FSD 2008 Catering Study

Innovation and diversification could be key to non-commercial caterers surviving 2009.

How did non-commercial caterers do during the last year? What does the new year hold for them? What are the major challenges and opportunities as these operators battle their commercial counterparts for a share of the stomach in this competitive field? FSD's survey shows that innovation and diversification could be key to non-commercial caterers surviving 2009.

A slumping economy means non-commercial operators who offer catering will have to work harder in 2009 just to keep pace with 2008. At least, that was the view on three college campuses in different sections of the country as the holiday catering season wound down. As a matter of fact, one operator frankly was surprised that 2008 turned out as well as it did.

“To tell you the truth, I had been thinking that our business was really down from last year, which was a record year for us,” says Abbot Albright, catering administrator for Dining Services at the University of Maryland. “Then I saw our recent P & L statement, and we are almost even. I do think, however, after the inauguration is over we will see a severe downturn. There are regularly scheduled events, such as football and family weekend, which people will attend. However, the extras such as off-campus clients coming in, or weddings at the Alumni Center, are simply not there.”

Albright predicts that business will decline as “state budgets clam up.” He also believes check averages will shrink for weddings and other special events.

Across the country, at the University of California at Berkeley, Shawn LaPean, director of Cal Dining, says his department’s catering business also has stagnated.

“We are seeing our business, which was building at 15% to 18% per year in revenue flattening out this year, to where we think we will only have sales that match last year,” says LaPean. “Most clients are not asking for the bells and whistles this year and instead are turning to simple lunch events versus expensive dinners. Everyone wants ‘austere.’ They are afraid to have events that look too fancy.”

He added that the percentage of clients who are asking for what he calls “freebies”—reduced rates or free decorations, for instance—has grown from 20% to as much as 70%.

Pages

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
bowling ball pins

We patterned our chef culinary competition after the one pioneered by the University of Massachusetts. This year, 11 teams of college chefs registered. Each team gets the same market basket and has two hours to prepare three dishes. The starting times have to be staggered and nobody wants the 6 a.m. slot, so instead of randomly assigning times, this year we took the teams bowling and used their scores to determine starting times. The two teams with the highest combined bowling score got to pick their time slot first. Going bowling built camaraderie and team spirit before the teams even got...

Managing Your Business
performance review anxiety

For all the most obvious reasons, managers and staff don’t always agree. But both sides can get behind retiring annual performance reviews, according to a January survey from software company Adobe, which quit the practice in 2012. There, 64% of surveyed workers and 62% of supervisors consider yearly evaluations outdated.

“My philosophy is if I have to wait a year to tell you where you stand, it’s a little too late,” says Al Ferrone, senior director of dining services at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ferrone and other operators are reforming the meetings to add real...

Ideas and Innovation
woman sick phone bed

Our employees have paid time off, but if they don’t call in at least one hour before their scheduled shift, their PTO will be docked for the day. We also assign points for unapproved absences. Everyone starts with a freebie, and when they get to 4, then we start the disciplinary action process. When a staff member gets to 10 points, that is grounds for termination.

Ideas and Innovation
app mobile

The capacity of our dining room is 135 guests, and most evenings we serve closer to 160. At times, this led to some residents waiting for a table, especially at peak hours. Our new table management software allows diners to request specific meal times via a mobile app and allows us to space out our service, greatly reducing the wait times and allowing dining staff to prepare each table in advance of their arrival.

FSD Resources