Caterers are raising the bar with their station set-ups, capturing guests’ attention with imaginative food-and-drink displays. When it comes to creativity, stations are in no way stationary. Caterers, hotels and even convention centers continue to come up with ways to make their food-and-drink stations and buffets engage the imagination as they whet the appetite.
Think of weddings. With a prominent rush in food-centric media (think: celebrity chefs, the Food Network, foodie Instagram accounts, Pinterest boards and lifestyle blogs), today's couples are tapped into the food and beverage industry more than ever. For many, this means that the standard chicken or beef just won't cut it when it comes to planning a wedding menu. Does this mean tension is on the rise for caterers? Absolutely!
Now, the catering business is booming in Beirut, and many caterers have been dealing well with this tension. They have hit prominence already in providing a top-notch food quality and service, and most importantly staying trendy and flexible when it comes to people’s events fantasies; we name few: La Paella Catering, Kitchen Central, and Treats Caterers.
Yet, the debate here is how caterers continue to deal with this pressure while simultaneously dealing with other challenges that are inevitable in the catering industry?
BIM POS gets down to business with The Food Studio team, a project which was born out of years of experience in hospitality and F & B project launches, to report on the challenges up ahead in catering business and how owners and only a keen mind and good entrepreneurship can evade them.
Challenges in Catering Business
Caterers have a lot of competition and they’ll need to think creatively in order to stay ahead of the pack. This can involve much more than just attending catering conferences. For example, attending events like fashion shows and other high-end parties is a must nowadays for one to see what the most in-demand caterers are doing, and to stay unique. “The point is that your decision to start a catering business means that you are starting a business in an industry that is already choked up with people; most of them are successful and unique on their own; so how do you stand out from the crowd? It’s surely through proactive catering and the greatness of the food you are offering,” says Maya Noun Founder of The Food Studio.
In catering business, everyday isn’t Christmas right. At the beginning of the year, there are usually less parties which equals less catering and less business. Yet, each season is different. Christmas and New Year remains the strongest selling period of the year. Then comes summer when wedding parties and catering business are in full swing. The in-between time at The Food Studio is when we have catering to all sorts of events, dinners during Ramadan and Easter, cocktail parties on Mother’s day and Graduations, children’s birthdays, engagement parties, catering to offices during corporate events, as well as small intimate dinners on Valentine’s or engagement parties. And yes we do offer a plat du jour for offices as well as an array of sandwiches and salads; all what keeps the business diversified and rolling.
Personnel and Training
The challenge does not stop at finding capable hands to work with you, “people who share your vision and zeal could sometimes be difficult.” For a proper service, staff has to be very skilled. Here where you need to get and offer adequate training and this may cost you a lot of time and money. The food industry is continually evolving and a lot of new dishes and recipes are being introduced and you would have to learn these things so as to keep up with the pace. For instance, we now have to prepare gluten-free meals or cholesterol free meals as part of the menu for parties. To beat this challenge, we are trying to do training quarterly or monthly and during down times.
Safety of Food
There is a challenge in keeping food safe and maintaining it in the appropriate temperature. The key to keeping food safe is to be constantly checking or monitoring it and properly supervising and training your staff. Safety of food begins when you have the required ingredients in your hands. The ingredients must be constantly refrigerated or frozen; this process has to continue when you defrost foods and begin to cook refrigerated ingredients. We strictly follow all the required food safety rules and regulations; we have refrigerated units, vans and mobile kitchen set ups, making it a safe catering experience.
Let’s just be honest, as a caterer team, we have to deal with different individuals and no two people are the same. Clients have different characters and what would appeal to client A might be totally repulsive to client B and this can be really frustrating.
And to earn you a referral is quite a challenge because humans are insatiable. To overcome this challenge, we continually ask for feedback from clients we have served. And what is best to do is to learn to get your emotions out of the way.
Event Logistics and Location Convenience
Well, it is here when the team must anticipate the flow of guests and avoid human traffic jams, and yes still expect some lapses. Experience has it that the bar and the food are in different areas of a room, or in different corners. You may want to consider when the host wants the bar and the food close to each other, with a thought that it is convenient for guests but not knowing that it is more challenging to staff and even for guests and attendees as “lines for each must move efficiently, and never meld together.”
Here comes another task to consider. Though at the events we cater, the food prepared is the food to be offered and nothing comes back; yet, estimating the quantity of food needed for a specific job or occasion is a big challenge. The amount of food that people will consume changes with the time of the day and even the temperature of that event space. If the event is outdoors on a very hot day, for instance, people will tend to consume small and drink more.
Costing and Pricing
It happens that during an open buffet event, servers and bartenders are giving enough to serve overly generous desserts and bar pours or giving customers handfuls of “condiment packets, napkins and other peripherals.” This affects costing and inventory as well.
While inventory and costing software can keep the prices updated automatically, pricing criteria differs to cater to each event. Some items fall under fixed-priced category as in some food and ingredients; pricing also varies depending on how many people, and also where conditions and menus vary tremendously.
And speaking of technology the Food Studio team discusses with us how important the personal communication is in catering unlike the restaurant service where a mobile app can do. “Catering is tailor made to clients’ wishes and fantasies at each occasion.” Yet, technology is surely a life savior with the use of the latest POS and software systems. “Recipes and inventories are linked to the billing; it is all interrelated and makes it easier to manage properly, control costs and track wastage,” Maya Noun explains.