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.”

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