Instead of sitting down and passively consuming whatever is placed on the table, or grabbing a few passed hors d’oeuvres from whichever trays pass by, more and more often event guests are actively participating in their meals.

Catering chefs are emerging from the kitchen—or wherever they’ve been tucked away to prep the food—to let guests observe the cooking. Or they’re opening up the work space and inviting attendees to join in choosing ingredients and flavor enhancements.

Two of the buzzwords are customization and interactivity, and the point is to integrate the catering into the experience, to give food-crazy guests a chance to try something new. Make-your-own stations now go beyond salads and sundaes to all kinds of drinks, desserts, and entrées.

While often these changes mean putting a more prominent spotlight on the food, the movement away from long, seated dinners or static buffet stations can also allow attendees to focus on the point of the gathering. They can get up and mingle with each other instead of being stuck at a table for two hours. Or they can try out a new product, chat with a business contact, or listen to a presentation while the food comes to them, in waves of small plates passed in courses, or wheeled to them on carts.
With this increased interaction comes more menu choices and innovative presentation styles. Here’s a look at the newest interactive and hands-on approaches from caterers and venues looking to get guests involved with their food.

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