Outstanding food is often the thing many attendees will remember from an event. Knowing what will appeal to a large and diverse group might seem impossible, but as a general rule, you want catering options that are delicious and definitely not ordinary.
Food trends change constantly, so we’ve searched for unique and contemporary catering ideas to help you out for your next event.
Table of contents
International culinary adventures
Breakfast of champions
What better way to get attendees excited for a morning event than with some breakfast food catering? Tasty, brain-boosting snacks and freshly ground coffee will go a long way to perk up the crowd.
Event catering idea #1: Artisanal doughnuts
It started with the cronut, the unbelievably delicious croissant-doughnut hybrid popularised by NYC pastry chef Dominique Ansel. Now, speciality doughnut shops are popping up everywhere, and your event could be another showcasing opportunity. A doughnut or two is an excellent addition to a breakfast box catering package.
Event catering idea #2: Smoothie bowl bar
Smoothie bowls are a fun, light breakfast option that inspires attendees’ creativity as they mix and match different toppings to adorn their bowls of deliciousness.
Event catering idea #3: Breakfast bowl bonanza
Beautiful breakfast bowls typically contain fruit, oats, yoghurt, and “superfoods” like acai, chia, and hemp. A perfect choice if you want to offer a healthy menu, or don’t want to deal with a lot of dishes or utensils. Serve them in recyclable bowls, so the planet benefits too.
Event catering idea #4: Fruit and cheese platters
Take attendees on a world tour or go hyper-local with fruit platters accompanied by fine cheeses. Consider offering expert information on each ingredient’s origin and production to keep things interesting.
Event catering idea #5: Japanese soufflé
Pancakes are always popular, and sweet, fluffy Japanese soufflé pancakes are sure to be a hit! These cloud-like pancakes can be accompanied by whatever toppings you can dream up, making them a great option to cater for diverse tastes.
Brunches and lunches
Throwing a lunch or brunch event is a fantastic way to slot into your guests’ day without disrupting their working hours – which means you’re also likely to have higher attendance. These menu ideas will leave a lasting impression.
Event catering idea #6: Shakshuka shake-up
This middle-eastern delicacy can be served in one large dish, leaving your guests at liberty to enjoy as much or as little as they want. This makes it perfect for brunch catering, where you’ll accommodate a range of appetites.
Event catering idea #7: Corporate buffet lunch
Setting up a buffet is a surefire way to cater to various tastes. This means your corporate guests can spend more time networking and less time worrying about what to order.
Event catering idea #8: Novelty box lunches
Pack a surprise theme or novelty twist into your guests’ box lunches, and take advantage of the easier setup and delivery this menu offers by hosting your event in a more relaxed location, like a park.
Event catering idea #9: French cheese board
Fruit and cheese platters go just as well for lunch as they do for breakfast. Follow the French tradition by providing a luxurious, long-lunch experience filled with artisanal cheeses and gourmet delicacies.
A simple bar makes a lot of sense if you’re looking for refreshment ideas for events. For evening events, wine and cocktails can be fun, while coffee, tea, and fresh juices will keep your guests hydrated at breakfast and lunch events.
Event catering idea #10: Coffee bar
Coffee is a mainstay for corporate event catering – and a must at any morning event. Elevate standard offerings with some creativity and turn your pots of decaf and regular into a diverse coffee bar that has it all: pour-overs, cold brew, nitro coffee, and all kinds of plant-based milk. Not sure how to pull this off? Enlist your local hipster coffee shop as an event vendor.
Event catering idea #11: Zero-proof cocktails
Providing non-alcoholic options with a fun twist is something every catering event organiser should consider, especially if you’re serving alcohol. Guests will appreciate alternatives.
Event catering idea #12: Matcha tea
A traditional green tea made from powdered leaves, matcha has exploded into urban tea bars. Serve it hot or iced, or use it in shakes and smoothies. The vibrant green hue of matcha tea makes it super-photogenic –perfect for social media posts.
Event catering idea #13: Milkshake IPAs
This non-traditional beverage is gaining momentum in the craft-brew circuit. The creamy texture and sweet added ingredients (like fruit) mimic the goodness of a milkshake. Add these IPAs to your beverage repertoire for instant craft-beer credibility.
Appetisers and small bites
Catering for events means considering not just the food, but the setting. If people are standing for most of the evening, look to these party catering ideas for tasty treats that don’t require dishes.
Event catering idea #14: Skewers
Grilled meat or vegetables on skewers have a lot going for them. Their bite-sized portions are great for when you want guests to be able to do more than just eat. Adapt them to cater for diverse food preferences. Potential skewer ingredients include:
- Spicy chicken
- Grilled vegetables
- Bacon-wrapped asparagus
- Chilli prawns
Event catering idea #15: Tapas
Originating from Spain but popular worldwide, tapas are delicious, small plates of food. There are many varieties, meaning you can cater to all your guests’ dietary preferences. Mouth-watering tapas include:
- Pomegranate pistachio crostini
- Crab crescent triangles
- Candied bacon-wrapped figs
- Heirloom tomato galette with pecorino
- Steak and blue cheese bruschetta with onion and roasted tomato jam
Event catering idea #16: Bespoke toast
Toast isn’t just for breakfast anymore. Dressed-up bread with combinations of toppings, from smashed avocado to chèvre cheese, is a wholesome spin on the old bagel bar. Looking for food catering suggestions that are both trendy and budget-friendly? Spread a little flavour on toast, and watch your guests’ faces light up.
Event catering idea #17: Miniature foods
Miniature food is the art of reducing traditional meals down to snackable portions. This way, you can deliver guest favourites while keeping your offering light. One option is the mini-burger, shrinking down your standard burger into something you can eat with two fingers. Other options include:
- Mini pies – savoury or sweet
- Mini sausage frittatas
- Mini pizzas
- Mini tacos
- Mini pancakes
Catering for kids can be tricky. Key factors are simplicity, familiarity, and flavour – plus keeping things healthy. Your youngest guests will love catering menu items that put a playful spin on a trusted favourite. Look through our suggestions below for inspiration.
Event catering idea #18: Popcorn bowl bar
Reminiscent of movie nights and celebrations, popcorn gives a festive air to your event. Combine it with a variety of toppings, including:
- Nutritional yeast
- Parmesan cheese
- Sesame oil
- Kale flakes
Event catering idea #19: Rolled ice cream parlour
The rolled ice cream craze sprung out of South-East Asia, where street vendors discovered an entertaining way to make ice cream before their customer’s eyes in seconds, using a minus 30-degree cold plate and whatever toppings you can think of. Bring that novelty to your summer events and experiment with flavours such as:
- Nutella and Ferrero Rocher
- Strawberry cheesecake
- Oreo cookies and cream
Event catering idea #20: Shaved ice
An ancient Japanese dessert that has become popular globally, shaved ice takes the traditional snow cone and turns it into something more exotic, with toppings such as lychee and a watermelon-strawberry-coconut mix known as tiger’s blood.
Event catering idea #21: Unicorn food
Technically speaking, unicorns aren’t real. But that doesn’t stop unicorn food from being a legit food category, defined as meals prepared with vibrant colours or fun shapes. Think fruit cut into shapes like stars or sweets piled into colourful mountains. Your imagination’s the limit!
Eco-friendly and sustainable
When you want sustainable catering ideas that appeal to the environmentally conscious, go with locally sourced natural foods, made with seasonal ingredients. Not sure where to begin? Check out our suggestions below.
Event catering idea #22: Farm-to-table meal
Along with the “locavore craze” that emphasises a diet of locally sourced ingredients, farmers’ markets are also experiencing a major revival as shoppers increasingly look for fresh produce from trusted suppliers. Add a mini farmers’ market to your event to capitalise on this craze.
Event catering idea #23: Grain bowls
Low-GI, super-healthy grains are increasingly prominent in many peoples’ diets. From a fruity muesli mix to more exotic varieties like forbidden rice, grain bowls are a versatile option for your event’s catering. Consider experimenting with:
- Black faro risotto with mushroom and kale
- Mexican sweet potato rice bowl
- Rainbow couscous
- Barley breakfast bowl with halloumi, avocado, and egg
- Autumn harvest salad with pomegranates
Event catering idea #24: Vegan options
We’ve all heard of the environmental benefits of reducing our meat intake, so why not promote this idea with a vegan menu? Showcasing delicious options that appeal to everyone, regardless of diet, will promote your environmentally conscious choices.
Event catering idea #25: Composting-friendly meals
This one’s not about what you eat, but what you don’t – a composting initiative at your event demonstrates you’re invested in sustainable practices and helps attendees feel good about their choices.
If you want to stay up to date with current trends, consider the following event catering ideas.
Event catering idea #26: Food trucks
Food trucks have transitioned from being the cutting edge of hipness to a must-have at many events. They even make up permanent fixtures in places like Melbourne’s local favourite, “Welcome to Thornbury”.
Event catering idea #27: Gluten-free options
Whether it’s for allergies or other health reasons, more people are skipping bread these days. If you’re planning a sandwich bar or cheese and crackers, include gluten-free options too.
Event catering idea #28: Pop-up restaurant
A pop-up restaurant brings all the charm of an established eatery to an unexpected location. Staging a pop-up is a great way to give guests an experience that goes beyond the food. Offer any dish you like; a set menu often works best and helps keep with the theme of a restaurant experience. Possible locations include:
- A long table banquet in an outdoor setting
- A basement or warehouse transformed into a themed bar
- Breakfast on a boat
International culinary adventures
One of the best things about food is how it lets us experience different cultures from the comfort of our homes. Go international with the menu at your event and explore unique ingredients, unusual preparations, and incredible flavours.
Event catering idea #29: Bánh mì
Vietnamese for “bread” or “baguette”, bánh mì is a sandwich that includes traditional Vietnamese ingredients like pickled daikon, coriander, and spicy chilli. Typically a casual street food, bánh mì sandwiches are a perfect stand-and-eat choice for a busy event.
Event catering idea #30: Bento boxes
The bento box is a traditional Japanese meal that packs a variety of tasty bites into a convenient, compartmentalised package. They offer a variety of flavours, and attendees will appreciate the novel touch. Potential ingredients include:
- Sesame noodles
- Rice balls
- Quinoa or couscous salad
- Carrot sticks
Event catering idea #31: Fermented foods
Kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut – in centuries past, fermented foods were a smart way to preserve food for longer. These foods will give attendees a probiotic boost that’s also delicious.
Event catering idea #32: Italian foods
Italian cuisine is full of well-loved dishes that can easily be scaled to cater for larger groups. Start with staples like spaghetti carbonara or Neapolitan pizza, or try other options like:
- Truffle tagliatelle
- Ossobucco alla Milanese
Event catering idea #33: Hot chicken
Bring the flavour of the deep south down under. This spiced-up version of fried chicken is great on its own or alongside other comfort food dishes. Cowboy hats not included.
With fewer guests, a more elaborate meal becomes possible. Take advantage of this and consider small party catering that’s more sophisticated.
Event catering idea #34: Chef’s table
Recruit a local or celebrity chef (even better, a local celebrity chef) to conduct hands-on demos for attendees. People love cooking shows, and a chef’s table is like a cooking show with a live audience.
Event catering idea #35: Local restaurants
Partner with a local restaurant to create a one-of-a-kind catering experience, going beyond your standard commercial fare. Guests will appreciate the personalised touch.
Make your event stand out
Brainstorming ideas that cater to the multitudes might seem challenging, but coming up with innovative catering ideas will make your event menu stand out. When you’re ready to get started, plan your stand-out event with Eventbrite.