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.

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