Event Food Trends 2020

Alex Martindale, Director of Tobacco Dock Food, gives her culinary predictions for 2020


What’s cooking at Tobacco Dock?

One of the things I love most about my job is that no two days are ever the same. At Tobacco Dock we can be creating canapés for a product launch party one day, feeding 2,000 hungry delegates at a conference the next, followed by a weekend of street food pop-ups for a consumer event.

While we do offer some ‘set menu’ options for those of our clients who are looking for a straightforward but high-quality delivery, we love working with clients to build exciting and zeitgeist-y menus! This is a challenge we relish: it stops us from ever getting stuck in a rut, necessitates us to constantly search for the most innovative and delicious ingredients and cooking styles and allows us to see what people want and expect from their event catering.

What are we going to be eating this year?

I predict that 2020 is going to be a really exciting one on the foodie front! We’ve seen some big changes in our clients’ expectations and can see that these are going to further evolve in the coming years.


The big one! If I was going to pick one single development that has catalysed the biggest changes in the catering and events industries, this would be it. The movement has highlighted areas in which we can improve, and it’s given us inspiration to do things a little differently. So far, we’ve:

  • Changed our bottled water from single-use plastic bottles to canned water and glass bottles. While we do offer these as an option to our clients, it’s becoming the norm for us to station water re-filling stations around the venue while the event planners will either gift delegates water-bottles upon entry or encourage visitors to bring their own from home.
  • Replaced plastic straws with a paper alternative.
  • Removed Christmas crackers from our festive events.
  • Only use biodegradable, re-useable or compostable receptacles when using disposable serve-ware, including cutlery.

Much of the latest developments have revolved around packaging and I anticipate that we’re going to see far more emphasis on this and lots of further development, perhaps even dispensing with packaging altogether, as seen with the edible water pods from Ooho.

Zero Food Waste

We were thrilled to deliver our first (hopefully of many!) zero food-waste event last year at the Alteryx Inspire Europe 2019 conference. This was something we’ve been working towards for a long time; we’ve made lots of effort to reduce our waste, but inevitably there are always leftovers. We partnered with OLIO, the food sharing app, and, over the course of the 3-day event, they helped us to redistribute 338 meals benefitting hundreds of residents in our local community. This represented an amazing equivalent of 612kg CO2 emissions and over 100,000 litres of water as a result of this food being eaten and not thrown away. You can read more about the initiative here.

I think this is a trend which we’ll be seeing increasing demand for over the coming months and years from our clients for all sorts of events from conferences to awards shows. We’re building relationships with other food waste charities to work out how we can apply this more consistently for a range of different events. We are intrigued to see how this develops!

Getting your just desserts

Pudding is the course we see going to waste the most. At the end of a lengthy dinner, people just want to get up and away from the table to socialise. Our parent company, The Eventist Group, has trialled dessert stations and platters instead of sit-down sweet courses and we have seen a dramatic reduction in wastage. These are attractive to our clients as they look amazing and are easily brandable or theme-able, while ensuring that we’re not going to be clearing away forlorn piles of untouched puddings at the end of the evening. They can be a real focus and makes the final part of the meal far more interactive. We have loved the doughnut wall trend and think we’ll be seeing a lot more requests for this sort of feature.

In response to this success, we are considering changing to dessert stations or platters for our Christmas parties in 2020.


We are definitely seeing a marked increase in the number of clients who are making overtly health conscious choices in their menus. One recent client even requested a calorie count on each dish. While this is quite a challenge for us to work out accurately, it’s a real indication of the emphasis people are placing on making healthy choices.

The most dramatic of those choices is the increase in requests for vegan options. These aren’t just for the few who have made that lifestyle choice, but offered as part of the main spread. Our vegan Pecan, Chocolate and Caramel Slices and Chocolate and Cinder Toffee Brownies are popular with everyone, regardless of dietary requirements! This is certainly in line with a greater trend we have seen of meat eaters becoming more accepting of vegetarian and vegan options. The wider industry has really upped their game and improved on the quality and taste profile of food which had previously been thought of (rightly or wrongly!) as bland and boring. I think we’ll see ingredients such as tofu, gaining more and more prominence over the coming year.

Where are all these teetotallers?

There’s been a lot of noise in the press about the rise of people who don’t drink, especially among the health-conscious ‘millennial’ generation. While we have certainly seen an increase in requests from clients to offer alcohol-free options at parties, in practice we haven’t noticed any decrease in the levels people are drinking. We have great low and no-alcohol drinks which we are always happy to offer. I’ll be interested to see if we do start to see concrete proof of less drinking at events. Watch this space!

Another drinks issue is that of the rise of veganism. While an increasing number of guests are strict about ensuring their food complies to strict vegan standards, this isn’t yet translated into what they drink. I think over the next year we may well see an increasing focus on vegan wines and beers, which isn’t something we have received much call for so far.

Good food never goes out of fashion!

Despite the vegan skew we’ve seen, there is still a predominant call for meat too. Seated dinner events are choosing white meat again. In our experience, when an organiser has chosen to serve red meat to a predominantly female guest-list, it hasn’t gone down as well. While white meat used to be thought of as a little dull, ingredients such as chicken and guinea fowl are no longer being discounted and we’ve seen a big increase in demand on our tasting menus.

While bespoke menus are always important to us and to our clients, there is less of a demand for thinking outside the box. Clients really want good food, done well. While the focus is increasingly on the ways we can diminish our waste, minimise our food miles and impact, we still want to be creating delicious food. Our commitment to using seasonal and locally sourced, high-quality ingredients feeds into this trend, and we’ll be taking it even further this year! As part of the new development plan at Tobacco Dock, our Quayside entrance has some beautiful new planting, which includes herbs for us to use – you don’t get much more local than that!

What are your predictions?

I’d be really interested to know if these trends chime with your experience. Have you seen the same things in your working lives? Do you have anything else you think we should expect to see more of in the near future? I’d love to hear from you!