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Disrupting Catering: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Our industry is about to experience a renaissance, assisted by technology and driven by consumer demand. Every caterer, restaurant, and event planner needs to prepare for the years ahead.

But first, let’s take a step back.

The history of catering is fascinating and colorful. It dates back to ancient Egypt. Archeological digs unearthed a catering operation created to feed the 10,000 Pyramid builders.

Catering came alive in the U.S. in the 1700s and then flair was added when Monsieur Lenzi, came from Europe to NY and announced that he could not only provide jams, preserved fruits, pâtés, and “sugar plumbs” but also produce posh balls and masquerades. He would certainly qualify for an ACE award!

The industry became a viable business in the 1800s, and local directories listed hundreds of (paper) caterers.

Now fast-forward to today.

Photo courtesy Shutterstock

Just as Uber and Lyft have disrupted the transportation space (which is soon to be disrupted again by autonomous vehicles), innovators, dreamers, and technology innovations have changed the landscape of how large numbers of people are fed and entertained (i.e., the catering business).

Fast-casual restaurants are entering the industry. In November (right before the high-volume holiday season), Taco Bell and Wawa announced that they were expanding their catering operations.

Photo: Taco Bell

Catering is now “the people’s choice.” Technology innovators like EZCater and Thumbtack give consumers the ability to instantly browse among thousands of options for food and event planning and order their own food. Brides have long been getting ideas from Pinterest, and other sites and the professional caterer has to sell her or his value, expertise, and points of difference more than ever.

Although word-of-mouth and personal referrals are still critically important for most businesses, your web presence, brand image, and Yelp reviews are essential to your ability to sell your services. Just Google “caterer” or “event planner” and see what pops up in your geography. Local targeting is a reality and sophisticated technology will enable marketers to know when key life events and business events are happening, so bots can expedite the sales process.

Robots are also coming to the kitchen and the bar, automating how guests are served, and how food and cocktails are prepared. Technology can make caterers’ jobs easier. Floor plans can be changed with a few clicks on a keyboard, and client communication is faster than ever.

Don’t despair – human creativity is alive and well. Both Mark Cuban and Elon Musk agree that imagination and creative problem-solving will be even more important in the era of Artificial Intelligence and robotics.

More good news – Generation Z is known as an “experience generation,” preferring memories over materialism. They will outnumber Millennials in 2019. Events are alive and well, although companies may spend slightly less on them next year.

So, how do you prepare for this next phase in the catering industry?

Simply accept the fact that change and innovation are constants and embrace the trends and technologies that will have an impact on our landscape.

We’ve come a long way from feeding ancient builders and delighting guests with jam. But serving clients in creative ways is a timeless element of what we do.

Next: 7 catering robots you need to meet. Subscribe to get this free guide.

This year’s Catersource event will showcase some of the massive changes coming in 2019 and beyond and we’ll also be celebrating a Catersource Future Star, an individual or team who has been in the business less than three years and is creatively changing the game and innovating to wow guests and operate more profitability and efficiently.

Have you registered yet?

Nancy A. Shenker

Founder/CEO | theONswitch

Nancy A. Shenker is Founder/CEO of theONswitch marketing and a professional content strategist, writer, and speaker.

She has spent more than  30 years in the events, food, retail, and small business worlds, focused on delivering meaningful and memorable experiences and bottom-line results.