Food can truly make or break events. A boring menu or series of uninspiring dishes can leave attendees disappointed and still hungry—while the best-case scenarios render them full and talking nonstop about the flavors, creativity, and quality of the foods they enjoyed long after the plates have been cleared.
Some of the best caterers even take it a step further by not only making delicious, impressionable dishes every time, but also crafting memorable experiences to go along with the food—therefore, providing much more than a simple solution for grumbling stomachs at meetings and events.
“That’s what we’re always looking to do: give people a memory,” says Christie Altendorf, senior event planner and director of marketing at D’Amico Catering in Minneapolis.
When working with planners, D’Amico and many other caterers across the state consider how to create memories and experiences for guests at any type of gathering. Whether it’s developing personalized menus or planning eye-catching chef performance stations, Minnesota Meetings + Events highlights how several Minnesota caterers go above and beyond to produce enchanting edible experiences for their clients.
Although the tried-and-true method of passing hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour is a great way to hold over meeting-goers until dinner, this typically only allows for a brief exchange between the server and each attendee as bites are plucked from the tray. But with four wheels and a little extra effort, D’Amico Catering leveled up such interactions at an event it catered last year. Instead, one of the chefs wheeled a mahogany cart offering bites of prosciutto, ricotta, and honey and then prompted attendees to choose between freshly shaved white or black truffles for the garnish. Before the event-goers would decide, the chef spoke about the differences between the truffles, how D’Amico sourced them, and more. The appropriately named Truffle Trolley allowed guests to pause, take a moment to learn, and personalize their appetizer before the chef rolled away. Plus, the roving cart provided some extra movement at the event. “The fact that it was mobile in approaching guests was also a really fun way to create a little bit of action and energy in the space,” says Altendorf.
D’Amico is not the only caterer with food on wheels—in fact, MidCoast Catering in Duluth got its start on them. The company opened for business in 2012 with just a food truck, called The Rambler. Five years later, the company opened MidCoast, a full-service catering company, to serve small and large gatherings. However, The Rambler is still quite popular for groups of 50-plus people at corporate and nonprofit events May through October. Hosting food trucks like The Rambler at meetings and events provides meeting-goers not only with great food but also a more casual feeling—especially when they are accustomed to boxed lunches and buffets.
Tastings, Stations & Demonstrations
Wheels aren’t the only way to take catering gigs from good to great. Chef performance stations are another way to engage guests at many types of gatherings, whether they’re a predetermined offering from the caterer or created in collaboration with the planner.
Also in Duluth, Black Woods Group Catering has more than a dozen stations on its menus alone to choose from—although that doesn’t stop it from providing custom options for its clients. Recently, Black Woods hosted an oyster bar at an event where event-goers could choose the different sauces they would like with their oysters. The group also displayed an ice sculpture to draw even more attention to the spread.
Back in the Twin Cities, caterers like Northeast Minneapolis-based Chowgirls also do performance stations, whether it’s a classic option like meat carving or something more unconventional. The company branches into tastings, demonstrations, and classes, spanning from a charcuterie board-making class to a paella party, the latter where guests enjoy appetizers and cocktails while watching the paella being prepared in front of them. Another playful option is Chowgirls’ beer and cheese tasting, run by Hospitality and Sales Director Meghan Larsen, who is also a certified cicerone—the equivalent to a wine sommelier in the beer world.
“It’s a super fun, interactive experience for people, because beer generally has not been thought of as an upscale, curated experience that you can have,” says Larsen. The beer and cheese tasting can be booked for groups of any size, though the sweet spot is 25 to 75 people. She will even guide planners on what beers and cheeses to purchase if they want to do a tasting on their own.
Creating custom menus with planners based on specific themes or seasonal ingredients is another way to showcase extra attention to detail—but when they’re executed correctly, they can also be a great way to enlighten attendees. In Rochester, Pinnacle Catering created a custom menu that showcases everything Minnesota has to offer, which is particularly attractive to attendees at corporate events that come to Minnesota from all over the world. Pinnacle sourced ingredients primarily from Minnesota and prepared signature recipes such as tater tot hot dish and walleye, while also serving local products like pork from Hormel in Austin and oven-baked beans from Captain Ken’s Beans in St. Paul.
“It’s a great way for people from all over the world to get to know Minnesota’s iconic dishes and experience the quality that we can produce them at,” says Joe Powers, CEO of Powers Ventures, the company that owns Pinnacle Catering. “There’s a lot of what we have up here that we take for granted that most people in the U.S. don’t see.”
Minnesota’s Creative Caterers
Minnesota is lucky to have caterers like these that strive to provide imaginative and custom experiences, knowing why they can make all the difference.
“It goes back to creating a space where your guests are super present in the moment, and therefore creating events that are really memorable,” says Larsen. “When you bring in food that is unique and that lights up everybody’s senses … you all of a sudden are allowing people to forget about their to-do lists.”
These examples only scratch the surface of what these caterers—and others—can do. With just a simple request, inspiration picture, or brainstorming session, Minnesota’s caterers can help planners create experiences that leave lasting impressions on attendees.