Overview of the Catering Services Industry
The catering services industry sometimes referred to as the food and service management or hospitality sector. It is a multi billion pound sector of the economy. For example, in the sales in the UK food and service management sector now exceed £4 billion a year. Many staff work on a temporary basis to cater for events throughout the year. It comprises a range of food and beverage based suppliers of varying sizes. Any business that stores, handles, or prepares food tends to be considered to be a food-based business. The main customers of the catering industry tend to be either employees in the workplace, or customers at an outdoor location (these are typically weddings, trade shows, farmers markets, corporate events or sporting events etc).
The industry can generally be organised into two types of suppliers. The first are on-premises catering services, where food is prepared and offered on the premises. These contract catering supplies tend to operate in proximity to business customers in order to minimise transportation costs. The second is where catering staff work off-site at a remote location where food is transported, prepared and served to the customer.
The range and depth of business services varies according to the needs of the customer. Event caterers cook and deliver meals to an outside location. Whereas full-service caterers may also provide waitress staff to serve up the food and may also provide self-service buffets, dining tables, cleaning facilities, condiments, table settings and decorations. They may need to provide a range of staff including a manager, chef, waitressing staff and bartenders. Frequently full-service caterers will also act as event planners; paid to create a well organised and memorable end-user experience. Conversely, a mobile caterer may simply cook fast food from a food van or truck outside a public event (such as a funfair, concert, exhibition or sporting event). Likewise, a meal delivery service may deliver and sell sandwiches, bakery, confectionary and drinks to local businesses located on a busy industrial estate or high street.
At the heart of catering services industry are chefs and food professionals who understand local health and safety rules, food preparation and hygiene and enjoy dealing with people. Staff need to be properly qualified and trained to understand food hygiene issues. Today's customers expect fresh, healthy and food of a high quality. Recent food scandals highlight breakdowns in the food supply chain that involve a complicated system of cross border delivery. Food stuffs and cooking ingredients may be imported from anywhere in the world. Consequently, the owners of catering suppliers must have a good grasp of supplier vetting, import procedures, food safety laws, food hygiene, premises planning regulations and environmental health issues.
Starting up a catering business has a relatively low barrier to entry. Hard working entrepreneurs launching on premises service need to pay attention to food laws and regulations. These include the need to register the business with the local authorities, obtaining health permits and licensing, seeking planning permission and meeting environmental health laws relating to food preparation. For example, there are lots of rules related to the premises in which food is prepared. Rules vary by country. Premises should be must be kept clean, well maintained and in good repair. This may involve paying for a cleaning services company to regularly provide sanitizing services. This may include hand washing facilities, toilets and food preparation areas must be kept clean and sanitised. Caterers must also be inherently well-organised to deal with demanding clients, sorting out staff rotas, ordering supplies of foodstuffs, managing complicated order quantities and delivery times to meet large orders.
The general success of the food and service management sector strongly reflects the state of the economy. Many larger business customers prefer to outsource their catering requirements to a local contract caterer, rather than pay for an in-house canteen on their business premises. Typically firms need caterers to deliver and serve sandwiches, and drinks and hors d'oeuvres at corporate functions, team meetings or customer meetings. Outsourcing gives customers peace of mind that their own customers can enjoy a nice lunch coupled with an on-site business meeting, However as the economy has faltered, contract caterers have seen margins reduce or contracts terminated, as a result of cutbacks from business and factory closures. As unemployment rises, so there are fewer mouths to feed. Likewise, cash strapped consumers have recently tightened their belts. Many people are not eating out as much and are instead opting for the lower-cost alternatives.
Demands from consumers and business customers for a healthier menu have created opportunities for niche suppliers of healthy organic food. This is reflected strongly in the demise of greasy spoon and the rise of the 'costa' cafe culture and traditional deli preparing healthy baguettes and sandwiches to order. Even Global fast food chains and takeaways have adapted their menus to include healthier options in the face of changing consumer habits. Similarly, supermarkets pose a significant threat to contract catering suppliers, (who may not have contracts to supply large retail distribution and can only afford to supply local customers).
Today's modern mass production, just-in-time, computerised supply chains are a world away from catering's historical roots. The catering industry was originally presumed to be established due demands of royalty, political powers, armies and traders in ancient Greece and The Roman Empire. As transportation links were built, so taverns and inns were established for goods traders and soldiers to eat and drink.