catering trends Covid buffets

After thousands of events were cancelled worldwide due to travel restrictions, fears of infection and new social distancing regulations, many catering businesses were left scratching their heads as to what to do with their empty calendars.

The catering industry has been one of the hardest hit due to the COVID crisis. For a business worth £70 billion in 2019 according to the UK Events Report, it was expected to keep growing as one of the main pillars in the event and hospitality industries. Instead, it was stopped dead in its tracks and had to reinvent itself overnight.

Most event planners are asking caterers three main questions: What are the current trends in the catering industry? What new safety rules will apply to my event? Is the buffet-style of catering dead?

The answers to these questions will help you plan your next event in line with the new trends and realities of the post-COVID world.


Catering trends

New catering trends are popping up like wildfire. Thankfully, creativity is one of the main ingredients in this industry, so coming up with something in the midst of a crisis is, unsurprisingly, not something new.

Outdoor dining

A lot of events are opting for outdoor dining experiences. By using the last warm days of the year to plan post-COVID reunions in big, open and ventilated spaces, outdoor dining adds an element of hygiene and space that is highly sought after right now.

Pre-packaged meals

Many businesses have asked their caterers to provide their food in pre-packaged boxes, limiting the risk of contact and keeping the food clean from the kitchen to the table. Set the boxes out according to the different options your guests can choose from. This is also a great opportunity to have the boxes or packaging custom-made with your brand or logo. A little extra marketing never hurts!

Use technology

Buffets may be out of the question for a while, so why not use high-quality video and photography to show your guests what their options will be? People eat with their eyes. If something looks delicious, it will taste delicious!

Look for contactless options to boost your guests’ experience. Use a mobile app to show your guests what’s on the menu and have them pre-order on their phones. This way, when it’s their turn to go for their food, it’s already served, packed and sealed. These apps are also a good way to use the longer waiting times to keep your guests busy and entertained.

Food trucks

They might sound a little informal but some experts think they will be making a strong impact. With a fast and easy-to-make menu, food trucks already have all the safety regulations in place (they need to be certified in order to operate) and serve in individual portions. Book your favourite food trucks and give your guests a variety of meals to choose from.

Individual appetizer trays

Forget seeing waiters walking around the dining area with big trays full of hors d’oeuvres. No one wants to eat anything that has potentially been touched by someone else’s fingers these days. Appetizers are now being served on small individual plates. This may be more time consuming but it helps with another great new trend – waste not.

Waste not

As supplies wane and budgets tighten, caterers are becoming increasingly conscious of the resources they are using. They are asking their clients to only order what they are going to consume and that is exactly what they bring to the venue. Nothing is going to waste. Everyone is having to tighten their belts so it just makes sense to take care of the resources that are available.


Apply safety rules

Safety is now, more than ever, the #1 priority of the catering and hospitality businesses. Although strict hygiene rules for staff both in and out of the kitchen were already in place long before COVID, customers are now more aware of the risks and want to know that what they are eating is safe.

This has made catering and event professionals reflect on how to improve their already high standards of service. Most experts concur that personalised service will have to be sacrificed in favour of safety. Personal Protection Equipment, such as face masks and gloves, will now be common for servers, ushers, security staff and bouncers, as well as kitchen staff. Safety greeters will meet your guests at the entrance to disinfect hands and shoes, and Plexiglass will separate guests from personnel like cashiers and bartenders

Floor signs showing where people need to stand to respect social distancing will be seen in dining areas and bigger venues for much smaller groups are already being booked for upcoming events.

You will need to give your attendees clear and precise instructions on how to proceed when lunchtime comes around, so make sure you schedule longer meal hours.


Buffets – dead or alive?

Opinions are mixed in regards to the traditional and much-loved buffet. Some experts think it is gone for good, while others think it’s far too traditional to die out. What is certain is that it will have to adapt and change – at least for the time being – to comply with the new realities of the post-COVID world.

Forget the traditional line of people waiting to grab a plate and serve themselves what they wish. That kind of closeness with food and each other is a thing of the past. You will have to start getting creative if you really want to offer a buffet-like experience.

One expert suggests small chef-attended stations where your guests will be served onto small individual plates. Another suggests ready-served plates and pre-wrapped silverware.


Don’t stop innovating!

The future of the catering industry goes hand in hand with the world of events. Many new and exciting ideas are popping up as the world opens up to live events and it’s just a matter of time before the industry is booming again. An open mind and a good dollop of creativity are needed while everyone adapts to the changes that this crisis-induced revolution brings.

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