Clients regularly ask us about providing food stations for their events, but are often concerned about the cost being higher than tray service, food running out or that there will be long queues of guests waiting for food. Drawing on the vast expertise of our events team, we asked for some insight into how food stations can enhance events and for some key ‘dos and don’ts’ that you should be aware of if you are considering food stations for your event.
Why do you think food stations are so popular?
Food stations are a great way to offer fun, interesting and substantial (or bite-sized) food which allows for free movement of guests. Seated dining can be restrictive in terms of enabling the full potential of networking opportunities and stations provide a great backdrop for creating an exciting context in which to present food or drinks.
They can be particularly good for reinforcing a client’s brand identity – through the use of specific colours or customised elements. We love to include interactive offerings that draw guests in so they become a real part of the food experience rather than just bystanders who happen to be eating something at an event. We even offer mini guest workshops where they can make their own cocktail ‘pearls’ in different flavours or colours – we can accommodate specific brand colours for this (see this case study of such an event at Science Museum). Getting guests truly involved not only creates a great ambience, but it also encourages them to share their experiences through social media, ensuring that the event (and therefore the client’s brand and/or message) receives maximum attention during and after the event.
What kind of events are food stations particularly well suited to and why?
Food stations provide a great focal point for an event, acting as an excellent ice-breaker for guests to enjoy a shared experience that they can investigate and discuss together. They are also particularly good for events that have a high volume of guests who need to be fed in a short amount of time – so conferences and large corporate events are perfect!
Equally, we’ve created some great stations for birthday parties with lots of personalisation to make the event feel extra special. For a high profile joint 40th birthday party last year, we worked with Tina Nisson Design to bring to life a very tongue-in-cheek 90s neon ‘rave’ station, complete with massive jars of yellow m&ms with the birthday boys’ faces printed on, glow in the dark mentholated mousse in personalised Vicks vaporub jars, smiley face cookies and sweet vodka pearls in a jelly pill case, and to bring everything together, staff (dressed in glow in the dark raving outfits) set off alcohol infused dry ice cannons. It even had fake DJ decks which had the boys’ names graffiti-ed on!
What Bubble food stations have stood out as being particularly memorable?
We have lots of fun creating our food stations – at this summer’s Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie premiere after-party we put together a ‘Sweetie Darling’ station (pictured) which featured Jaeger bomb gummi bears, ‘Cigarettes’ of tobacco infused chocolate ganache, ‘Bolly’ jellies, Black Forest lollipops, Pink Champagne ‘Bollinger’ cork cake pops and ‘Lacroix’ inspired biscuit jewellery on gold ribbon (for more information see our Ab Fab blog article or the case study).
Last month we worked on a three day conference discussing environmental issues at Guildhall which required a completely vegetarian offering throughout, in addition to a keen focus upon ethical sourcing of ingredients and a completely environmentally friendly approach to delivering the event. We created five stations based on London markets (Covent Garden, Brick Lane, Green Lanes, Borough and Colombia Road) which incorporated styling elements reflecting the cuisines/culture celebrated at each.
Other memorable stations have been our Back to the Future liquid nitro ice-cream station with chefs dressed as Marty McFly and Doc making instant liquid nitrogen ice-cream in various flavours to order in front of guests, and our Blitz station with fighter pilot staff serving Gunpowder tea smoked quail consommé in vintage china cups, accompanied by a gunpowder smoked fake moustache (for the tea cup, or the guest, depending on individual preference!) – see the case study for more information.
What are the key styling considerations when it comes to food stations?
Using devices to provide height, particularly for the items at the back, is really important – not just to ensure that everything is accessible, but also to create drama and interest. It’s very important to think about the whole effect – it can be very easy to get carried away acquiring lots of different props to include, but adding too many elements that don’t create one holistic ‘look’ can end up just becoming a big mess!
How important is a theme?
It’s not vital for clients to have a theme as we can provide a range of interesting options for them – for instance we offer a Terrarium station made from clear perspex, it has a light, minimal feel to it. Our copper station is really popular – it features a modern take on a ‘carvery’ with ‘Pie & Pint’ Braised beef cheek pies with mini pints of cottage pie liquor and hot potato foam (or Wild mushroom pie, parmesan mash top, cep liquor and potato foam as a meat free alternative), Suckling pig, pork popcorn and apple espuma and Lamb lollipops with mint bubbles. Here are just a few of our food station options.
However, we do love a creative brief, for example, we once created an Only Fools and Horses themed dessert station complete with gold macaroon pocket watches served from a suitcase, Del boy’s cigars filled with chocolate orange mousse, Crème de menthe foam in mini cocktail glasses with paper umbrellas, Bailey’s and cherryade tubes decorated with catchphrases (such as “cushty”, “plonker” and “bonnet de douche” etc.), ‘Penis Colada’ jellies served from an ‘80s pineapple ice bucket and staff styled as ‘Del and Rodney’.
What are the current food station trends?
We have some exciting ideas in development at the moment incorporating the current trend for healthy food – but still keeping a fun and indulgent feel. Keep an eye on the Bubble blog or follow our social media for more details of those as they become available.
We also like the opportunity to show guests how their food is made. This summer we built a new Scandinavian seafood smoke house station whereby sea trout, prawns and mussels are cured and cooked over oak chips under glass cloches in front of guests (served with soda bread and condiments). We also have our Dehydration station where our chefs use tweezers to assemble the canapes and place them in racks for guests to sample. They’re created using dehydrated mango discs (with goat’s cheese), beetroot discs (with gorgonzola) or green apple discs (with smoked cheddar) and accompanied by red onion and micro salad. Our amazing chefs even designed a breakfast version using dehydrated coffee discs and donut cream – it’s ideal to help kick start breakfast events with a little caffeine kick!
The overarching trend for immersive and multisensory elements for events is still going strong and we often incorporate different aspects into our stations. For instance our Brighton Pier station showcases the Bubble fish & chips canapé (presented on a little edible newspaper crisp that we can customise with company logos or other messages) with sounds of the seaside and salt & vinegar vapour.
What are the most important ‘dos and don’ts’ when it comes to planning a food station?
- Make sure you use the right furniture that can support the weight of the equipment – ie. heavy weight trestles
- Ensure you have sufficient storage to replenish food/plates. It’s also good if you can hide any storage boxes from the equipment/props underneath the station – but only if it will stay out of sight.
- If the base of the station is to be covered in linen, take time to see the actual cloth (through a swatch book or a visit to the supplier) to ensure that it is suitable. Pictures of linen can look very different to the real thing.
- Make sure staff and chefs use protective clothing and maintain a clean environment.
- Make sure you have suitable vessels for holding items such as crockery, napkins, cutlery and condiments.
- Don’t put too much equipment/props on the station otherwise you won’t have enough space for food. Remember that food is the ultimate purpose for the station, it shouldn’t be overcrowded or overwhelmed by other elements.
What should people bear in mind if they are setting up their own food stations at an event?
You should consider the following:
- Flow of service – from which direction(s) will guests arrive at the station and what will be their ‘journey’?
- The size of station in relation to the space and the quantity of quests – is it adequate or too big?
- Do you have the appropriate equipment/props to complete the theme? Are they the right size for the space?
- Do you have the right quantity of food required for the number of guests?
- Will you need a heat source to cook or heat lamps to keep the food warm?
- Have you considered the staff/guest ratio? It is very likely you will need to replenish the food throughout service and so you need to think about how this will be coordinated, and by whom. Will you require a chef to be on the station? Will the staff need to be styled in a particular way to reflect the overall theme?
- Will you need electricity for the station? This could be for chef equipment or lighting. It’s really important to consider the lighting for the station – there’s no point creating the most stunning food station if no-one can see it properly!