In the realm of event catering, a transformation is unfolding—a shift from traditional behind-the-scenes kitchen work to immersive and engaging dining experiences that take place directly in front–or even with–guests. At Schaffer, we've been at the forefront of this culinary evolution and are here to share our tips for how hospitality and catering businesses can embrace this element while continuing to positively manage their operational bottom line.
The Evolution of Experiential Catering
Experiential catering is the natural progression of the open kitchen concept. Think back to those classic omelet and carving stations; they've been a staple in catering for years. However, today's guests seek more than just a meal; they desire an active role in their culinary journey. The rise of social media and a desire for shareable, engaging experiences to share with their followers has shifted expectations and made interactive catering stations an ever-more attractive event integration.
What is Immersive Catering Matters and Why It Matters
For Schaffer, immersive catering means crafting experiences that go beyond presenting to or at a guest, but rather actively inviting the guest to become a participant in that experience. It’s no longer simply about serving food; it's about creating unforgettable moments. These experiences engage the senses, spark conversations, and leave lasting impressions. In the age of social media, these moments should also be highly shareable, extending the reach of your event to friends and followers who weren’t present themselves. But can this be achieved without breaking the bank or overstressing your operations team?
Balancing the Operational Bottom Line
The question of cost often arises when discussing immersive catering. Is it more expensive than traditional methods? Does it truly have an ROI for us? While there may be additional expenses related to staff training and the operational cost of creating fresh, interactive elements, the investment often pays off. Furthermore, the memorable experiences and positive impact on your brand's positioning are yet another boon. It’s not only enhancing your guest service and experience, it’s essentially marketing for your business.
Examples to Inspire
If helpful to get your creative wheels turning, here are some immersive catering examples that made a measurable impact on our clients and their guests:
Food Graffiti: For a recent event that paid tribute to the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop culture, we designed a food graffiti concept. Our culinary artists, used squeeze bottles with custom Krylon labels filled with colorful sauces to “spray” edible graffiti onto plates adorned with creamy burrata–all together evocative of paint on a white canvas. This dynamic experience was inspired by the vibrant spirit of Hip Hop and a unique and engaging way for guests to celebrate at the event.
Edible Balloons: Picture helium-filled edible balloons (made from soft, melted taffy) handed directly to guests, bringing laughter and camaraderie to the table. These simple yet amusing creations break the ice and encourage social sharing.
Dancing Noodles: Imagine a stage where chefs expertly craft noodles from scratch, engaging guests with their skillful dough stretching and twirling. This live culinary performance not only adds an interactive element but also puts food preparation in the spotlight, allowing guests to witness the artistry behind their meal.
Edible Garden: Our Edible Garden, a Schaffer signature, has earned recognition in both People magazine and NBC’s “Today” show. This 8-foot-long garden consists of lucite terrarium boxes filled with olive breadcrumb "soil" and rows of baby vegetables that appear to sprout from it. Servers wear gardening gloves and serve dressings from watering cans, adding a charming visual. This immersive garden is a crowd-pleaser, consistently requested at both corporate events and weddings.
Logo Mania: Our recent collaboration with Volkswagen (for the unveiling of the new ID Buzz bus) was an excellent opportunity for brand communication. Every food item displayed the VW logo, turning the meal into a visual prop in posts generated by influencers and attendees alike, The event was a beach-themed celebration, and the branding was seamlessly woven into every aspect, from the carved watermelons and VW-adorned husk coconut bowl to the logo-branded breakfast burgers. Corporate events often feature influencer guests, and leveraging interactive catering not only captivates your audience but also encourages them to share their experiences, making your event “go viral.”
Takeaway: Elevating Your Event on a Budget
Incorporating immersive and interactive catering experiences, as showcased above, doesn't have to strain your clients' budgets. Many branding opportunities can be factored as pass-through costs for your clients, and they often see the value in investing a bit more to enhance their promotion.
Considering additional training for your staff is always a prudent move, although it may affect your financial bottom line. Once you've established a system for training the service aspect of a station, it's essential to create instructional materials, including a video and a clear set of instructions. The modest investment in time required to make a video will ultimately save you both time and money. In today's TikTok and YouTube era, instructional videos offer an accessible and cost-effective solution for a wide range of training needs.