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.

Diversified efforts

Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is also seeing some impact on its catering operations from the economic downturn, says Don King, assistant director of the Phillip R. Shriver Center for catering and retail sales. The former executive director of catering, King now oversees all catering and retail sales, which includes the food court, coffee shop, convenience store and restaurant. Miami’s catering business has two brands: Carillon Catering and Direct to You!, a delivery service.

“Our summer conferences suffered the biggest losses,” King says. “We’re currently about 9% off from last year.”

Yet, overall, foodservice operations saw positive year-end results for the fiscal year ending June 30. King says that’s due in part to his operation’s focus on diversification. Gains in programs like catering for fraternity and sorority houses and the surrounding community are helping insulate the business from the economic downturn.

“It would probably be a little worse if not for Direct to You! and our fraternity and sorority business,” King says. Direct to You! deliveries require a $75 minimum, although smaller orders can be picked up. Anyone using a university account to pay also receives a 10% discount. “Direct to You! sales have been up,” King says. “We’ve had more deliveries and drop-off catering. We’re seeing more box lunches.”

Popular deliveries include the “no frills” pasta buffet. Priced at $9.50 per plate—against the typical $12.95 options—the more affordable buffet includes penne with meat or garden marinara sauce, tossed salad with ranch or Catalina dressing, garlic bread sticks and cookies or brownies. Similarly priced at $9.95, the baked potato bar features a baked potato with choices of fillings: broccoli florets, diced tomatoes, Texas chili, cheese sauce, butter, sour cream, salsa and bacon bits. It too includes a salad and choice of dessert.

The box lunch menu is also becoming more popular. It includes a Seasonal Fruit Box at $10.50 featuring fresh-cut fruits, low-fat cottage cheese or fresh-made chicken or tuna salad, plus club crackers and a large apple bran muffin. All box lunches include a choice of beverage. The Create A Box offering, at a more frugal $8.95, starts with a choice of sandwich: smoked turkey and Swiss; ham and provolone; roast beef and cheddar; or hummus and muenster with roasted red pepper, served on asiago, multi-grain or white bread. Sides are seasonal fresh fruit, potato chips or pretzels and two Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chicken dinner

For the last three years, we’ve hosted an event called Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner. We sponsor the local chapter of Future Farmers of America to raise the chickens, and we have to arrange all the transporting from farms to the distributor, which keeps the birds in a freezer until we’re ready. We build hype by having students vote on the proprietary spice blend they would like on the chicken. It helps the nutrition team get involved in the educational process and showcase local food purchasing.

Menu Development
ramen bowl spoon chopsticks

Asian noodle soups are a popular lunch option at YouTube’s San Bruno, Calif., campus, says Trent Page, the GM at Bon Appetit Management who runs the company’s three corporate dining venues. But Page noticed an increasing preference for customizable dishes and vegan preparations among the 1,000 customers he feeds daily. Inspired by a recent visit to Japan, he introduced tsukemen to the menu—a dish that features most of the traditional ramen ingredients (noodles, eggs and vegetable garnishes) served separately so diners can mix and match. “Separating the components makes it more customizable...

Ideas and Innovation
employees generation multicultural

We are no longer short staffed, ever. On a given day, missing two team members from a team of 50 would leave us 96% staffed. The actual choice of wording places a positive emphasis on those that did come to serve our guests and patients. We no longer use the phrase “short staffed”; this is a game-changer when we are challenging ourselves as culture facilitators or leaders.

Ideas and Innovation
food symbols allergens

To make safe food as accessible as possible for our guests with allergies, we are creating an allergen-friendly kitchen this summer. Students and community members will be able to use our mobile app to place orders for allergen-friendly food and pick them up at the central kitchen. The kitchen will also produce grab-and-go options that will be distributed across campus.

FSD Resources