FSD 2008 Catering Study

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

In the Midwest, at Miami University of Ohio, catering has managed to “remain positive” during the last year, according to Donald King, assistant director of The Shriver Center for catering and retail sales. But he acknowledged that it has taken some off-beat business to achieve this.

“We did this by diversifying our sales mix,” King explains. “We had begun to provide daily foodservice to a fraternity house and based on our reputation we have been asked to provide this same service to another fraternity. In years past, we may not have done this, but we anticipated the slowdown and jumped at the opportunity.”

King says he believes finding new non-traditional revenue streams such as the fraternity business is essential for survival.

“It is a win-win situation so we plan to pursue other similar opportunities,” he notes. “Additionally, we will look to expand the services we provide to our regional campuses. Home meal replacement is another option that we will look to for untapped revenue.”

Other initiatives at Miami have included holiday meal packages and a new, low-cost menu called “Direct To You,” which King says was designed “to put us on even ground with restaurants that cater at a reduced cost.”

At Berkeley, LaPean says his department’s main focus will be on trying to attract more off-campus business because it can be more lucrative.

“Our check average for off-campus is nearly $50 per person, per event, and on-campus is approximately $22,” he explains. “But the off-campus folks seem to be having a harder time finding reasons to have events versus our on-campus clients. This is one of the reasons our sales are flat.”

On Maryland’s campus, Albright is considering changing the name and brand of the catering department to “generate some buzz.”

“We also are looking at added services, products and Web-based ordering to alleviate any hassles for clients and make it easier for them to order from anywhere they wish, such as home.”

But the bottom line for success, in the mind of Miami’s King, will always be maintaining a customer-centric approach to the business.

“We need to continue to do what it is that made us their primary choice in the first place,” says King, who, like many of his peers, is not the exclusive caterer to the campus. “I have given all of my managers a sign to hang by their desks. It has a wine glass with our logo on it. Under the glass it reads, ‘Our reputation is a fragile thing.’ Now more than ever this will hold true.”

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
pho bowl

Achieving authenticity can be tricky. Late last year, Oberlin College landed in the news when students protested the way dining services at the Ohio school was botching ethnic food, serving up inauthentic versions of Asian and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s a challenge other operators are confronting, too, often tapping staff and patrons for inspiration.

At 260-bed Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite, Executive Chef Bradley Czajka, himself of Polish-Ukrainian descent, started Global Stations as a way to recognize the diversity of cultures at the hospital. “We have such an...

Menu Development
sweet pea ravioli

On any given night at the Wake Robin senior living facility in Shelburne, Vt., residents may find spring sweet pea and mascarpone ravioli with white wine cream sauce or acorn squash stuffed with quinoa and cranberries on the menu. These dishes, along with a new sweet-potato burger topped with cilantro aioli, aren’t just delicious, says Director of Dining Services Kathy King. They’re also completely vegetarian.

The popularity of Meatless Mondays and the growing number of people who call themselves “flexitarians” have impacted menu development in every noncommercial sector. Although...

Managing Your Business
umass amherst food

Restaurateurs in Amherst, Mass., aren’t happy with UMass Dining .

Registered dietitian Dianne Sutherland told local NBC affiliate WWLP News in May that the high quality of food served on campus means students aren’t visiting neighborhood eateries as frequently as those businesses might like.

“Even our vendors who we work with, they get complaints from the restaurants that students are staying on campus,” she said. “They are already paying for the food; why should they [go] off campus to eat?” More than 19,000 Amherst students are on a meal plan—6,000 of whom live off campus...

Ideas and Innovation
lettuce eat dining

Forced to battle crumbling infrastructure and a constant churn of trends, sometimes the best way to save a foodservice operation is to change it entirely. As Steve Mangan, director of dining at the University of Michigan, puts it, “At some point when your building starts to fail, the cost of maintenance stands out.” But for operators with limited budgets, the challenge is discerning the right time to do so—and how far to take it.

At Jefferson High School, change came because little worked anymore. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school’s cafeteria hadn’t been updated since 1957; students...

FSD Resources