I often joke that the reason I got into an event career was due to my long-running obession with canapes. Sometimes I don't think it's a joke at all...I suffer from a fear of commitment in various areas of my life so the humble canape represents the reverse: fast, fabulous and fulfilling! No commitment necessary. I would much prefer to graze on bite sized morsels of heaven than commit to a single main meal, and am sure that the rise of tapas bars confirms that many feel the same. Here are some catering tips & tricks and opinions I have formed over the years, from the PR perspective:
DOs & DON'Ts
-Do make sure your wait staff are briefed on who the event caterer is, you would be shocked at how often they don't know. I always ask because I love recognising signature styles and playing 'guess the caterer', but I would say at least 7 times out of 10 the waiter has no idea. This is so avoidable by a simple briefing!
-Don't be too quick to cut costs by slashing the food. If you're holding your event straight from work and around dinner time, guests expect to be fed or else they'll leave early in search of sustenance or worse, get very drunk very quickly. A 2 hour cocktail event should provide at least 8 pieces per person, preferably 10. 6 pieces and you're in danger zone.
-Do ensure canapes are one mouthful, and never 'higher' than the average person's jaw span. There's nothing worse than widening your mouth as far as it will go in the attempt to insert a mini-burger. Not very glamourous.
-Don't forget to collect the detritus! If you're serving anything on a shell or a spoon or a stick, make sure your waiter either waits for the person to finish so they can collect the shell/spoon/stick, or at least provide bowls scattered around to dispose of them. People feel very awkward if they have to search for somewhere to discard. The number of times I've stabbed myself on skewers hidden in my bag is hilarious.
-Do serve a 'substantial' dish/es if your event is longer than 2 hours, and ensure you provide a generous number of cocktail tables for guests to place their drinks on while enjoying the bowled or boxed dises. There's nothing more awkward than trying to hold a bag, a cocktail, a fork and a bowl all at the same time.
-Do include 'alcohol soaking' food if you're holding a generously-beveraged event (the PC way of saying heavy drinking). Anything with bread, carbs, bulk may save you from dealing with excessively drunken behaviour.
-Do serve a sweet. If not simply for their glory, then for the fact that dessert canapes are a clever & subtle way of communicating to your guests that your event is coming to an end.
The 'canape of the year' awards
Every year there is a food trend or a single canape that reaches its zenith. Here's my Top 10 most frequent sightings of the past decade:
- food in Asian boxes
- food on a spoon
- food stations
- duck pancakes
- anything in a shot glass
- vietnamese rice paper rolls
- 'mini' anything: burgers, pies, pavlovas
- delicate chicken sandwich
- freshly shucked oysters
- ice creams in cut-out wooden trays
NB: Best to refer to this list of trends if you are attempting to use my gatecrashing-with-a-canape tip outlined in my previous blog, 'Everything You Need To Know About Gatecrashers'...hehe.
Personally I think sushi is boring for an event, unless made fresh by a sushi chef at a food station when it becomes something special. While I love sushi, at an event it just doesn't have the same appeal. And then there's the issue of the drippy soy on the white frock. Asian boxes and spoons have also been done to death across the decade.
Never out of style
My pick for my favourite event food that never goes out of style is the humble chicken sandwich. I'm not talking about the one you get from your local sandwich shop, but the delicate finger of fluffy bread, cut perfectly, with chicken, mayo and herbs. It's substantial, it's an alcohol soaker, and always a crowd pleaser. A perennial classic. I have recently become a pescatarian and believe I will miss this item the most.
On a budget?
For the right event, such as a music or fashion event targeted at a young crowd, I don't think I'll ever tire of white boxes of pizzas being passed around a buzzing room. Easy, simple, cheap. Once I even saw the pizza waiters followed by guys holding huge ice buckets full of beers - I love the simplicity of it.
At cocktail events where guests are encouraged to gather on couches in little groups, being delivered a small platter of canapes to share is a lovely way to graze. For dinners, it's a more casual way of dining. Large platters of meats, veges and salad placed in the centre of the table encourages people to pass food around and chat. Lovely!
-DIY Cocktail stations
A new trend, this is definitely one I love and reminiscent of the fabulous bottle service experience in the clubs of LA & Miami. A selection of spirits, champagnes, garnishes and ice is provided with guests able to shake their own, with a bartender to oversee and advise. Definitely a feature that is more appropriate at day events, garden parties, weddings and the like - not at crazier parties where this would only encourage revellers to go nuts...you've been warned!
This trend has come and gone over the years but seems to be back in force. Cooking stations such as a sushi chef whipping up fresh sushi, or a chef whipping up truffled mushrooms like I saw at the launch on The Lane a couple of weeks ago. Not only does it mean the food is fresh, it also becomes part of the theatre of your event, attracting guests to watch and buzz around.
A perfect solution for a film screening, grown-up picnic or outdoor VIP event (eg Symphony in the Park or the Stoneleigh pop-up bar), you can't go past a fabulous box of goodies. Plated Catering do awesome "signature boxes" which contain things like pasta salad, fruit, chocolate brownies and mini red frogs. Divine!
The buzz word of 2010, wouldn't it be lovely to offer your guests a completely organic, sustainable and ethically farmed menu of delights? Seeing as so many of us over-indulge at events, it's one less thing to feel guilty about in the morning. Forte Catering & Events has become the first Gold Licence catering company in Sydney to offer an exclusively organic menu, with the majority of ingredients sourced from local suppliers within a 100 mile radius of Sydney. Pat on the back for Forte!
Feeling hungry now? Me too! If you ever feel hungry at an event, my tip is to simply work out where all the food is coming from. Even at events with sparse catering you'll rarely be disappointed if you stand at the entrance of the kitchen. It's usually where you'll find me, so wait your turn! ;)