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Eight Takeaways from the ICA San Antonio Workshop at RK Group

Each month, International Caterers Association (ICA) members host educational workshops online, but this August, we finally got to hold a workshop in person! As ICA President, Steve Sanchez, said, “It’s been so special to watch people gather again and collaborate in person for the first time in years.” The return to in-person ICA workshops kicked off in San Antonio and was hosted by the RK Group.

RK Group graciously opened the doors of their San Antonio headquarters for our members, hosting a full day of sessions to tackle catering and hospitality business challenges currently facing our industries—along with a lot of good food and fun cocktails too, of course! 

The return to in-person ICA workshops kicked off in San Antonio and was hosted by the RK Group. Photo courtesy the International Caterers Association

Today, we’re sharing just a few of the many takeaways from the event.

Organization for Sales Productivity

During a session led by Jennifer Perna, principal of Fulton Market Consulting, sales team members learned how to strategically position their day and workload to get more done. In many cases, teams are still short-staffed and struggling to keep up with the incoming demand, so here are two ways to prioritize and get things done: 

Calendar Blocking 

Are you one of the many who live in reactive mode, answering emails the second they come in? That’s a time sink. Schedule your calendar in blocks. Block one hour for emails at the beginning of the day, then block time for creating proposals, meetings, etc. You can even block time for lunch and breaks to make sure you’re working at your peak levels with breaks in between! It’s helpful to visualize what you’re doing when and stay productive and proactive, rather than reactive. 

Create a Three-Part List Every Monday/Day 

It’s sometimes hard to prioritize when you’re living in survival mode and constantly overwhelmed. So, start your Monday morning with this exercise to help schedule your projects in order of priority.

  1. What do I need to work on today?
  2. What do I need to work on this week?
  3. What is a future project that can wait?

If you try these, let us know how they work for you!

Tools for Outsourcing to Combat Labor Shortages

Nearly every caterer out there is feeling the pinch when it comes to labor, especially in the kitchen. Clint Elkins, vice president of SB Value, shared a new program from U.S. Foods called Scoops. Scoops provides elevated cuisine that’s pre-made to help teams save on prep time, as well as labor and resources required. Each year, they introduce up to 75 creative appetizers, desserts, meatless entrees, beverages and so much more across all menu categories.

Within the item listing on the site, you can see exactly which prep steps are removed, like breading or frying, and how much labor is saved per case of product. You can browse their trendy recipes and purchase right on the site to make your life easier and stay relevant without hiring additional team members, while still making your clients extra happy. 

Todd Ruiz, executive chef at RK Group, created a one-of-a-kind lunch where he shared how you can utilize American Metalcraft’s melamine bento boxes. Photo courtesy the International Caterers Associaton

Trends for Food Presentation

Food presentation is almost as important as flavors these days when it comes to creating elevated events. Todd Ruiz, executive chef at RK Group, created a one-of-a-kind lunch where he shared how you can utilize American Metalcraft’s melamine bento boxes and plates with cloches to create wow-worthy displays that match the elevated dishes being served. Attendees loved to see the mix and match upscale dishware paired with lightweight plastic melamine that is easier to clear from a table. Outdoor and indoor dining never looked so good with these hot new melamine dinnerware looks! We can’t wait to see members put them in action this upcoming season. 

Plates with cloches can create wow-worthy displays that match the elevated dishes being served. Photo courtesy the International Caterers Association

Generating New Revenue Streams for Protected Growth

As every caterer painfully learned during the pandemic, multiple revenue streams are critical for growth. Art Menchaca, director of business development and Jamie Kowalski, vice president of corporate relations for RK Group, discussed their strategy for acquisitions and business initiatives that has kept them profitable and growing despite industry challenges.

Their strategy includes:

  • Studying their numbers meticulously to determine how much they can/should spend on a particular business, product development, investment etc.
  • Determining if they could save money somewhere in their current business model and eventually make money by actualizing that investment.

Out of this thought process, over 13 companies have been started. It inspired a lot of caterers in the audience to start thinking outside the box with their growth strategies!

Cocktails Are an Opportunity for Engagement

Yelena Anter, mixologist from Cocktail Vision by Chef Rubber, did a fun presentation on how caterers can make their cocktails more of an engagement experience than just something to sip on.

Her hands-on demonstration showed caterers how to make a Good Ole' Smokey and Texas Peach cocktail. Using their Peach Fuzz product, the gold-coated glace peach can be dropped in a drink and swirled around to create a gold shimmer that makes guests ooh and ahh. Fun, right?

Plus, you can charge a premium, which every caterer loves to add to the menu.

Zen Menu Items Infused with CBD for Profit Gains

CBD is trending everywhere right now and is totally legal! Chef Nettie offered a presentation that clarified how cannabis plants have different “breeds.” CBD comes from hemp and is healing, not intoxicating. She shared a simple recipe demo for an easy appetizer. Here it is! And you can find more inspiration on her website if you want to enhance your menu options. 

Everything Bagel CBD Cucumbers 

  • 1 ea. English cucumber (or bell peppers)
  • 8 oz. whipped cream cheese
  • 2 ml CBD (Liv Labs brand)
  • 2 ea. green onions, chopped 
  • 2 T everything bagel seasoning 

‘No’ Can Be Just as Important as ‘Yes’

Robin and Jeffrey Selden from Marcia Selden Catering & Events shared the power of saying “no” to business. Why? Once clients have a taste of ‘no’, they want to start booking early—which, in turn, you can then use to your advantage by reaching out to clients for early decisions because the calendar is filling up.

Dates have always been limited by the calendar, but now staff and food are limited too, so it’s more important than ever to protect your resources! 

Why Operations Plans Are So Critical

You create sales plans and marketing plans—why not operations plans? Francisco Christian from Taylored Hospitality Solutions stressed the importance of crafting an operations plan just as you would a sales and marketing plan for the year.

Here’s how he recommends you start: 

  • Put it in your annual plan, and don’t wait for “downtime”; sometimes there is no “downtime.” So schedule it to keep your team energized and feeling supported.
  • Who is involved in the operations plan? He recommended incorporating both leadership along with your hourly employees who execute the changes and may have good ideas on what needs fixing. 
  • What are the desired results? Are you seeking better planning, fewer mistakes, new opportunities? Write these down. 
  • How do you measure the results? Cost savings by not making mistakes, overbuying, better labor, etc. 

Use these factors and add them to your fall planning meeting to create a strategy for the year ahead.

Want to Attend a Future ICA Workshop? Become a Member Today

All in all, it was a fabulous event that provided some incredible inspiration and actionable tips for growth. Save the date for our next ICA workshop to be hosted at 24 Carrots Catering & Events in Costa Mesa, California in April 2023! More details will be announced soon.

Here’s what one attendee had to say about their experience at this month’s event:

“Whether you are an ICA member or not, you should not miss the next ICA workshop. The value of the education alone was worth the registration fee, not to mention all the networking opportunities and the opportunity to experience and learn about the host caterer's impressive commissary and operation. Our team can't wait till the next workshop!” - Ryan Corvaia, Founder & Owner, Dish Food & Events

If you’re interested in being notified of future catering industry live and virtual education opportunities while also gaining access to our exclusive community of fellow catering professionals, visit Membership awaits! 


International Caterers Association

For motivated caterers, International Caterers Association is a resource that provides Education, encourages peer to peer Relationships and Inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit