Banquet overhauls

Revenue-minded operators step up catering menus without hiking prices.

Competition from outside catering operations forced the University of Notre Dame to take a close look at its own services and up its catering game. So, last year it launched a complete overhaul and rebranding. “What we wanted to do is strategically position ourselves to be the caterer of choice,” says Chris Abayasinghe, the school’s director of food services. Notre Dame’s new catering menu offers locally sourced, globally inspired options with Mediterranean and southeast Asian flavors.

catering table spread

To keep pricing competitive, Abayasinghe and his team streamlined costs on the back end through prime vendor agreements. These allow the department to take advantage of bulk pricing while menuing fresh, seasonal ingredients, ordering items days prior to an event.

Abayasinghe sources fresh-roasted coffee from a Chicago-based roaster-retailer. An order placed Wednesday is roasted Thursday and delivered to the university Friday. “It’s a completely different experience,” he says.

The changes helped boost overall catering sales by 6 percent this year.

To combat the notion that her catering arm only offered box lunches, Christina Rollins, director of food and nutrition services at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill., launched a similar overhaul, showcasing variety and higher-end items such as roasted salmon and prime rib. Leveraging the hospital’s buying power helps keep food costs to 35 percent. “Catering certainly benefits from the high volume of food that we purchase and prepare for our patients,” Rollins says. 



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