Food stations and food bars are some of the most current, happening, and hottest trends in the foodservice industry. Whether you are a caterer, event planner, or restaurant owner, food stations are a great way to present your dishes in a novel, fun, and interesting way. Customers are eating up these latest innovations and clamoring for more! Read on for some great ideas on the types of food stations and food bars that are hitting the scene in 2019.
About Food Stations and Food Bars
First, a few words about what food stations and food bars are. Since one of their greatest assets is their versatility, foods station can be likened to a mini-buffet that comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There are do-it-yourself (DIY) food stations, food stations prepared by a caterer, food stations and food bars manned by an attendant or waiter who serves the delectable offerings, and food bars where the main dish, appetizer, or dessert is prepared before your eyes. There are also stations that feature one type of food and others that offer a diverse selection.
Some of the key differences between conventional buffets and more modern food stations are:
- Buffets feature long tables of food where guests line up to be served by a waiter or for self-service before they return to their seats
- At buffet-catered affairs, food time is typically separate from time mingling or time out on the dance floor
- Buffet tables feature one type of decor or theme and a set menu of foods
- Food stations are less formal and are scattered around the room, encouraging guests to interact while they eat, mingle, and dance
- There are no formal lines-ups at food station catered events
- Food stations offer the opportunity for a more varied menus and for more diverse food presentation styles as each station typically features a different type of cuisine and is distinctly decorated
And now for our feature presentation! Increasingly replacing sit-down plated meals, get ready for some mouth-watering, palate-pleasing, taste-bud-tingling descriptions of the most popular food bars and stations trending today.
Making their debut in dramatic fashion are assorted dessert bars, each one outshining and out-wowing the next. Especially prevalent in wedding venues – replacing traditional wedding cakes and adding a modern flair – are: cupcake towers, cookie bars, donut walls (mix and match flavors, shapes, sizes, glazes, and sprinkles) mini-dessert tables, gourmet coffee bars, hot chocolate stands, candy buffets, yogurt bars, frozen yogurt stations, popcorn food bars, and even candy floss stations (simply rent a candy floss machine and voila!). These dessert bars leave a lasting impression on guests and add a wow element to any affair.
Another star on dessert horizon are DIY ice cream stations and sundae bars. Ice cream is always a winning recipe for success as it appeals to all ages and the menu is easy to update with new flavors, special holiday concoctions, hot-summer and mid-winter ideas, and more. You can set up a table where guests concoct their own signature sundaes from far-out ice cream flavors and assorted toppings, hot sauces, and whip creams, or provide an ice-cream waiter (dressed to play the part) who dishes out the divine desserts in a variety of cones and serving dishes in one-of-a-kind shapes and sizes.
Also making stomachs rumble are an American dessert classic…Attention S’mores Lovers and feast your imagination on a catered affair where marshmallows are melted over an open fire, sandwiched in between scrumptious Graham crackers spread with a layer of your favorite chocolate…Your youngest customers will fall in love with this dessert tradition while your eldest will love the nostalgia.
And while cake for dessert never goes out of style, now climbing the end-of-meal popularity charts are pie stations and pie bars, including slices from a large pie or individualized pie pops and mini-pies. And for a grand finale serve these pies hot and a’ la mode (topped with a dollop of ice cream or whipped cream).
Grazing tables, synonymous with appetizer food stations, are also on the rise in the foodservice industry. They allow guests to wander and interact while they enjoy an expanded menu of food offerings rather than a pre-set plated selection. Consider adding grazing tables to your catering service or restaurant that feature: assorted international and specialty cheeses; oven-fresh breads, bagels, baguettes, pitas, and croissants; cracker and dip tables; super-sized salad bars; autumn grazing tables decorated in fall leaves and featuring novel pumpkin and squash recipes. Better yet, delight your customers with pioneering culinary creations that your chefs conjure up.
Remember: Presentation is the name of the game in the catering business, so be sure to outfit your grazing tables (or food stands and food carts) with the most appropriate tableware, glassware, serving ware, and decor.
Pizza Food Trucks
Food trucks have been around for a while now, but pizza food trucks are some of the new kids on the block. You can serve pizza slices in traditional fashion, allow your guests to create their own pizza delights by providing an assortment of optional toppings, or serve mini pizza pies which are always a hit.
Usually manned by a gourmet chef or seafood connoisseur, sushi bars are a classy addition to any event and are especially loved by the millennial and baby boomer generations. Be sure to offer fresh sushi rolls, pre-rolled sushi, noodles in cardboard takeout boxes, rice paper rolls, and of course…chopsticks!
Oysters, one of the most coveted foods in the world, are yet another phenomenon making an impression at catered events and affairs in the form of oyster food stations. Native to Ireland, oyster bars and ‘shuckers’ carts are now available for hire from companies who specialize in the field. And if you want to provide your guests with a truly authentic experience, consider pairing your oyster selections with some glasses of Guinness.
Innovate your alcohol menu or upgrade your catering business by purchasing a satellite bar that allows you to serve champagne, bourbon, wines, whisky, mixers, and cocktails on the road. These specialty bubble bars add a vintage feeling that can be modernized with new twists on classic drinks (have you ever tried coffee-vanilla or strawberry-chocolate flavored rum-n’-coke?)
Alternatively, delight your guests by allowing them to try their hand at playing bartender. Under the supervision of your experienced bartender, set up a selection of spirits, syrups, fruit juices, fruit slices, garnishes, and glassware – and let the bubbly fest begin.
Believe it or not, cereal mania has set in as one of the latest food crazes, delighting nostalgic customers with picks such as oversized bowls of Lucky Charms, Grab-n’-Go Bags of Honeycomb or Captain Crunch, a variety of Fruit Loop concoctions, new Rice Crispy Bar flavors, and more.
And if you are considering adding a cereal bar to your next catered event, then consider an upgraded use of cereal milk, which is now being mixed with alcohol to resounding customer satisfaction. Explaining the allure is Lance Sellers, general manager of the Nighthawk Breakfast Bar in L.A.: “I think anytime you get taken back to your childhood, those flavor experiences captivate you. Serving cereal milk with alcohol is a win-win, taking you back to your youth while giving you a grown-up experience.” Included in the restaurant’s all-day breakfast menu are spiced cereal milk selections such as: Vanilla Vodka Cocoa Puffs, Spiced Rum Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Bourbon Honey Nut Cheerios, and other creations featuring favorite cereals such as Apple Jacks and Reese’s Puffs.
Finally, not new to the foodservice industry but still trending strong are taco bars and taco food trucks. A particularly popular pick at modern wedding venues, taco bar varieties (i.e. taco salad bars, nacho bars, Fajita bars, margarita stations) are typically brought in as a light-night snack while guests boogie into the wee hours of the morning.
Food Station Wrap-Up
Also known now as ‘interactive culinary kiosks’ and ‘roaming food bars,’ here is what one foodservice specialist predicts for the fate of food stations in the year ahead. In the words of Creative Edge Parties owner and creative director Carla Ruben: “A trend we are starting to see now that will definitely continue into 2019 is ‘Roaming Food Bars.’ Roaming food bars offer both the selection of a stationary buffet as well as an interactive quality.”
So, if you’ are looking to expand your foodservice business or update your catering menu, put on a scrumptious show for your customers with the next greatest food station creation. Your customers will eat it up, your business will eat up the profits, and if your guests are pleased as punch, you can rest assured that they’ll be back for second helpings.