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.

Dining services at the 11,700-student University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., has had two major issues to deal with in recent months: a failing economy and a struggling football team. Unfortunately, both events have hit catering sales equally hard.

Notre Dame’s dual catering issues are not unique: Across the country, on-site catering concerns are being adversely affected by the depressed economy. However, at the home of the famous Fighting Irish, dining services is taking a harder look at its resources and battling back with a revised outlook and a new game plan—and they are not alone.

Confronting the economy plus a loss of interest in the university’s once great football team have been part of the “extra challenge” Notre Dame Food Services has been facing during the past two years, says Lisa Wenzel, assistant director, NDFS. Both events have had a negative impact on overall foodservice, Wenzel says. “Our sports programs are not as strong as before, so that has an effect. It’s been the perfect storm.”

To fight back, NDFS’s catering arm, “Catering…by Design,” has created a new menu offering aptly titled Affordable Entertainment, plus an aggressive one-on-one marketing blitz targeting the Notre Dame community through cold calling, networking and trade shows.

Launched in April 2009, the new menu provides lower-cost items paired with a simpler service, effectively cutting regular menu offerings by 20%, Wenzel says. The change was due to the economy and customer feedback. “Their perception was that we were a little too highly priced,” she says.

Part of that stemmed from university-wide budget cuts, which prompted campus departments to look for creative ways to cut costs without losing personnel. Like many institutions and corporations nationwide, they’ve accomplished that by slashing entertainment.

“That really cuts into catering,” Wenzel says.  “We’re trying to balance that by doing things differently. People are doing less expensive events. Instead of served meals they may be doing something in their office; we’re setting up and cleaning up after them.”

In the Affordable Entertainment package, the Budget-Friendly Hors D’oeuvre menu is priced at $6 per dozen pieces and may include polenta triangles with pancetta and brie; chili and corn fritters; spicy chicken and cilantro wontons; and brown sugar smokies. The Budget-Friendly Drinks menu is priced at $7.50 per gallon and serves approximately 20 guests.

Pages

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
farmer produce

The seeds of farm-to-table 2.0 have officially blown into noncommercial foodservice. Since the movement has caught the attention of the segment during the past decade, operators have broadened agricultural collaborations outside of just supply. As a result, a new strain of the movement has been created that treats farms as allies in events, training and innovative growing systems.

The 500-bed Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., didn’t start out sourcing produce from local farms; instead, it administered its own growing programs, including an on-site garden and honeybee apiary...

Ideas and Innovation
fsd screenshot web

A full year has passed since we redesigned FoodService Director magazine, taking the publication from its longtime tabloid dimensions to a more convenient size and more creative design, and recasting the content to provide actionable, peer-to-peer insights and ideas for FSDs.

Now we are thrilled to announce that we’ve extended the makeover to our website as well. The new FoodServiceDirector.com has been redesigned to be more engaging and even easier to use. We’ve made it faster to find information, from recipes to HR best practices, that will help you run your facility better....

Managing Your Business
wage feud business

As plans to increase the minimum wage surge ahead in states such as New York and California, operators eventually will feel the reverberations shake up labor costs for more than just hourly workers. As associate wages gain on manager salaries, operators will have to answer a call for reciprocal increases. FSD spoke with operators who advised going gently into the brave new world of heightened labor costs, investing in talent and making cuts elsewhere; however, they did offer three perfectly proactive tactics to make the process as seamless as possible.

1. Keep talking

Even though...

Menu Development
craft beer flight
A draw for happy hour...

Phan plans to serve beer and wine, and depending on liquor licensing, perhaps cocktails as well. “For faculty and staff on campus, it will be a really wonderful place to come to and have a glass of wine,” Wolch says. “Right now, we have The Faculty Club bar, which is a very historic spot, but this is going to be much more contemporary.”

And for morning coffee...

Phan’s plan for made-to-order coffee is bound to be a boon for both faculty and students. “We’ll have a brand-new espresso machine,” Phan says. Wolch adds, “Most of us in the Bay Area are, if not...

FSD Resources