2009 Catering Survey: Catering's new reality

The economic picture may be bleak, but creative on-site catering teams are finding a silver lining amid the gloom using new marketing plans and refurbished menus.

Dining services at the 11,700-student University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., has had two major issues to deal with in recent months: a failing economy and a struggling football team. Unfortunately, both events have hit catering sales equally hard.

Notre Dame’s dual catering issues are not unique: Across the country, on-site catering concerns are being adversely affected by the depressed economy. However, at the home of the famous Fighting Irish, dining services is taking a harder look at its resources and battling back with a revised outlook and a new game plan—and they are not alone.

Confronting the economy plus a loss of interest in the university’s once great football team have been part of the “extra challenge” Notre Dame Food Services has been facing during the past two years, says Lisa Wenzel, assistant director, NDFS. Both events have had a negative impact on overall foodservice, Wenzel says. “Our sports programs are not as strong as before, so that has an effect. It’s been the perfect storm.”

To fight back, NDFS’s catering arm, “Catering…by Design,” has created a new menu offering aptly titled Affordable Entertainment, plus an aggressive one-on-one marketing blitz targeting the Notre Dame community through cold calling, networking and trade shows.

Launched in April 2009, the new menu provides lower-cost items paired with a simpler service, effectively cutting regular menu offerings by 20%, Wenzel says. The change was due to the economy and customer feedback. “Their perception was that we were a little too highly priced,” she says.

Part of that stemmed from university-wide budget cuts, which prompted campus departments to look for creative ways to cut costs without losing personnel. Like many institutions and corporations nationwide, they’ve accomplished that by slashing entertainment.

“That really cuts into catering,” Wenzel says.  “We’re trying to balance that by doing things differently. People are doing less expensive events. Instead of served meals they may be doing something in their office; we’re setting up and cleaning up after them.”

In the Affordable Entertainment package, the Budget-Friendly Hors D’oeuvre menu is priced at $6 per dozen pieces and may include polenta triangles with pancetta and brie; chili and corn fritters; spicy chicken and cilantro wontons; and brown sugar smokies. The Budget-Friendly Drinks menu is priced at $7.50 per gallon and serves approximately 20 guests.

Pages

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
condiments

It’s still true that diners want it their way. But the straightforward, choose-your-toppings Chipotle model is, as the kids say, so basic. The noncommercial diners of 2018 are coming to the table with expectations for meals that fit their personalized needs, from portion size to protein type, calories and more. Operators are responding by pushing beyond the basics with spice-your-own-soup bars, specialty condiment stations and serving size tweaks cooked a la minute.

For some operations, the next phase truly revs up the personal part of personalization, turning diners into chefs...

Managing Your Business
glendale senior dining catering

At the residential facilities Glendale Senior Dining serves, catered birthday and anniversary parties, summer barbecues and other private on- and off-site events give senior residents a convenient alternative to cooking themselves, Director of Business Development Todd Lindsay says.

For these events, Glendale, which serves locations throughout the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, will often tap employees from nearby units to take on catering events; and for weekend or summer engagements, it will reach out to the parent company’s school dining division for a few extra hands.

“We...

Industry News & Opinion
Shedd Aquarium White Sox Shedd The Straw

The Chicago White Sox have partnered with the Shedd Aquarium to support their “Shedd the Straw” initiative: a plan that the groups expect to curb the use of plastic straws by about 215,000 this baseball season.

Beginning on Earth Day, April 22, drinks at all dining locations throughout the Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Field will not be automatically served with plastic straws. Guests will be provided with biodegradable straws upon request. Guaranteed Rate Field is said to be the first in Major League Baseball to ban the use of plastic straws.

“At one of Shedd Aquarium’s local...

Industry News & Opinion

The Henry P. Kendall Foundation, a philanthropic group that aims to create a more sustainable food system in New England, has announced its creation of the New England Food Vision Prize .

The foundation is inviting foodservice leaders from colleges and universities throughout New England to submit their ideas on how to create a stronger food system that will help the region produce at least half of its own food by 2060.

Qualifying ideas must be collaborative and replicable, among other requirements. The foundation hopes that by reaching out to large food purchasers, like...

FSD Resources