As client demands grow within the foodservice sector, it becomes increasingly important for catering suppliers to adapt and stay ahead of the high street. Here, Damon Brown, co-founder at Olive Catering Services, discusses ways that caterers can stay ahead of the competition.
With new express supermarkets, fast-casual restaurants and independent sandwich shops popping up all the time, there are more high street lunchtime options now than ever before – yet businesses with a staff restaurant are essentially asking customers to eat there every day. That’s the reality of the situation as a workplace caterer, and it throws up a number of challenges that those in the industry must work to overcome on a daily basis.
Innovate to accumulate
One of the reasons the high street is such a draw is that food trends are constantly shifting. It’s a caterer’s responsibility to tap into those outside influences and make sure they’re working hard to provide customers with the variety they need.
At Olive, we have a Food Innovation Team who are constantly looking for new and exciting ways to take our offering to the next level and are dedicated to keeping our food interesting, vibrant and seasonal. Once per quarter, we’ll pick an overarching genre of food – anything from Italian to Indonesian – and our development chefs will go away to research ingredients, recipes and techniques.
There is a delicate balance to be drawn between keeping dishes as authentic and as exciting as possible whilst also being conscious of how food will be practically sourced, cooked and served in a contract catering setting. But, by experimenting with the latest flavours from across the world, caterers are able to create competitive menus that appeal to a range of different needs.
Another way for caterers to really mark themselves out from the crowd is by making the most of the restaurant space itself. As routines become increasingly stretched there will no doubt always be a place for grab-and-go options, but having access to a dedicated, versatile area where customers can eat and socialise can often give caterers the edge over quick service competition. Several clients have noted both an uplift in productivity and staff morale simply thanks to those shared spaces.
For us, maximising the restaurant has meant bringing the theatre element of cooking into the workplace though our street food concept, ‘The Kerb’. We use induction technology to cook dishes to order, meaning customers get to see their food being prepared in front of them, and it’s a really versatile way of implementing the recipes created by the Food Innovation Team.
The main thing to remember is that every workplace is different. Although everybody used to stop and head to the canteen at 12 o’clock, modern workplaces can be much more fluid. With that in mind, by far the most important tool in a caterer’s toolkit is the ability to tailor their offering to each individual client to give them the best value – whether that’s providing healthy food for an active office, or fuelling a busy factory floor.
It’s down to caterers to provide for those needs, whatever they might be. If lighter options are required, then caterers may look to serve luxury porridge and ready-made granola pots at breakfast, with protein-packed lunch pots; likewise, if a heartier menu is what’s required, then traditional breakfasts, and homemade pies and casseroles will probably be the order of the day.
Ultimately, keeping up with the high street is about staying dynamic and playing to your strengths. There are always going to be new venues to contend with, but with a whole world of influences to look to for inspiration, so there’s no excuse for a caterer to sit still.