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.

Across the board

Manask & Associates, a Burbank, Calif.,-based hospitality industry consulting firm specializing in cultural institutions, reports “major cuts” in the catering needs of its various clients across the United States and Canada.

“They’ve all seen, in the last 12 to 15 months, a drop in their business,” says President and CEO Art Manask. “That includes both social and corporate catering. We’ve seen anything from a 20% to a 40% drop in catering.

“What caterers are doing to respond to this is exactly the same thing you’re seeing in the restaurant industry: they’re re-engineering their menus, pricing and portions,” Manask adds.

In addition to catering corporate dining, government sites, hotels, schools, colleges and other institutional dining venues, Manask clients include museums, zoos and aquariums, casinos and performing arts: the University of Central Missouri; the New York State Historical Association; Philadelphia Zoo; RAND Corp.; Paramount Pictures; and the Venetian Resort Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas.

“They’re repackaging to come up with prices that are more to the times,” Manask says.

That seems to be the winning formula for catering today, as institutional and corporate clients eschew holiday sit-down dinner parties for buffets and serving stations with lighter fare.

The box lunch option at Notre Dame has “increased substantially” because of its affordability, Wenzel says. Box lunches can be ordered with at least a two-hour notice. The Light Box Lunch is priced at $5.50 and includes any of a variety of sandwiches with fresh fruit. The regular Box Lunch at $6.50 includes a sandwich with three side choices and a pickle.

Box lunch sandwich choices include butcher block ham, honey turkey, roast beef, egg salad or chicken salad, served on a soft white baguette, beer barley club roll, chipotle club roll, homestyle wheat, sourdough or rye. They also include a choice of four cheeses: cheddar, Swiss, provolone or pepper jack.  Sides include fresh fruit salad, red bliss potato salad, broccoli salad, cookies, whole fresh fruit or chips. Beverages are an additional cost and start at $1 for bottled water.

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