15 imaginative event catering ideas for virtual and in-person events

Cassy Aite
August 24, 2021
15 imaginative event catering ideas for virtual and in-person events

The right event catering can transform an average event into an exciting, engaging experience for your attendees. If you want to plan an impressive event, you need a menu that’s just as impressive to keep your guests curious, engaged, and happy.

In this guide, we’ll share some fun event catering ideas that go beyond the standard catered buffet. Discover great ways to delight your guests — whether you’re hosting an in-person, hybrid, or virtual event.

Fun in-person event catering ideas

In-person catering ideas: A woman eats a salad

Hosting an in-person event gives you access to almost unlimited catering options. There are food and corporate catering menu ideas to suit any budget, theme, or event type. Here are some of our hand-picked favorites to help you create a great event experience for your guests.

1. Food trucks

If you’re hosting a casual event, conference, or pop up experiential event, you can’t go wrong with a food truck. This is the perfect way to bring delicious street food straight to your event without taking your guests on a field trip.

Most cities have access to a wide range of food truck options. Treat your event attendees to tasty Mexican food like burritos and tacos, city-style pizzas, crispy fried chicken, or plant-based Mediterranean dishes. For big events, consider partnering with one or more local food trucks to create a branded experience — complete with your own personalized menu.

2. DIY dessert bar

There’s nothing better than dessert. A DIY dessert bar is a fun way to add some sweet treats to your event — whether it’s a team retreat day or a promotional event for your new product.

Make sure there are desserts that people can customize — think cupcakes, waffles, ice cream, donuts, and more. Serve up plenty of toppings, including fresh fruit, chocolate sauce, wafers, candy, and sprinkles. This will add some personality to your internal or external events.

3. Hoppier virtual cards

If you’re hosting an event in a city or on a campus, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to nearby eateries and food vendors. Give your attendees the freedom to order from anywhere that delivers to your venue by using Hoppier virtual cards.

Our virtual cards are easy to set up and manage, and you can set controls like spending limits and vendor restrictions. This allows you to mix digital and in-person elements to create a hybrid catering experience, and allows your guests to support multiple local food vendors.

4. Personalized menu from a local restaurant

Another great way to support your local restaurants is to create a personalized dining experience with one. Whether you take your team to enjoy a sit-down meal or cocktail party in a restaurant's private dining space, or invite the restaurant to cater your event on-site, this is a thoughtful way to support your local community.

Another benefit of teaming up to create a personalized catering menu is that you can serve a customized twist on your favorite dishes from the restaurant. Weave your brand into a few dish or drink names, or work with your caterer on a specialty dish to add some personality to your conference, promotional event, or seminar.

5. Create your own pizzas

Pizza is one of those dishes that’s almost universally liked, which makes it a great option to include in your event catering menu. Take it one step further and create a pizza personalization station where your event guests can request their own pizza toppings or get involved in making it.

With a trained chef and a pizza oven on site, you can help your attendees walk away with a delicious pizza to enjoy and share with others. Make sure there are lots of topping options, including meat, veggies, and even dessert pizza toppings like marshmallow and chocolate. This works best for small team gatherings or VIP influencer or press events so nobody’s waiting too long for their perfect pie.

6. Mini versions of classic dishes

For busy events where people are networking and wandering around, bite-size finger foods and appetizers are some of the best options. With no sit-down meal or buffet line to join, your attendees are free to explore your exhibition, conference, or experiential event.

We love the idea of serving mini versions of classic hits — like slider burgers, grilled cheese, tacos, fries, and mac and cheese bites. Switch these menu options up based on the theme of your event, and you'll keep your guests satisfied without tying them down at a specific location or time.

7. Bring your own BBQ or potluck

Another casual lunch idea is to stage a BBQ, outdoor cookout, or buffet-style potluck. This is ideal for office catering, team get-togethers, and company retreats where people can bring their family along. It’s also a lovely option for community events or for a laid-back product launch.

BBQs are ideal if you want to encourage communication and conversation between your guests. Set up an outdoor activity area for your attendees to try out your product, play outdoor games, and grab a burger or hot dog. If you’re hosting inside, a potluck is a great alternative for internal events. Ask everyone to bring a dish to share for a relaxed, relationship-building event.

8. Coffee or hot cocoa bar

If you’re looking to put a spin on breakfast catering, try a coffee or hot cocoa bar. It’s a fresh alternative to serving up store-bought pastries and filter coffee for events that take place early in the morning, or on cold or rainy days.

Ask a food truck to stop by and serve delicious drinks, bagels, and pastries to your event attendees, or create your own DIY version in-house. Have lots of lovely coffees, teas, and hot cocoa options with flavor syrups, toppings, and marshmallows to finish off the experience.

Exciting virtual event catering ideas

Virtual catering ideas: A woman holds a burger she bought with a virtual credit card

While a virtual event can limit your corporate event catering options, there are still a lot of fun ways to mix things up. Here are some of our favorite virtual event catering ideas to help you create an engaging experience for your guests.

9. Themed celebration boxes and snacks by mail

One way to give your virtual event guests something to snack on is by sending themed celebration boxes or snack boxes in the mail. It combines a surprise gift with tasty snacks and treats they can enjoy while they’re at your event.

There are companies you can order these kinds of boxes from, or you can DIY your own using local treats like donuts, popcorn, candy, and other comfort foods. To give your attendees more choice, ask them about their taste preferences beforehand and personalize the experience.

10. Coordinated pizza or takeout delivery

If you’re hosting a casual event or bringing your virtual team together, a great way to keep hunger at bay is to coordinate a mass pizza or takeout delivery. Your event attendees get to choose their dishes or toppings, but you handle the logistics for them.

This allows you to bring hot menu options to your virtual or hybrid event guests, but it works best if there’s a single restaurant or service that can deliver to all your event guests. If everyone’s distributed across more remote areas or different countries, this can become trickier to organize.

11. Meal prep kits for a cook-along

Event catering doesn't always take center stage at your event, but it could with a live virtual cook-along. Send your event attendees everything they need, neatly boxed in advance, so they can join you and a professional chef as you cook or bake together.

This is both a catering option and an event experience for guests who are foodies and love to cook. Whether you make Italian fare, Korean dishes, or Thai delicacies, this works best as a VIP experience or internal event, where you can build relationships and laugh at your attempts together.

12. Order your own with Hoppier virtual cards

Sometimes there isn’t one food delivery service that works best for everyone, or you want to put the control in your event attendees’ hands. With a Hoppier virtual card, your event participant can place a takeout order from a place they love in their local neighborhood.

You can also use this option to provide supplies for an employee cook-along. Send your team members a recipe list and let them order their ingredients from a grocery store that delivers.

13. Food truck on a road trip

Food trucks offer some of the most delicious food around, but you can’t experience them if you can’t get there. Luckily, many food truck operators will be open to the idea of taking their truck on the road and stopping at your attendees’ workplaces or homes.

This event catering idea is more expensive than others and only works if your guests are in the same city or you have the budget to work with multiple food truck operators. It’s best suited to a major product launch in collaboration with press and influencers where you’ll see coverage and sales results from your investment.

14. Indoor picnic kit

It’s harder to gather your attendees for a company picnic when you’re distributed across the world, but you can recreate something similar by sending them an indoor picnic kit to enjoy at home.

This is a fun lunch catering idea if you can work with local partners to create a box filled with fresh sandwiches, tarts, veggies, fruit, and savory snacks. If it’s right for your event, throw in a mini bottle of wine so your guests can toast to their hard work and success.

15. Cookie decorating kit

If you’ve got event guests with a sweet tooth and a flair for creativity, they’ll love this virtual event catering idea. It’s an imaginative way to help your attendees take a break from an intense seminar session or team brainstorming event — plus they get to eat something tasty at the end of it.

Work with your favorite local bakery to commission lots of plain cookies, and have them mailed out in boxes to your event attendees as part of a decorating kit. Include different icing options and plenty of toppings like sprinkles, mini marshmallows, and candy.

Hoppier: Your new event catering BFF

Sometimes it’s hard to decide which event catering option you want — especially if you want to give your attendees a lot of choice. Plus, when it comes to virtual or hybrid events, you’re often left with fewer options and more logistics than in-person events.

Enter Hoppier. With our virtual cards and streamlined approach to event catering, you can give your guests the ultimate variety of catering options — without the costs and coordination challenges involved in dealing with multiple partners.

Make planning easier

While most of us love that feeling we get from organizing and being part of events, there’s one thing that isn’t quite so welcome — the hassle of event logistics. With event catering, you often need to seek out vendors or caterers, agree on menus, manage shipping for virtual events, and do all the admin that comes with it.

Hoppier gives you a way to arrange event catering for in-person, virtual, and hybrid events in a simpler way. Instead of taking multiple steps to agree on and set up your event catering, all you need to do is create an account, set up a program, select your preferences, and send those virtual credit cards out to your attendees.

Catering ideas: A virtual credit card that allows guests to order their own food

Simple doesn’t mean boring, though. With Hoppier, you have plenty of fun customization options for your virtual cards. Add custom colors, your brand logo, and an emoji so your guests can get a feel for your brand personality when they open their virtual card.

A budget for a catering program that uses virtual credit cards

This customization extends to the practical side of things too — you can set vendor options or leave them open, set a card spending limit, and set a redemption period when the card can be used. This means there’s plenty of flexibility built in, so you can use Hoppier for any kind of event catering experience.

Give your event guests the ultimate freedom

Everyone’s different, which means that the best event catering ideas are the ones that give your guests choice. With Hoppier, your event attendees gain more freedom to select the vendors they order from, the cuisines they're interested in, and the dishes they enjoy.

Catering ideas: Vendors guests can order from with their virtual card

This freedom and personalization can make a difference to someone’s overall event experience. It means someone can create their own in-person conference lunch menu, or order their favorite snacks for a virtual lunch and learn. If catering is a big part of your in-person, virtual, or hybrid event, putting the choice back in the hands of your audience is a great way to generate conversation, buzz, and positive feedback.

Save money and reduce waste

Event catering can come with a big bill and an equally large amount of food that goes wasted at the end of it. With numbers hard to predict and everyone’s individual tastes to cater to, there’s a lot of food that goes untouched and a lot of valuable funds wasted.

With Hoppier, you don’t need to worry about food or financial waste. By issuing virtual cards for your attendees to order the food they want and nothing more, you’re contributing to a positive reduction in food waste. Plus, any unspent funds at the end of the redemption period are sent straight back to you — meaning you can invest them in future event and marketing activities.

Create a better event experience with imaginative event catering

While the food you serve up or deliver to your guests might feel like a small part of a big day, it can transform the way attendees feel about the overall experience. A bland, unimaginative catering menu can lead people to seek other options while an exciting experience will have them raving about your event to others.

Impressive event catering is one way to attract people to sign up for and actually attend your virtual or hybrid event. If you’re looking for more ideas, check out our webinar on how to get people to show up to your virtual event.

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