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How to Find the Best Menu for your Next Event

Food, glorious food. It’s no secret that catering is key to almost every type of event. Think of a wedding: aside from the ceremony itself, chances are, your mind turns to the wedding breakfast, the conversation over canapés and, of course, the cake. Food and drink are integral to corporate events, too. A stand-out seated dinner can break the ice and facilitate professional connections (in our opinion, the best networking opportunities stem from shared praise of the dessert!).

Excellent catering can make an occasion – but equally, failing to give the menu its due consideration can undermine your event entirely. At the HAC, we’ve had years of experience hosting exceptional events, so we know just how important food and drink are to a successful function. That’s why we work with Searcys, one of the country’s oldest and most respected caterers. Don’t just take our word for it – their commitment to quality saw them gain the prestigious Two Star Food Made Good rating in 2018, and, the following year, receive the “Event Caterer of the Year Award 2019” at the Foodservice Cateys.

To help you find the best menu for your next event, we’ve worked with our in-house catering team to shed light on everything from sustainability to salad bowls. Forks at the ready: read on for some insider tips on how to make sure food and drink are a talking point for all the right reasons.

What are the main differences between catering packages and bespoke menus, and what are the benefits of each?

Catering packages are typically a collection of menus with set options, all included within a fixed price. They can differ depending on the venue, occasion, and supplier, but usually feature a selection of dishes with the choice to upgrade for more variety. Bespoke menus are created jointly, between client and chef, and are totally unique to the occasion.

There are benefits to both. Catering packages can work out cheaper in the long run, and can include some really exciting dishes for guests to choose from in advance. Bespoke menus show a lot of thought has gone into the planning process, and can be tailored to accommodate preferences, branding, and specific requirements. We like to offer both packages and custom menus at the HAC, to give our clients maximum flexibility in the run up to their event.

What are some common mistakes people make when trying to find the perfect menu for their event?

Overlooking dietary requirements is a big one. There’s nothing worse than excluding guests from your menu. It can show a real lack of consideration, and breaks the number one rule of event catering: never leave a guest to go hungry! Make sure you factor in your guests’ lifestyle, religious, and allergy requirements when looking for a menu. We always include vegetarian and plant-based options as standard, and will liaise with planners to find out exactly what alterations might need to be made to ensure all guests can enjoy the food and drink (like keeping our menus peanut-free, or offering Halal options).

Other mistakes we’ve seen over the years – overestimating budgets, definitely! Not keeping headcounts in mind. Also, failing to consider the event type more broadly: finger food might not be the best idea for a high-profile corporate meeting. Likewise, a hot three-course meal would certainly feel out of place at a summer garden party!

What are some of the upcoming food trends for 2021/22?

Covid-19 saw the rise of bowl food and pre-portioned bento boxes, and they’re set to stay – they’ve been incredibly popular, and next year, we’re anticipating some traditional dishes to be adapted for this new format.

Plant-based cooking is another. Trends are predicting vegan food taking centre stage. Traditionally, it’s viewed as an alternative option, but we’ve been seeing some fantastic all-vegan menus recently. They’re really creative: pulled “pork” jackfruit, creamy cashew carbonaras – even avocado chocolate mousse.

People are also becoming a lot more ingredient-savvy, so we’re expecting to see a greater emphasis on health-focused menus. This doesn’t mean bland salads and low-carb crackers, though! In fact, nutritional science has come a long way, and people are realising that low calorie, low fat doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. Instead, we’re looking forward to incorporating more nutrient-dense foods that taste great and aid overall wellbeing.

In your opinion, what makes a menu stand out?

It’s all about two things: sustainability and seasonality. Sustainability because doing good by our planet tastes good! Searcys launched its first corporate responsibility pledges as early as 2018 and has continued their incredible commitment to working with British farmers. It’s a great initiative that supports local suppliers as well as cutting down on air miles.

Up to 90% of our fresh produce is grown in the UK, and our tea and coffee are Fairtrade or Direct Impact sourced. Seasonality is also so important – using food grown and picked in its prime means you’re getting the produce at its freshest and the most out of its flavour. It’s things like these that make event menus shine.

What advice would you give to someone trying to design a menu for the first time?

Don’t do it alone. Event hospitality is no small undertaking – an experienced caterer can make all the difference. It’s definitely worth looking into your venue before booking, as they might have an in-house partner like Searcys at the HAC. Make the most of catering packages if you’re on a tight budget, and don’t be afraid to ask questions: the best menus are collaborative.

Food and drink at the HAC

From dazzling drinks receptions to street food al fresco, corporate dinners to wedding breakfasts, we put culinary excellence at the heart of all our menus. Whatever the nature of your event, Searcys’ team of expert chefs are more than happy to discuss catering options with you. For more information, get in touch here, or give us a call on 020 7382 1533.