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.

Drawing them in

Notre Dame’s catering team has been creating brand recognition events as well, from one-on-one meetings to seminars.

“We’re a not-for-profit doing non-traditional marketing,” Wenzel says. “We’re doing more trade shows and having a lot of interaction with local chamber of commerce businesses, such as drop-ins with plates of cookies.”

While dropping off goodies to a potential customer, she’ll ask, “Hey, have you thought about your Christmas entertaining?” Wenzel says. “You get a much better response when you give them cookies before the brochure.”

As most catered events are done on campus, she has to seek out her clients and lure them in. “We have to get people to come here. It’s kind of a dual challenge,” Wenzel added.

A yearly marketing event, the Fall Fete, showcases the catering menu alongside products from a local decorator and rental company to show university personnel what types of events—from casual to elegant—their in-house foodservice team can produce. Another marketing lure is the December Special, which offers catering clients a dozen free Christmas cookies with any food delivery made between Dec. 21-23. The offer is only for orders placed at least three days ahead of service.

Miami University’s King pulls business in by keeping track of Carillon Catering’s comprehensive four-year marketing plan to follow where targeted revenue growth is headed. That includes the wedding and fraternity/sorority markets. Toward the latter, King is offering the Direct to You! brand to pitch home meal replacements; he’d like to capture a piece of their weekly meetings as well.

He’s also pushing his lunch catering arm “a little bit more” so that it makes sense from the students’ standpoint for a “quick in and out” meal approach. And rather than paring down the pricing on the Carillon Catering restaurant menu, King has put more emphasis on the food items.

“I didn’t want to discount it; I didn’t want to dilute what we’ve done in the past,” he says, adding that moves such as taking $10 off an entrée price just leaves the customers feeling as if they’d been paying too much all along. “We’ve looked at some items. We’ve gone with some smaller portions, and we’re selling a lot of chicken.”

Carillon Catering also scaled back its fillet option for the black-and-blue beef tenderloin. Where customers might have ordered a 6-ounce to 8-ounce tenderloin, they’re now going for the 4-ounce portion, which has a 25% to 35% lower cost than the larger fillet.

“It’s presented in such a manner that people are enjoying it. We seem to be selling a lot of those,” King says. The chef builds the 4-ounce fillet upon vanilla bean mashed potatoes, with a blueberry demi-glaze over blue cheese. It’s part of King’s adherence to the rule that people eat with all five senses. “Along with the flavor there’s really great aromas, and it’s presented in a manner that is visually appealing.”

The department has been pushing home meal replacements for Thanksgiving and the summer holiday as well, he says. A complete high-quality meal for 10 goes for about $75.

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