Dick Cattani: RA Aims to Keep Foodservice Captivating

Restaurant Associsates President, Dick Cattani, winner of the Silver Plate-B&I/Foodservice Management, reports that over the next two years, the company will roll out a tremendous number of projects, mostly in cultural centers, performing arts center, museums, aquariums and zoos. And eventually this growth will bring this segment of its business, which generates about 45% of revenues, closer to the 50% mark. Still, the company’s mostly NYC-based B&I foodservice segment—the remaining 55% of its current business—is also thriving.

At A Glance: Dick Cattani
•President
•Restaurant Associates Managed Services
•In foodservice for 34 years (with RA)
•Size of Business: 100+ accounts in 13 states
•Segmentation: 55% corporate dining and education, 45% receation and leasure
•Foodservice Sales: $275 million
•Manages 8,000 employees


FoodService Director - Silver Plate - Dick Cattani - Restaurant AssociatesIt is easy to imagine officials of Restaurant Associates Managed Services excitedly batting around new menu ideas during a brainstorming session in a conference room loftily located in an office building nestled in a culinary Mecca. After all, an employee of the midtown New York-based company needn’t go far to find some serviceable menu ideas for one of the contractor’s accounts, whether it be for a business-and-industry cafeteria or a new performing arts center or a catering event.

Success, however, is not guaranteed. The challenge is applying the latest foodservice trends—or perhaps even homegrown innovations—to over 100 accounts, and then turning these ideas into profit makers.

RA is in the midst of a growth spurt. President Dick Cattani reports that over the next two years, the company will roll out a tremendous number of projects, mostly in cultural centers, performing arts center, museums, aquariums and zoos. And eventually this growth will bring this segment of its business, which generates about 45% of revenues, closer to the 50% mark.

Still, the company’s mostly NYC-based B&I foodservice segment—the remaining 55% of its current business—is also thriving. “Our bread and butter will continue to be B&I” portends Cattani.

Turning profits: The days of fully subsidized foodservice for company employees, provided and billed as a benefit, may live on in the memories of industry veterans. But foodservice managers and directors newer to the business are likely to know the B&I market as a competitive one, aimed at turning a profit as much as it is intended to provide an employee benefit—and New York is likely to offer up as much street side competition as any place. “It’s not a captive audience; you really have to fill the seats every day,” he notes.

He says the B&I foodservice provider’s objective, therefore, is now to move the top line up—increasing sales—and use more self-service platforms as way of reducing labor. “There’s no question that the trend has shifted from subsidy fee accounts to profit-and-loss accounts, so we’ve had to be much more creative in a couple of areas,” says Cattani.

Self-serve stations, such as RA’s antipasti station or salad bar, cut labor costs at the contractor’s accounts and offer foods that customers are seeking. “Our thrust, and our differentiation, is bringing to our clients and ourselves some significant sales, be it through participation increases or increased check averages—not [achieved] by price increases, but by them spending more,” he explains.

New menu items and services have driven sales increases for RA. Ideas from its retail side flow swiftly and freely to the non-commercial side, and the contractor’s B&I accounts, Cattani says, are the happy beneficiaries of a retail-mindset and the ability to translate street concepts into profitable cafeteria or foodcourt stations in a non-commercial setting. One example is the new cafe scheduled to open this month at Alliance Capital, a B&I account, which will feature an array of food concepts lifted and refit for workplace dining.

Trending up: One station will be the “plancha grill,” basically a griddle being used by many restaurant chefs to cook seafood these days. “It cooks and sears fish at a high temperature sealing in all the flavors and juices without burning it,” he says, adding that RA officials got the idea after coming across the item in a seafood restaurant and plan to incorporate it into new facilities going forward.

Other programs debuting at the new cafe will be a tapas bar; an extensive salad and antipasti bar; a made-to-order tossed salad station; and an espresso bar, which will be Compass’ Ritazza program. 

There is even more menu development and innovation going on the side of RA’s business that focuses on cultural centers, museums and aquariums—yet Cattani continues to assert that what works on this side of business is often later applied to B&I. Projects include a cafe at New York’s Central Park Zoo that features a menu peppered with sustainable, organic and environmentally friendly items. Later this year RA opens a foodcourt, along with an 800-seat catering facility flanked by two huge fish-filled tanks, at the new Georgia Aquarium, opening in Atlanta.

Also in Atlanta, the Woodruff Arts Center will feature RA’s Table 1280 Restaurant and Tapas Lounge. The facility will be both an American brasserie, says Cattani, and a contemporary tapas lounge menuing small plates, including the scallop, papaya and chile ceviche; and aged manchego cheese with quince paste.

Flavor explosion: Quince paste and ceviche may not be immediately recognizable to every, or even most, Americans, yet, but Cattani says customers are demanding more from foodservice providers these days. “What we are starting to see, whether it be at a cultural center or in corporate dining, is that the foods are becoming more ethnic, bolder, more flavorful; that’s the trend,” he says. Also making his list of hot menu selections are items that boast healthful properties, organic foods, more seafood and sandwiches, particularly grilled sandwiches featuring ethnically inspired ingredients, such as the Cuban or the panini.

Cattani is highly confident in the ability of RA’s team of chefs to craft these concepts into workable programs in all of its venues. “We have tremendously talented culinarians and we place great stock in our chefs,” he asserts. “We have a terrific cadre of supervising chefs who can pull best practices from one unit to the other, and continually introduce new programs to get our chefs excited and to pay attention to what’s going on in the world. Our formula has worked very well for us.”