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Catering Trends: Food Station Menus for an Unforgettable Event

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“The goal of food stations is to provide your guests with a more interactive and personalized event, while making them feel involved in the culinary experience.”

What is a Catering Food Station?

At its core, a catering food station is a specific way to present items from your catering menu. Food gets prepared, shown off, and served right from the station. No need for a buffet scramble! Food stations are commonly centred around a theme, each with their own special cuisine or dish.

The goal of food stations is to provide your guests with a more interactive and personalized event, while making them feel involved in the culinary experience. It also gives your guests a say in what they’re eating, especially with food stations that incorporate a DIY aspect (do-it-yourself), like adding toppings to nachos. Food stations are a great way to cater to different dietary preferences and restrictions by allowing your guests to choose which toppings they want to include.

Food stations can be set up in several different ways, and the different styles and offerings can vary widely depending on the event taking place. But most importantly, food stations don’t only taste delicious, but they look great too! Why not make your event a feast for both the taste buds and the eyes?

“Choosing the best food stations is a lot like picking your favourite tunes; it’s all about finding your jam!”

What Are the Best Types of Food Stations?

Just like the rest of your catering menu, there’s no one-size-fits-all for food stations. Choosing the best food stations is a lot like picking your favourite tunes; it’s all about finding your jam! A smash hit at one event might be a bit off-key for another event. It’s best to think about the vibe you’re going for, any dietary restrictions, and if you want to add interactive elements to the station. Remember, it’s all about what makes your event shine, and the “best” type of food stations are the ones that fit the theme and vibe for your specific event. Later in this article—in the section “Sample Food Stations Menu”—we’ll show you some creative and trendy food station ideas for 2024 and beyond.

“From customizable dishes to DIY options, watching the food be prepared, and even interacting directly with chefs, food stations offer a level of engagement that enhances the overall dining experience.”

Why Are Food Stations so Popular at Events?

Food stations have become increasingly popular over the past few years. If you’ve gone to a wedding, corporate event, or even a small backyard gathering, you’ve probably come across a food station as part of the catering menu. But why are food stations so popular!? Well, food stations offer a wide range of unique benefits that help create a memorable experience for guests. Here are just a few examples:

Enhanced Interactive Experience: From customizable dishes to DIY options, watching the food be prepared, and even interacting directly with chefs, food stations offer a level of engagement that enhances the overall dining experience.

Plenty of Variety to Choose From: Having multiple food stations at an event allows the host to offer more cuisines, flavours, and ingredient. This helps cater to events with a diverse audience and varying dietary preferences, like a corporate holiday party, for example.

Customization: Certain food stations will have the option to customize the dish. For example, Encore’s “Churro Poutine Station” lets the guest add whatever toppings they want to the churros, like sprinkles, mini marshmallows, cookie crumbles, and more. Your guests can go all-out with toppings, or choose to keep things simple.

Accommodating Dietary Preferences: With food stations that offer a level of customization, guests can choose to include, or not include certain ingredients. For example, a DIY Salad Bar can easily be customized to be Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Nut Free, Vegetarian, and/or Vegan. One food station can cover a wide range of dietary preferences and restrictions.

Visual Appeal and Entertainment Value: Food stations allow the host of the event to display the catering menu in a visually appealing way, and can even be the main focal point of the event. When the aesthetics of the food station match the overall theme and ambiance of the event, it’s sure to leave a lasting impression for the guests.

Improved Efficiency: Food stations can provide a lot of flexibility when it comes to the layout of the venue. Stations can be located in small pockets of free space throughout the venue, or grouped all together in one main dining area. Plus, at large events, food stations can help reduce wait times since guests can visit different stations simultaneously. This allows for a smoother flow of service.

“Food stations are like a culinary symphony. Like any good orchestra, there are a lot of moving pieces, and these moving pieces can influence the cost of the food station.”

How Much do Food Stations Cost?

As much as we would love to wave a magic wand and tell you the exact cost of every type of food station, unfortunately it’s a tad more complicated than that. Food stations are like a culinary symphony (yes, that’s another musical reference, but it works!). Like any good orchestra, there are a lot of moving pieces, and these moving pieces can influence the cost of the food station. Let’s take a look:

Type of Food Being Served: Certain types of foods, like seafood, meats, or gluten-free items may be more expensive. Variety is key, no one wants a menu of just chicken breast, right?

Number of Guests at the Event: If you’re hosting a huge party with lots of guests, you may want to have a variety of food stations, which can increase the cost.

Ingredients: High quality, local ingredients can often be more expensive. Catering is one of the most memorable experience at any event, so most people prioritize the quality of the food. Food stations are just like any other part of the menu, where premium ingredients come with a higher price tag. 

Service Staff: Some food stations may require service staff to prepare and/or serve the food, especially at interactive stations. Here at Encore, our “S’mores Bar” is a huge hit, but it could be a liability to let the guests toast their own marshmallows, especially if they’ve already enjoyed a few cocktails! That’s just one example of where service staff can come into play.

Rental Equipment: This one is pretty straightforward; some food stations may require rental equipment to prepare, display, or serve the items.

As you can see, there are a number of factors that can influence the cost of your food stations. You’ll have a budget that you need to stick to, and most caterers will work with you to find the perfect food stations that fit within your budget. As a general ballpark figure, food stations will cost between $10 to $20 per person, per station. To break it down further, you can download our Food Station Menu Package to see the different food stations offered by Encore, along with our prices.

“Food stations are a modern way of presenting part, or all of your catering menu.”

Food Stations vs. Buffet vs. Family-Style vs. Plated Dinner

Food stations are a modern way of presenting part, or all of your catering menu. Their popularity has surged in recent years, but many people may still be more familiar with other presentation options, like buffet stations, family-style menus, or plated dinners. Let’s dive deeper and take a look at how food stations compare to those other options.

Food Stations

Service Style: Food is prepared and served at different stations throughout the venue.

Variety: A wide range of options can be offered, with different themes and/or cuisines.

Presentation: Both the food and the station itself can be visually appealing and can match the overall theme of the event.

Flexibility: A great option for flexible floor plan layouts and reduced wait times.

Cost: Approximately $10 to $20, per person, per station.

 

Buffet

Service Style: Guests serve themselves from a line-up of options, often served from chafing dishes.

Variety: A wide range of options can be offered but are usually limited in terms of specialization and customization.

Presentation: The aesthetic presentation of the food is usually not a high propriety when being served buffet-style.

Flexibility: Allows guests to choose the items and quantity they want to eat.

Cost: Buffets are usually sold as packages and often range between $20 to $70 per person.

 

Family-Style

Service Style: Food is passed around and served to a group of people, similar to a family dinner at home.

Variety: A selection of dishes can be included in a family-style menu, however, the variety is often more limited than menus focused around buffets or food stations.

Presentation: Food is often served in platters; the presentation will usually be more pleasing than a buffet, but not quite as elegant as a plated dinner.

Flexibility: Offering a sense of sharing and camaraderie among guests, family-style menus provide flexibility that lets guests choose what they want to eat from the menu.

Cost: Family-style menus can be priced similar, but slightly cheaper than plated dinners, and can range between $50 to $100 per person.

 

Plated Dinner

Service Style: Meals are individually plated and brought directly to the seat of each guest.

Variety: Plated dinners will offer the least variety compared to other options, but what plated dinners lack in variety, they more than make up for in their elegance, style, and quality.

Presentation: The fanciest of all options, plated dinners create an elegant atmosphere for an event, with each dish being hand-plated by a chef.

Flexibility: Some choices can be offered to guests, but plated dinners are often served as a fixed menu.

Cost: As the most premium and stylish option, plated dinners are the most expensive too and can range between $50 to $150 per person.

“Whether you want them to be the star of the show, or a delightful complement to other parts of your menu, food stations will help bring a culinary flare to your event.”

The Best Types of Events for Food Stations

Food stations are a versatile addition to any event, big or small. Whether you want them to be the star of the show, or a delightful complement to other parts of your menu, food stations will help bring a culinary flare to your event. But most importantly, they add a dynamic element that pairs perfectly with various occasions. 

Let’s take a look at weddings. Food stations have become especially popular at weddings, particularly as a late night option. The bride and groom may choose to have a buffet, family style, or plated dinner for their main menu, with late-night food stations to keep the party, and the feast, going late into the evening.

It’s not only weddings; food stations are becoming very popular at corporate events too. From conferences to seminars, holiday parties and more, food stations create an engaging dining experience for attendees. Food stations provide a great way for employees to mingle and interact with each other in a relaxed environment. Plus, in addition to the networking opportunities, food stations also allow the company to cater to its diverse employees using different cultural and global cuisine options.

But food stations aren’t limited to just big-budget parties like weddings and corporate events. Food stations are also a great choice for smaller cocktail parties, fundraisers, birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, outdoor events, and more.

Food stations can create an engaging element to your event, and there’s no specific type of event that food stations are best suited towards. Ultimately, it will come down to your personal preferences and budget, and the theme of the event.

“If you’re looking for something flexible, customizable, and ready to accommodate a wide range of budgets, themes, and dietary preferences, food stations might just be the perfect choice for your next party.”

Sample Food Stations Menu

Food stations are the cool kids on the culinary block, always keeping up with the latest trends. This means that food station menus are always ready for a fresh new twist.

At Encore Catering, we launched our first Food Stations menu in 2023 and we’ve already revamped it with a new 2024 offering. With a wide range of interactive composed plates like the Shawarma Empanada, Karaage Chicken, and Ahi Tuna Nachos, there’s something for every type of event. There’s 30+ food stations to choose from, plus don’t miss the dessert options like the Churro Poutine, S’mores Station, and more.

If you’re looking for something flexible, customizable, and ready to accommodate a wide range of budgets, themes, and dietary preferences, food stations might just be the perfect choice for your next party. Check out our Menu Packages to download our Food Stations menu, available as a PDF with pricing included.

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