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Dishes That Deliver

Texas caterers are bringing something new to the table this year

By Amy Durham

The catering industry is still feeling the pinch thanks to food industry inflation and lingering supply issues. The good news is that, according to a report by Kentley Insights, the U.S. catering industry grew by 4.4% over the last five years, an impressive accomplishment considering much of the industry shut down for two of those years. Sales in 2022 across the country totaled $12.8 billion. 

“Big events are back,” says Caroline Perini, co-owner of Easy Slider in Dallas. With a brick-and-mortar restaurant and three food trucks, Perini and her partner, Miley Holmes, are enjoying a resurgence in the industry. “Our food trucks’ catering business has surpassed pre-pandemic numbers,” she says.

Texas catering has a style of its own, and trends this year include not only industry-wide practices, but also regional concepts that are an extension of the culture and creativity of Texans. Overall, food trends for 2023 will be driven by the desire for inspiring catering options that emphasize sustainability, local sourcing, and personalized dietary needs. 

Sustainable & Local

Sustainability will remain a crucial trend with clients requiring ingredients to be organic or locally grown and the company culture to embrace environmentally friendly practices. Reducing food waste and the carbon footprint of a catering job requires thoughtful effort, but these practices have many perks. Guests will get a taste of local fare while the company reduces the environmental impact by shopping close to home.

With the high prices putting a crimp in some menus, sustainable choices can also reduce the bill for a big event. “There’s catering for all budgets,” says Charles Coleman, one of the catering chefs at Blue Fire Total Catering in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. The company serves on china at events—unless disposable options are requested—and also offers compostable dinnerware made of bamboo or other recyclable materials. 

Food & Grazing Stations

Food stations of all kinds bring people together around their favorite dishes. Whether it’s a dessert station, a barbecue meat carver, or a charcuterie of cheeses, the trend of placing food on a table for guests to enjoy at their own pace is only increasing.

Charcuterie board. June 23, 2023
Charcuterie stations are a great way for guests to leisurely enjoy food. || Photo by Michele, courtesy of Adobe Stock

“Food stations are still big,” says Coleman. “They’re more affordable. You can’t cut down on food costs, so make it wow in other ways.” The wow factor is big with a grazing station, which is different from a food station in that every bit of space is covered with a variety of delicious categories. Food stations of any kind allow the event planner to reduce staff and create a more interactive environment than a multicourse, seated dinner might provide. Food stations also make it easy to cater to guests’ dietary needs by separating potential allergens or preferences.

Open-Fire Cooking

For an immersive environment, open-fire cooking is a dramatic way to draw people in and inspire them with farm-to-table food and scenic locations around the state. This type of outdoor cooking event isn’t far off from an old-fashioned backyard barbecue, but it’s elevated by the menu and the hands preparing it. Open-fire cooking also encourages transparency with chefs able to work outside the confines of a kitchen. Instead, a guest-facing kitchen gives people the chance to savor the creation process of their meal and enjoy a sense of anticipation before they’re served. Guests can talk with chefs, which boosts interaction among the group to create a warm, conversational atmosphere under the big Texas sky.

Childhood Favorites

Comfort food is another trend that is making a big comeback with a fun twist. Creative caterers are elevating ingredients and making presentations pop so that once-standard fare becomes new. Food from childhood, like hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, and pizza can evoke happy memories and relaxed attitudes, so caterers featuring these longtime favorites can directly influence the vibe of an event.

Sliders from Easy Slider. June 23, 2023
Savory sliders from Dallas’ Easy Slider || Photo by Two Pair Photography

Perini’s Easy Slider serves more than just hamburgers, even though its menu staple is beef on a bun. Catering for major companies like Best Buy, Cinemark, and Hilton requires the culinary team to raise the bar on traditional comfort food, while keeping it, well, comforting. Gourmet burgers like the Nutty Pig, which is tricked out with peanut butter and bacon, and the Baby Bella with Texas portobello mushrooms, are made with Certified Angus Beef and fresh produce from the local farmers market. These spins on an otherwise traditional dish have also helped them remain relevant as food fads come and go.

Mocktail Menus

The beverage scene at an event is no longer limited to champagne towers. Caterers are fanning out to reach people who  previously might have skipped the bar. Mocktails help guests who are focusing on health and wellness to enjoy a festive drink while remaining sober. And these nonalcoholic creations don’t have to be limited to virgin daiquiris or Shirley Temples. Companies like Enjoy Mocktails, which makes nonalcoholic cocktails, liqueurs, and spirits, and Mingle Mocktails with its nonalcoholic bellinis and cosmos in pastel cans, are selling to the trade. 

Texas caterers serving one-of-a-kind beverage recipes, grazing stations, and locally sourced ingredients are showing respect for guests’ choices and a creative approach to food service that will leave attendees hungry for more.