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Catering Outside of the Box

Custom catering firm Forte Belanger's Kate Berris shares current trends and practices—and knows firsthand what customers want

By Kathy Gibbons

Kate Berris of custom catering firm Forte Belanger || Photo by Nadir Ali

Kate Berris is director of sales at Troy-based award-winning custom catering firm Forte Belanger. The company does hundreds of events annually, mostly in metro Detroit, although it has begun venturing into northern Michigan as well. As an 11-year employee who leads the sales staff, Berris knows firsthand what customers want and shares her insights on current trends and practices.

M+E: What are some new developments in catering large events?

KB: A lot of it is interactive and outside of the box—we’re seeing a lot more playfulness and fun, whether it’s weddings or corporate events or galas. People are looking to create an overall experience, not just serve the traditional food and beverage.

M+E: Can you give some examples of how you incorporate these?

KB: Sometimes it’s as simple as the way we’re serving food. Rather than a station, it might be a ballpark beer hawker or cigarette-type trays where we bring the station to them. It’s done with raw bars, with pigs in a blanket, bruschetta—people actually roaming through a party as opposed to attendees having to come up to the table.

Also, a lot of clients want us to have a food truck vibe but kind of casual and fun. So, you talk to the chefs, they’re building a plate in front of you, and you have control of what’s on your plate. We might have a small plate station where the vibe is a steakhouse, but instead of meat, potatoes, and asparagus, we also have three different types of toppings. We’re also searing at the station or carving it to order. Or let’s say it’s a wok fried rice station—instead of having fried rice in a takeout container, we have big woks and some flame and some action for people to look at, and food becomes part of the entertainment.

M+E: What are some top trends you’re seeing?

KB: We’re seeing a lot of focus on sustainability and requests for green products and products that are local as much as possible. People are becoming more socially aware, and we’re getting more creative with using local food rescue, working with vendors to make sure what we’re making ends up being served to our guests or to someone else later. We’re also turning to small-batch local artisan vendors. When we have the opportunity and it makes sense, we pull in a mom and pop and fold them into the operation.

M+E: What’s the status of meeting planners’ budgets these days?

KB: With things like the NFL Draft coming to Detroit, the North American International Detroit Auto Show moving back to January, and the push to get people back into the office, we’re seeing budgets that aren’t too tight—as in, let’s go for it, let’s blow it out, let’s make it an amazing event. It’s not that budgets don’t matter, but we’ve been happy and lucky enough to see some strong budgets come back.

M+E: Any other thoughts?

KB: We have had some of our best years ever most recently. Part of it is we have been able to get creative in what we offer, but thankfully, our clients are really excited to host again and get people together and really take advantage of being able to provide special experiences for their family, friends, and guests. Just to see the whole arc of what’s been happening and how it has come back and how Michigan in general has had such a big part in that shows a lot of resiliency, which is exciting.

fortebelanger.com

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