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.

FSD’s 2009 Catering Study

The results of our 2009 Catering Study are in. Here’s a snapshot of the industry, based on the responses of 297 operators:

Eighty-five percent of operators offer catering; virtually all of the respondents in B&I, colleges and hospitals do. In schools, 73% offer catering, while only 68% of operators in long-term care do. The average annual catering volume was $511,246.

Of the operators who do offer catering, 51% cater both on- and off-premise events, with 77% of their business on average coming from on-premise catering. Fifty-five percent of operators say they charge off-premise customers more than they do for on-premise business, with most charging between 11% and 20% more.

The types of services offered run the gamut from breakfast meetings to cocktail receptions. In total, 91% of respondents offer continental breakfast; 89% offer lunches with deli meats, buffets and salads; 89% offer break service that include cookies and pastries; 86% offer hot and cold buffets; 83% make box meals available; 83% do plated meals; and 56% do cocktail receptions. Colleges are most likely to do sit-down meals (98%) and receptions (75%), while schools are least likely (57% and 29%, respectively).

For more than half of the respondents (63%), catering represents 10% or less of their total foodservice revenue. But catering is big business in colleges: 21% of respondents say catering represents more than 30% of their overall revenue, versus only 13% of respondents as a whole.

The downturn in the economy affected a fairly high percentage of operators in 2009; 34% say their catering revenue decreased last year, compared with only 18% the previous year. The recession hit B&I hardest, as 50% say catering business had declined. By contrast, only 21% of long-term care operators reported a decrease last year. By far the reason cited most by operators reporting a decrease (81%) was budget cuts in their companies or institutions. Other noted reasons included fewer events to cater (45%) and a decrease in customer base (22%).

Full-service catering, as opposed to drop-off, makes up the majority of business in all segments except B&I and hospitals. Overall 58% of catering is full-service; it is 77% of the business in long-term care, 62% in colleges and 57% in schools. However, drop-off service makes up 63% of the business in B&I and 53% in hospitals.

Exclusivity is a right enjoyed by 43% of operators. Long-term care (55%) and colleges (54%) are most likely to have the sole right to catering on their campuses, while schools (18%) are least likely.

Overall, 44% of operators offer their customers the options of choosing environmentally friendly disposable serviceware for their catered events. Twelve percent say they use only permanentware. Colleges (64%) are most likely to offer biodegradable/
recyclable serviceware, while long-term care (29%) is least likely. However, overall only 23% of clients are requesting such serviceware, and only 38% of operators will charge customers more if they use it.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
nuts

We decided through focus group feedback that our freshmen struggled with the allergy-friendly options or options for students with diabetes on campus. In response, we decided to have a dinner the first few weeks of classes to let some of these students know what was available and let them network with their peers and others with allergies or diabetes. NC State Dining chefs prepared menu items based on foods from cultures around the world. ... From delicious sliced sweet potatoes to savory Ikarian-style roasted chicken, students were able to sample global dishes free of allergens.

Ideas and Innovation
coffee cups

We started a monthly Coffee Hour with just the department director. The goal is to gather 
staff feedback about their jobs and answer individual questions. After the first event, 
several staff members emailed stating they just wanted to meet with the director without 
their supervisors. Now, the meetings offer an opportunity for more of a one-on-one conversation without the presence of the supervisor they 
deal with day in and day out.

Ideas and Innovation
salad

We’re currently piloting a Salad Bar Happy Hour 
in Cafe 16. Due to Health Department regulations, any self-serve salad bar items must be disposed of after service. The salad bar goes “on sale” for 25 cents an ounce post-lunchtime to help reduce waste as well as offer value to customers.

Menu Development
sauces

Adding an entirely new cuisine to the menu can feel daunting. But what if you could dabble in international flavors simply by introducing a few new condiments? For inspiration, FSD talked to operators who are offering a range of condiments plucked from global regional cuisines.

“Most ethnic cuisines have some sort of sauce or condiment relishes that go with their dishes,” says Roy Sullivan, executive chef with Nutrition & Food Services at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco. Condiments offered to diners at UCSF Medical include chimichurri (Argentina), curry (India), tzatziki (...

FSD Resources