Last year, espresso drinks, nostalgia-inspired hospitality, and nonalcoholic cocktails filled the F&B scene at events. So, what will 2024 bring?
Of course, sustainability will remain a top priority within the meeting and event space, with expanded initiatives to incorporate eco-friendly practices like sustainable catering and waste reduction efforts.
Beyond that, some buzzy trends from 2023 will continue into 2024 like the growing demand for more nonalcoholic beverages and casual, comfortable service styles, while new ones will pop up—literally—such as the increased popularity in bubbly drinks.
BizBash asked some industry experts what they’re expecting to see on serving trays in the new year. Here’s what they had to say…
Bubbles Are Big in 2024
Zach Poelma, senior vice president of supplier strategy and insights for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, said he expects consumer interest in sparkling, refreshing options to continue into 2024. Think bubbly cocktails with fizzy “poplike” spirits and cordials like highballs, tonics, spritzes, and even sparkling margaritas.
“On the wine side, we continue to see consumers trend toward sparkling wines like prosecco in the $10-$20 range, while on the spirits side, we see spritz options such as the Aperol Spritz or Hugo Spritz continue to grow in popularity. This is likely to continue into the warmer months as we move into the spring and summer.”
Other bev trends to watch for, according to the experts from Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, include infused or flavored spirits using exotic ingredients like yuzu, guava, prickly pear, ube, or gooseberry. Poelma said that Ranch Water will also grow in popularity “given the simplicity of the cocktail and consumers’ continued preference for healthier options.”
Rachael Soete, managing director of Culinary Canvas, also noted that ube will be a popular ingredient this year. It’s “becoming more mainstream as people look to diversify their flavor palettes and discover more cultures. You can utilize it in cooking or drinks, like ube marshmallows or ube syrup in cocktails. Liquors like vodka and rum would pair well with ube syrup, or explore sweeter mix-ins like coconut cream or sweetened condensed milk.”
She also pointed out that herbal and tea-based cocktails are trending, and “easily enhance the notes of the liquor you’re working with. Our favorite right now is gin, but we also recommend a fan favorite, Green Tea Moscow Mule, or an Earl Gray Old-Fashioned. We also think the savory cocktail will continue to thrive as people explore using olive oil, kimchi, umami, and more briney add-ins into beverages.”
As for what’s on the way out, Christie Altendorf, director of marketing and senior event planner at D’Amico Catering, predicts the espresso martini craze will end (or at least she hopes). “Not that they’re not delicious, but they’ve had their moment. If you still need that caffeine kick in your cocktail, try a Carajillo—a delightful balance of equal parts chilled espresso and Spain’s Licor 43 served over one large ice cube. Bonus: This is an easy cocktail to pre-batch for large groups.”
Local Food Love Continues
The on-property experts of Benchmark Resorts & Hotels, including the teams at Hotel Theodore and Hotel Max in Seattle, said that interest in locally sourced menus shows no signs of stopping in 2024, with new menus featuring local farming and ranching communities, as well as locally caught seafood in the works at places like Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa.
Sustainability Breeds Simplicity
“Simplicity takes center stage as elaborate decor steps back,” predicts Stella Rankin, co-founder of Pinch Food Design. “Clients are adopting a mindful approach in 2024—the year of ’less is more’ in event aesthetics.”
She added, “Extravagant displays like $100,000 worth of roses flown from South America no longer align with the corporate and private emphasis on minimizing environmental impact. The spotlight is now on showcasing reused, recycled, and sustainable elements in event and catering design.”
Food Hall-Style Service Surges
Patrick Berwald, senior vice president of food and beverage for Pyramid Global Hospitality, said, “Across the portfolio we’re seeing food hall-style events,” and bowl-style lunch setups are also “resonating well, where guests can choose from a variety of bases and toppings, giving them the control and options that they desire.”
Rankin echoed that sentiment, saying that this year’s trends will revolve around comfort and community. “While traditional seated dinners maintain popularity for formal events, the spotlight is on interactive food stations and family-style service, creating memorable and unique moments with that desired sense of connection people yearn for. The relaxed and communal nature of these styles reduces formality and makes it easier for guests to connect with more natural opportunities for social interaction.”
Health and Wellness Remain Top of Mind
The industry is entering the “era of plant-based goodness,” Rankin said, adding that Beyond Meat, jackfruit, and various plant-based substitutes are now staples.
“With health and sustainability in the limelight, these ingredients are leaving their mark. It’s not about completely abandoning meat; it’s about embracing more plant-powered options.” She also said that this year there will be a focus on fresh and healthy beverage choices as well, featuring herbal infusions, teas, and kombucha, as well as a surge in low-alcohol or alcohol-free options.
Jamie D’Attoma, executive vice president and partner of SHADOW, recently told BizBash that the agency has been seeing more requests for low- and no-alcohol beverages. “With consumers more conscious of their alcohol consumption (and the night crowds not being what they used to be), both drinkers and nondrinkers alike have shown significant interest in liquor substitutes and canned mocktails that are better for their health—and more intriguing than a nonalcoholic beer. What used to be an ‘extra’ is now expected.”
Altendorf added that “event producers are increasingly aware of creating a bar program for their events that offer classic and innovative cocktails in addition to a well-rounded offering of low-proof cocktails (think Lillet Spritz, Americano, or a Porto Tonico) or spirit-free options that include trend-forward ingredients like specialty tonics, botanicals, and non-alcoholic cordials.”
Caviar Is Cool
On the flip side, expect decadent caviar, which started to gain more mainstream popularity in 2023, to continue to dominate in 2024 as more and more events “incorporate the little luxury in both big and small ways,” Altendorf said. “Over-the-top caviar bars complete with beautifully composed ice pieces and silver service will give guests a sense of nostalgia and foregone finery, while small touches of caviar throughout the event can make any celebration feel elevated.”