The top event trends stealing the limelight in 2020

As we step into 2020, we speak with CMPE's Melissa Johnson about the wider food and drink trends expected to inspire menus at this year’s events

With Veganuary now an established concept in both the US and the UK, and gaining momentum elsewhere in Europe, it’s not surprising that plant-based menu items are expected to be a big trend in 2020.

Concerns over sustainable farming practices, as well as animal welfare, have prompted a significant rise in the number of plant-based meat alternatives being brought to market. This is understandably influencing how restaurants and events design their menus, to cater to an ever-evolving audience.

“The goal is to add in healthful plant-based options, all throughout the menu, that are delicious and satisfying to eat for vegan guests, while also catering to vegetarian and flexitarian diets. Many people enjoy these dishes for the overall health benefits they offer, such as lower cholesterol and saturated fat,” explains Melissa Johnson, vice president of Cameron Mitchell Premiere Events (CMPE), who is based in Columbus, Ohio, US (pictured).

Popular alternatives to meat include jackfruit, which has a stringy consistency making it a suitable substitute for shredded chicken and beef or pulled pork. It is also full of nutrients and fiber. It is likely to appear on menus as Jackfruit BBQ, jackfruit cake (think crab cake, but not), rice bowl topping, jackfruit ‘non’ meatball and much more.

Pulses, beans and seeds also remain a popular way to include protein on the menu. Peas, mung beans, hempseed, beets, chickpeas and avocado are proving to be some of the top swaps, helping to avoid items that are more commonly an allergen, like cashews and soy.

Oat milk continues to be a preferred dairy free alternative, rich in essential vitamins and fiber, perfect for coffee, ice creams and for adding a creamy texture to savory dishes.

“I think plant-based options for events are also trending because people are more educated today about the benefits of eating plant based for overall health. Even the Golden Globes and Annual Critics Choice Awards served vegan meals to attendees,” says Johnson.

“I do think that the type of event and the demographics of attendees impacts how much guests want to include healthy choices. Incorporating even just a few healthful or plant based options on an event is seen as relevant and responsible,” she adds.


These examples follow the larger wellness trend, expected to be a top feature for catered events in 2020, helping people to continue their commitment to the diet and lifestyle they follow.

“Healthful menu choice requests are on the rise. Eating whole foods, less sugar, less refined carbohydrates, lean proteins and especially plant based are lifestyle choices many people are following today,” says Johnson. “Guests for events expect to find options to enjoy that help them maintain their commitment to a healthier way of eating.”

Low and non-alcoholic beverages are another growing trend as people become more health conscious.

“When the same care goes into a zero proof cocktail as it does a traditional cocktail, guests feel that they are enjoying a cocktail hour or an event without being deprived or singled out in some way for not holding a beautiful glass filled with an appealing beverage,” explains Johnson.

Healthy food offerings are being balanced with physical and mental wellness, especially at events such as business meetings and conferences.

Making time for breaks between sessions that allow people to get up and move about, perhaps accompanied by music and encouraging groups to dance for the duration of a song to add energy.

“We added this at a meeting recently of event planners and it was so well received!” says Johnson. “Allow time for breaks where people can get in steps, maybe offering a prize for the person who has achieved the most steps. The trend is emerging and event planners are finding creative ways that make sense for the meeting and what attire attendees will be wearing, to add opportunities for physical movement.”

Another option is to create quiet spaces that reduce stress and bring calm. Soothing music, comfortable seating, teas, infused waters and screens with calming images are just some examples of how to add a de-stressing break during a meeting.


These trends also feed into the desire to lessen our carbon footprint. Using sustainable practices and products is a trend that continues to grow, with caterers going after green certifications to demonstrate their commitment.

This includes eliminating unnecessary plastic, including straws and other non-essential items, replacing them with more sustainable alternatives. Companies are making the most of websites, social media and proposals to highlight these choices to clients, as it can be a determining factor when choosing a caterer.

Sourcing and buying local is another growing trend. Supporting local business, showcasing local products and flavors, and creating a local experience makes each market unique and interesting. “Craft products, including small batch spirits, beers, breads, sauces or coffees, can add an intimate touch to a menu by offering items and stories not commonly found with mainstream products,” says Johnson.


As events look to create a unique experience for guests, we can expect to see a rise in the trend for experiential interactions, predicts Johnson.

“If events don’t change and stay fresh they will lose appeal with repeat guests and donors. For an event to have a strong attendance, being able to promote enticing experiences or have a reputation of continually offering engaging experiential interactions is a great draw,” she says.

“The challenge becomes finding new experiences that fit in the timeframe and budget of the event, can function in the environment and will be well received by the guests.”

Some example of how to engage guests through experiential interactions include:

  • A champagne hand wall (pictured), with curtained squares and gloved hands holding out champagne (or another offering) for guests to take as they walk by.
  • Simple food interactions, perhaps seeing guests squeezing a pipette into an item, or choosing a flavored spray and spraying it on their food. A more flamboyant approach might see large helium balloons with small cloud cakes inside, where guests pop the balloon, catch their cake and can add a frosting of their choosing.
  • Interactive cocktails, for example using colour changing liquids, will be on the forefront for 2020. Butterfly Tea Martini is a blue cocktail that, following the addition of lemon juice, turns purple. The Szechuan Button, derived from an herb, involves adding a “button” to a drink, which, when consumed, releases a naturally occurring alkaloid to create a tingly or numbing feeling in the mouth followed by a cooling sensation in the throat.
  • Mosaic picture walls, which combine live photos taken by guests, create a larger piece of artwork that is revealed throughout the event.
  • Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also being used more effectively during events. By learning more about the options available and how to add elements of it to events, event planners can add new dimensions of creativity and experience.
  • Instagram remains an important social network for food, beverage and event experiences. Use creative hashtags, creatively displayed for the guests, so they can use what you want them to use.


Design and style also play a huge role in events, as organisers look to incorporate new trends with traditional favorites.

“Transforming an indoor event environment with elements from outside is a particular sensory trend for 2020,” says Johnson. Trees, outdoor furniture, greenery and floral walls, fountains and other outdoor elements all help create an outdoor atmosphere to enhance a particular theme. Combine these with subtle sound effects or fresh scents, such as beachy salt water or wintery birch and tobacco.

A relaxed and comfortable design environment is expected to be incorporated into the more elegant and lush events. This could be with aspects like fun dessert bars, late night bites or the addition of more comfortable seating with sofas or banquettes at dining tables.

Non-traditional venues are also on trend for 2020 and may need some creative components, using the trends above, to help transform the space.

The Pantone color of 2020 is Classic Blue, which combined with ocean inspired colors of blues, cooler greens, sandy colored neutrals and browns can create a sense of calm and dependability as we enter a new decade.

Liz Cooley

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