catering designshroom has some great suggestions as always
here's a few more
look in some entertaining books - early Martha Stewart is a great start. Look at catering magazines - catersource, catering mag. etc.
Go to one of a few specialized catering conventions
catersource runs two a year - January in Vegas and August (this year in Denver) - not cheap but you will get an incredible education on both sales, style, trends, menus, etc
(add .com to all these names to get to their websites
Bill Hansen of leading caterers of America (leadingcaterers.com) runs a boot camp all over the country at different locations - he is also hooked up with NACE (national association of catering executives) and they are running some sort of educational symposium in the next few monthes.
Look at other caterers websites (follow links from leadingcaterers.com, bizbash.com, etc)
join ICA or NACE or ISES.
use your imagination - we find props everywhere. Our menus are totally customized to client and season as are the platters and presentation.
Use fresh botanicals and flowers - wheatgrass, flowering chives, fresh herbs, orchids (the small ones - I think Sysco sells them last a long time refrigeratored and can be used on or off the stem. if you pull off the blossom, refrigerate in a takeout container - they will last at least a week longer). Add height to your displays
browse thrift stores, garage sales, garbage piles in wealthy neighborhoods, throw outs from store displays, mark down area of high end stores, etc
Some fake flower and leaves -but good quality - Pier ONe sells nice ones - and you can get a designer card from them which gives you a 10% discount. THey have great baskets, trays, vases and runners which make good decor.
Marshells and T-J Maxx have great home decor stuff too - stay away from too much ceramic - heavy and easy to chip.
Asian markets usually have a housewares and decor department. You find them in every big city or area with large asian population.
Dollar and 99 cent stores, gift bags or funky handbags with flowers coming out of them.
Heads of lettuce from the farmers market - like lolla rossa in the summer make pretty centerpieces- and the farmers markets and garden centers are a good source for living folliage, plants and flowers.
Unusual vegetables and fruits - like starfruit, passionfruit, green striped or white eggplant, romanesque broccoli/cauliflower, enoki mushrooms, wild mushrooms that are still attached to each other, dried beans and lentils (toss in a touch of oil to give a nice sheen but don't put food on top that will stick or put a glass plate on top of the beans first), black sesame seeds are incredible and make things pop.
Look for alternate uses for things. Best example of that is one I saw a fellow caterer I met at Catersource use - they took 3 toothbrush holders - upscale wicker bamboo ones that had 4 holes each turned them on the diagonal, on top of a narrow black oblong tray and put sesame seeds into the holes. then filled with mini cones made from wonton skins, filled with tuna tatar, sushi ginger and sprinkled with more sesame. Gorgeous, fresh, innovative.
We use an oversized wooden handcrafted pickup truck to hold crudite, or bread rolls or as a riser for platters on buffets. We were in the Market in Costa RIca, looking in a kids toy stall, saw it and screamed to each other "crudite" - it never fails delight "the kid in all of us" - the guests and clients always comment on how unusual and interesting the displays are.
Look around when you travel - what seems silly in a foriegn country could be great here. Even supermarkets can be a treasure trove. We did a display exhibitiion at Catersource Las Vegas last year and when some of our shipment didn't show up, we ran to supermarket. Picked up some cool asian things (it was chinese new years), small asian statues, some flower boxes in gold, green apples to use as decoration under a glass shelf, white rice (scattered on colorful gold and orange material we brought with us), green lentils to use as a floater for some flowers, black beans - etc. see there are treasures to be had everywhere. PM me and I'll send you a link to my photo album on line.
Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...