Catering diversified

In such a competitive marketplace as the events catering sector, it is becoming increasingly commonplace that a company you look to for catering is also the company which can provide event management, marketing and PR.

“The old model of an events team securing the sale then passing the lead to the in-house caterers is  out of date,” says Sales and Marketing Director at Searcys, Chris Maddison. “Customers want the consistency and security of dealing with one point of contact to guide them through all facets of a venue and an event.”

Maddison adds that Searcys is keen to react to market demand and opportunity, hence the company now comprising three sectors: retail (restaurants, champagne bars and private clubs), internal catering for companies and organisations, and partnerships (in-house catering and operation of venues).

“There are many benefits to diversification, most notably being able to manage the entire venue and catering experience,” he says.

Natasha Carr, Sodexo’s Venue and Events Marketing Manager for Sports and Leisure, says feedback from its venue clients and customers as well as its own market research, led to the addition of services such as event planning and sales and marketing support.

“We have more than 20 years’ experience in managing unique venues and organising sports and cultural events and have used that experience to build a new conference, event and private party offer, Prestige Venue and Events,” she says. “It has been designed to be a one-stop shop for services for our venue clients. It is a flexible offer with the option of our involvement as required from catering and event delivery, to sales, marketing and PR support.”

Ultimately, Carr says the offer is all about giving client venues louder voices in the marketplace.
The Lindley Group, now Centerplate UK, focused on stadia catering when it was first established in 1968, and Jon Davies, Sales and Marketing Director of Centerplate’s UK division, says this was its core business for a long time. “In 2010 our new CEO Adam Elliott (now President) was appointed and his focus was on how we could diversify our business model. Stadiums are often used just 25 times a year and left empty for the rest of the time; the space was waiting to be exploited by both the client and us,” he says.

Centerplate UK controls all sales and marketing for non-match days at 17 venues, and while some larger clubs such as Leicester Tigers, who have a large commercial team already, keep the sales and marketing in-house, at clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday FC Centerplate has even taken the receptionist onto the payroll. In effect, on a non-match day the entire service provided to clients is by Centerplate staff.

In response to the growing demand for unique, unusual and sporting venues, Levy Restaurants, a sports, leisure and hospitality sector of Compass Group UK & Ireland, created Lime Venue Portfolio (LVP) in 2008. The purpose of the collection is to be a consolidated booking source.

“Introducing LVP was an organic move for our parent company,” says Head of LVP, Jo Austin. “We are the business of Levy Restaurants, who are appointed caterers at a range of venues. As a catering partner, we are fully aware of their modus operandi and therefore well placed to complement the catering operation and to help deliver commercial value and promote them to event bookers. When we are contracted, our venues immediately receive the support of a team of 13 who target sales, marketing and PR on their behalf.”

Sunderland’s 1879 Events Management is the catering arm of Sunderland AFC and was set up to deliver events and catering on a large scale at the Stadium of Light. The company says its expertise has stretched beyond providing food, and the organisation recognised from the outset the advantage of offering a one-stop shop solution for clients. This means that, along with the catering provision, 1879 can organise anything from infrastructure in the form of marquees to stewarding and security.

“Our experience went way beyond just  a catering facility so it made sense to use this expertise in the broadest sense possible, by setting up 1879 Events Management,” says Director, Gary Hutchinson.

End user influence

As a nation of foodies, people are now more savvy and more adventurous with their food choices due to the increased exposure in the media and through celebrity chef endorsement, according to Head of Marketing at LVP, Richard Kadri-Langford.

Kevin Watson, Director of Catering at Leith’s at Excel London adds: “You cannot turn on a TV channel without seeing a new chef with new ideas or hear about a new market trend. This has made everyone food experts or at least sit up and look at food differently, and rather than sustenance during an event, it has become a showcase and talking point during the breaks.”

Warwick Conferences has noticed a similar trend and notes that as people become more conscious of the choices they are making, the catering industry must adapt. “It’s true that the end user, whether delegate or organiser, wields a greater power than ever before in determining menus,” says Executive Development Chef at Warwick Conferences, Graham Crump. “The trick is to balance incorporating their wishes with the feasibility of creating a working dish.

“Some customers may not always appreciate the realities of seasonality, largely due to supermarkets’ year-round displays of fruit and veg, and when catering for large numbers, this can be even more of a challenge,” says Crump.

 Ampersand Events recently tapped into the culinary trend for local food by revealing the opportunities for using food that can be foraged locally. Ampersand’s chefs personally forage for unexpected, unusual or forgotten ingredients that they then turn into culinary masterpieces. The company even allows clients to join the expedition so they can tell their guests what they foraged and found.

Simon Flint, Executive in-house Chef at The Deck, says that while it is often the case that clients are inspired by something that they have had elsewhere, occasionally they are unsure of what they want to serve. Flint believes a more reactive approach fosters a better relationship with the client “because they are reassured that we are open-minded enough in our approach to rise to any request that comes to our kitchen”.

Searcys’ Maddison says it is not so much about the impact clients have on food sourcing that caterers and venues need to be mindful of, but rather the need to strike the right balance between the clients’ desires and budgetary restrictions, with the passion for food and innovation of the chefs. A good example of this balancing act, says Maddison, is the recent food trend that emerged over the last few years: traceability and sustainability.

“With everyone from the government to Heston Blumenthal speaking about the importance of food provenance, this trend which has featured so prominently in the public psyche is on our clients’ and chefs’ agendas. It is then a case of making sure we create the right options to meet the clients’ and our own needs by being innovative with the recipes we create and ingredients we source,” he says.

Catering trends in 2014

Responsibly sourced ingredients, seasonal and local produce, will remain popular in 2014, according to Head Development Chef at Moving Venue, Nate Brewster. He also predicts flavours from the Philippines will be on trend this year, as well as from South America, particularly with the influence of the World Cup in Brazil.

Seasoned Events has earmarked the rise  and rise of Street Food in 2014 and has invested in a number of these concepts over the last two years. The company also expects to see a growth in Peruvian food and an increased demand for smoked meats.

Tapenade highlights theatre and entertainment as key for 2014 with organisers opting for fun ways to serve food. “Making dessert informal and fun is a great way to break the ice and encourage interaction, especially if the event has included a lot of formality earlier in the day,” says Executive Chef, John Hearn. He adds that late night snacks or goody bags are becoming popular with warm cookies and doughnuts the preferred treat of choice to end the evening.

This was first published in the March issue of CN. Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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