“The ‘heavy hors d’oeuvre style’ reception presents a nice challenge for chefs, and is a great opportunity to feature their culinary creativity, style and artistic sense,” says Marc Lintanf, manager of business development and outside catering at Montreal’s Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth. “Each dish has to be miniaturized, the flavors have to be concentrated, and the container must be easy to handle or, ideally, edible.”

To Lintanf and his staff, creating memorable meals out of multiple bites means using high quality, local ingredients, specifically seafood and, more recently, game. “Fish and shellfish—Arctic char, Alaska black cod, monkfish, local sea urchin, abalone, razor clams—have become very trendy,” Lintanf says. Small-bite seafood standbys include lobster sashimi pinched in a daikon leaf, and raw oysters in a seawater gelee.

BOUNTIFUL AND BUTLERED The rise in cocktail-style receptions has inspired the Four Seasons Westlake Village in Westlake Village, Calif., to create luncheon and dinner menus based entirely on butler-passed hors d’oeuvre. “Butler-passed items create an interactive element to a reception,” says Brent Duncan, director of catering and conference services for the property. “The timing of butler-passed hors d’oeuvre can be used effectively to create a progressive-style dinner with different nibbles offered throughout the evening.”

Variety and presentation, Duncan says, are keys to the success of an all-apps reception.

“The hotel has created many different serving vessels to present a multitude of butler-passed items, as well as unique glassware and serving utensils,” Duncan explains.

SUPERIOR STATIONS Food stations, specifically those that offer an interactive chef-guest component, naturally lend themselves to app-heavy grazing.

“Over the past two years, items on our hors d’oeuvre menus have doubled in order to accommodate the demand for cocktail-style receptions,” says Terry Shields, CPCE, CSEP, director of catering at the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. “Clients are requesting menu variety and different presentation situations that allow for more personalized service. Our social clientele in particular has pulled away from buffets and moved toward multiple stations, each with its own chef attendant performing some level of cooking action for the guest’s visual experience.” This experience, he says, can be as small as the final plating of a food item or as big as cooking the entire dish à la minute.

ONE PLATE = COMPLETE DISH “Tapas and small plates that have been a staple in the restaurant industry for some time have now fully infiltrated their way into banquets,” notes Michele Polci, CPCE, CMP, director of citywide catering sales for Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas. “No longer does protein have to be on a stick in a chafing dish or served at a carving station, and vegetables are not limited to crudité platters or a grilled vegetable tray. It’s about marrying protein, starch and vegetables into one harmonious dish that can be eaten in one or two bites.”

Smaller plates, however, don’t necessarily mean smaller budgets. “There is a perception that hors d’oeuvre receptions are more economical than plated dinners. However, there’s a disparity between perception and reality,” Polci says. “Depending on the menu mix, they can either cost the same or, in some cases, be more expensive. You might be putting less total food out than a three-course plated dinner, but the labor needed to prepare hors d’ oeuvre is more. It is a balancing act.”

See the full story in the May-June issue of Special Events, which is available to ISES members for free and to subscribers. Not a subscriber? We can fix that; just click here.