2011 ACE Awards

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March 16, 2011

What a great catering company can be

What does it take to be successful? Look to the 2011 Catersource Achievement in Catering Excellence for an answer.

The finalists differ in geography, size and style of catering. But they are alike in one important way: All strive to be the best they can be, not just in the food and events they produce for clients, but in the way they do business.

The ACE Award was created to recognize companies that have shown noteworthy achievement in the catering industry through culinary, business, community and professional development. This year€™s winners were selected by the winners from 2010 and announced at the Catersource Conference in Las Vegas.

You€™ll hear more from the winners and finalists in Catersource magazine this year, as they share their ideas and experiences in feature articles. Here we€™ve selected a key idea or two about how each company has become successful. 


ACE Award winner: 

Lon Lane€™s Inspired Occasions
Kansas City, MO

As a marketing strategy, Lon Lane€™s Inspired Occasions offers gift certificates to charity auctions for events in private homes€”everything from a dinner for two to a cocktail party for 20€“25. €œWe have found this to be the most successful way to sell our products and services,€ says Lon Lane, president.


Butler€™s Pantry, St. Louis
Butler€™s Pantry has cultivated relationships with both local and national media. The chefs have been featured on several television programs, the company partners with local media for events like the St. Louis Magazine Fever Fashion Show and catering staff have provided expert advice for the €œAsk the Expert€ column in Martha Stewart Living magazine. Butler€™s Pantry also has a strong and active presence on social media, from a blog to e-blasts to Facebook and Twitter.

Catering Creations

Catering Creations is using some unique techniques to ensure great service€”and happy staff members, says Cassie Burd, vice president of sales and catering. Event managers and event leads fill out a rating sheet for each  staff person at an event, checking off eight key criteria. Each checkmark is worth an extra 25 cents per hour, so a staff member who fulfills every criteria can earn up to $2 more per hour than the base pay. The company also gives the client a gold €œcoin€ before the event and asks that the client give it to the staff member they felt did an exceptional job. That staff member gets a $25 bonus from Catering Creations (€œThe client is essentially tipping that staff member with our money,€ says Jennifer Snow, owner).

Executive Caterers
Mayfield Heights, OH

In a tough economy, Executive Caterers keeps tight control on costs€”but has also raised prices at most venues. €œWe have many personnel as well as product investments that required an increase in prices even in the economic climate of 2010,€ says Nick Borelli, marketing director. €œBy stressing our value to clients, the increases in prices were both understood and accepted.€ The company has a weekly meetiing of representatives from each department, to look at how to keep costs down€”and quality up.

The Henry Ford
Dearborn, MI

To get more weddings during the €œvalley period€ of January through March, The Henry Ford created a Friday night value package for select dates, with the company€™s high-quality menus, but a 20 percent discount off standard pricing. In 2010, the third year of the promotion, the catering company included its most prestigious venue in the discount program. The result, says Amy Cox, director of event sales, was that 2010 was the most successful social year in the 80 years the company has been doing business.


ACE Award winner: 

JPC Event Group
New Castle, PA

In a market with many exclusively held venues, JPC Event Group has had to think outside the box to find and market new locations to its clients. €œFrom a stunning Gothic library to a trendy theater in the round, opportunities are out there,€ says Jody Wimer, owner/president. The catering company not only uses these venues, it helps them market and promote themselves. €œThrough web development, social media and creative open house tours, we have been able to assist these non-traditional locations in gaining momentum and a client following.€


Avanti Mansion
Blasdell, NY

During an intense period of growth and change, Avanti Mansion has been able to control costs by handling many functions in-house via the computer. Laurie Clark, marketing executive, says doing her own payroll processing saves hundreds of dollars each month. Computerized accounting €œgives us instant financial information, which in turn allowed us to make adjustments immediately.€ Avanti Mansion put a full-time handyman on staff and eliminated hiring contractors for most repairs and upkeep on the 27-acre site.

Different Tastes

In a competitive, big-city market, Different Tastes has been able to stand out by being innovative and cutting-edge. €œDifferent Tastes is the only caterer in the Boston area offering molecular gastronomy to its clients,€ says Jack Milan, CEO. Other innovative concepts include: the edible Asian spoon, savory and sweet lollipops, vertical crudité, the resin raw bar, game boards used as trays, savory waffles and €œdump truck€ salads.€   

Drexelbrook Catering
Drexel Hill, PA

Watching and keeping up with trends is crucial to the success of Drexelbrook Catering. The company developed the region€™s first Indian wedding program and facility, and has worked closely with Indian clients to educate the staff about the culture, foods and details of Indian events. In 2010, Drexelbrook Catering put on more than 15 Indian weddings€”with an average length of 10 hours€”that had 300 guests or more, says Domenick Savino, CEO.

Harrison€™s Catering
State College, PA

State College is not a big-budget market for catering, says Karen Myford, sales, marketing & fundraising manager. But many of the clients in this university town are quite sophisticated about cuisine.

€œWe develop menus and presentations that are logistically easy and therefore less costly, while still maintaining the highest quality food preparation.€ Strategies for this might mean fewer hot foods at the event, with more beautiful, wine country-style platters, or having clients provide their own beverages, which are then served by Harrison€™s staff.


ACE Award winner: 

Puff €˜n Stuff Catering & Events
Orlando, FL

Puff €˜n Stuff Catering & Events has turned to video to tell the company€™s story, says Erin Watson, marketing manager. €œWhile photos enchance written words, the company believes that video is an even more effective medium to demonstrate the value of its exceptionally prepared and uniquely presented cuisine.€ Puff €˜n Stuff not only uses videos of stations on social media and its website, it embeds them in digital proposals to clients. Watson says, €œWhen a bride€™s parents, a corporate leader or other decision-maker often resides in locations far from the information-gatherer, it€™s essential to give them every possible opportunity to experience the value in their purchase.€


Exclamations Catering & Event Specialists
Greensboro, NC

Anna Galloway-Currie, co-owner of Exclamations Catering & Event Specialists with her husband, Ed Currie, says that presentation is what sets the company apart from its competition. The company has a 7,000-square-foot warehouse of props and décor. €œIt doesn€™t matter if it is a drop-off lunch or breakfast or an all-important corporate event or wedding,€ says Galloway-Currie. €œIf someone wants it €˜catered,€™ it deserves to be special. Things are made special by adding décor, props and innovative food.€

The Festive Kitchen

To give more comprehensive service to its clients, The Festive Kitchen developed specialized menu options that clients could pick up, take home and bake or defrost and serve. Starting with four basics, the take-home catering division now offers 100 items ranging from traditional dinner entrées to specialty hors d€™oeuvre to handcrafted desserts. €œNot only can we then provide them with full-service catering when needed, but everyday smaller events where they come back to us several times a month,€ says Sandy Korem, CEO. €œThe Festive Kitchen has become their daily necessity.€ The take-home catering has added more than $1.5 million to the company€™s gross revenue.

  The Gourmet Cuisine at Rollins College
Winter Park, FL

Customer service is key at The Gourmet Cuisine, from management to every server, says Diego Perez-Arenas, catering director. The company has created a €œpersonal liaison€ program, in which specific staff members are assigned to specific clients. €œIt is their job to work hand-in-hand with the client on each event and to be able to predetermine their every need.€ Perez-Arenas says the success of the program has been greater than expected and has helped solidify relationships with high-volume clients.

Monell€™s Dining & Catering

Monell€™s Dining & Catering is looking to its Southern roots, in a very positive way. €œWe have combined the old Southern traditon of family-style or boarding house into our wedding receptions and celebrations,€ says Michael John A. King, owner/president. €œTaking away from the standard buffet and creating an interactive experience with the guests as they sit with people they do not know and break bread with strangers.€ That special dinner includes good old-fashioned Southern fried chicken, cooked in an iron skillet, but mixed with newer flavors and special items.


ACE Award winner: 

Someone€™s in the Kitchen
Tarzana, CA

Someone€™s in the Kitchen has diversified profit centers within the company to create opportunities for expansion, including drop-off corporate catering and 5 Star Kosher Catering. €œBy providing extensive services, maintaining a consistent presence, generating a positive image and committing to absolute excellence, Someone€™s in the Kitchen has become a name that can be recognized in a corporate office to a casual household,€ says Joann Roth Oseary, president.


24 carrots Catering & Events
Irvine, CA

24 carrots Catering & Events dealt with the recession not by cutting back, but by investing in the company€™s future. €œWe landed on the strategy of €˜Go Big or Go Home,€™€ says Jon Brown, owner/partner. They hired four new event planners, spent additional money on targeted marketing and advertising€”and opened a new company to focus on customers for whom budget was crucial. €œWe picked up two new venues that are now producing over $1 million in €˜budget€™ revenue for the company,€ Brown says. At the same time, 24 carrots kept its identity and clients as a high-end catering company.

Beets Hospitality Group
Livermore, CA
www.casarealevents.com or www.palmeventcenter.com

Beets Hospitality Group has created inclusive packages for wedding couples with a seasonal menu framework, and choices within the framework. €œThis allows them to have a better idea of the complete cost of their catered food, does not have them get lost in the sea of €˜a la carte€™ items and gives the food for the event a rhythm, theme and pace,€ says Michelle Pangrazio, director of marketing & branding. €œThis concept of inclusive packages also follows current trends of adding value to an event (we save on cost by purchasing a set number of items) and allows us to pass on further value to our clients.€

Santa Barbara Catering Company
Tempe, AZ

Santa Barbara Catering Company has a full-time service manager who not only does extensive training sessions for new employees, but also regularly attends events to make sure that the expected level of service quality is met, says Ashley Oakes, public relations & social media manager. After every event, the captain and sales person write an in-depth report and clients are asked for their feedback, which is shared with all of the participants at the event. 

Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal City, CA

Universal Studios Hollywood has turned necessity€”dealing with higher costs for labor and food€”into an asset. Sourcing food items locally is not only what customers ask for, it€™s often cost-effective, especially in California. Eric Kopelow, vice president and corporate executive chef, says Universal also has reduced the size of the proteins. €œBy doing this, we have created unique vegetable components like a potato and asparagus latke, or a mashed potato with spinach and roasted artichoke mix. This has all helped the bottom line and also gives our business the creative edge.€


ACE Award winner: 

Kriston Food & Beverage
PTE Ltd, Singapore

Kriston Food & Beverage put GPS tracking on all of its delivery vehicles, so an event planner or catering manager can track the vehicles from the office. €œNot only is Kriston now able to advise clients on the approximate timing of arrival when they call, the planner can also advise the vehicle driver on routes he can take to avoid traffic jams, or when an emergency crops up with other delivery vehicles,€ says Adrian Ang, marketing executive. The GPS tracking also lets planners track how long the delivery takes once the vehicle is stopped, all of which helps be efficient with manpower and vehicles.


By Word of Mouth
Johannesburg, South Africa

By Word of Mouth had an exciting 2010, as one of the caterers involved in providing catering for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. But an event that big, over that many days, created a number of challenges for the company as well, says Lucy Davies. €œWe had to find a premises big enough to set up a whole new and separate unit near the airport and stadiums and then had to source large amounts of equipment and employ professional staff to be able to run the business.€ The company also had to design and implement new procedures, such as a bar coding system to make sure every crate or box of food was delivered to the right sports suite during the games.

Culture Royal
Jakarta Selatan, Indonesia

Culture Royal is used to going not just big, but huge. In April, the company did a wedding for 8,000 people with 55 action stations and three buffet lines, for about $300,000. And that won€™t be an unusual event, says Derrick Buntaran, owner: €œThere are several more weddings like that this year.€ Culture Royal is trying to raise the bar for catering in Indonesia, in everything from quality of the food to the sanitation and cleanliness of the kitchen, and clients are responding by giving the company more business.

Global Infusion Group
Buckinghamshire, England

Global Infusion Group designs newsletters for clients and potential clients that are targeted to specific demographics, says Holly O€™Hair, marketing manager. €œFor example, the Chinese corporate market demands a very formal approach to marketing collateral, whereas the U.S. concert touring market is open to a more informal and creatively designed piece.€ Since the company is working internationally, O€™Hair says, it€™s crucial that staff understand religious, cultural and social difference in the way business is conducted.

Whistler Cooks Fine Foods Inc.
Whistler, BC, Canada

In 28 days of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler Cooks Fine Foods Inc. dished out 400,000 meals after winning the largest Olympic catering bid. €œApparently there are only four catering companies in the world that could be mobilized to take on what was required in Whistler,€ says Hilarie Cousar, owner and catering director. €œCatering the Olympics could have been done easily for one of these large companies with existing transport, culinary and service equipment. Instead, our small catering company was chosen and immdiately our culinary team of five took action.€ Menus focused on local foods€”including more than 20,000 pounds of organic potatoes€”and serviceware was 100 percent biodegradable.   

Catersource magazine
March/April 2011

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