Changing tastes

Are caterers and mobile bar operators serving well an industry with changing tastes? Stand Out lifts the lid on the latest catering and bar trends…

Undoubtedly, the recession had a devastating effect on business last year. For many, it was a case of sink or swim. But for others it provided an opportunity to think long, hard and smart. Some companies report that it was a much-needed kick up the backside, forcing them to think more creatively in a bid to stay at the top of their tree.

Last year, I had the opportunity to be an event caterer for the day, shadowing Dan Mann, Chilli Pepper’s head chef. At the end of a very long day, I left with an even greater appreciation for caterers, having spent years working as a waitress before becoming a journalist, and realised that the preparation required and detail mastered more than justified a caterer’s event quote.

2009 certainly was the year of short lead times and companies mistakenly believed that opting for canapés would be a cheaper catering option, forgetting that intricate detail and cumbersome prep comes at a cost also.

Purple Grape Catering launched in a recession: According to founder and director Emily Gillan, repeat business has been won off the back of a flexible and creative approach, being able to tweak a bank of menus and develop offerings that meet a clients aspirations whilst staying within budget.

She says: “Creativeness is not only in how the food is presented but also actually sitting down with our clients and explaining how a costing is developed and where with slight alterations money can be saved by being creative with the actual ingredients. For example it’s not always the ingredient itself that costs the money, but actually the cost of labour and time to prep it.

“In terms of requests for food, we are still seeing a real trend towards British food favourites – but done with style and a little quirky twist… such as the our new tasting plate of rib steak with chunky chips, vine roast tomatoes, watercress and béarnaise sauce. This on the outset doesn’t sound so different but our chefs have captured two trends in one – the British requests as well as the need for new styles of tasting plates, which are still continuing in popularity from the more traditional, sit down dinner.”

A tapas style service with sit down bowl food as opposed to a traditional three-course menu, adds Colin Sayers, managing director of Seasoned Events, has allowed the company – part of the Crown Group – to address different ways to serve guests. Also, Seasoned is offering clients new world vintage wines instead of old world wines, which is working particularly well with a younger audience that are familiar with such grape varietals.

Winning business

Richmond Creative Event Catering is once again involved this summer with two sporting events, providing a catering service in a number of areas at both the Longines Royal International Horse Show in July and at the British Jumping Derby Meeting in June.

According to Natalie McDowall, Richmond’s marketing and sales manager, catering for these sporting events is perfect as it fills the corporate dip of the summer months.

With regards to trends, it is seeing a variation on the idea of food stations emerging. “With peoples budgets still tight, catering companies are looking to new ways of serving food with cost a strong consideration. Food walls and food boards are an adaptation of food stalls but the idea being that guests are to help themselves to food that has been displayed in an innovative way means that staffing levels can remain low and therefore costs can be kept to a minimum.”

According to Simon Goggin, founder and chef director of Cooks and Partners, corporate clients are looking for the wow factor in most events now to make them cost affective for there own business and show a return more so than in the past, with private clients looking for value for money in what they are buying.

“Winning business is even harder and needing to be more creative to attract clients alongside small cost implications is now just part of the job,” he says. “Clients still want the same or as much creativity at lower cost, so we have to work around this. Due to the recession we have noticed a number of high profile clients cutting down or even cancelling their usual annual events. However, this year things have been looking up and they have come back again, more focused on quality, who is attending, the purpose of the event itself and what they are achieving from it.”

Likewise, Nick James, director of Dish, agrees: “The recession has certainly made an impact and changed the way events run. Organisers want to offer a glamorous three-course meal but haven’t necessarily got the budget. To accommodate this change Dish has created the Couture Canapé Collection, a selection of savoury and sweet canapés that can be served on their own or instead of a first course or dessert. It [the collection] brings back the glamour but without the hefty price tag. Each canapé is adorned with gold or silver leaf to heighten the glamorous effect to guests. There is no additional cost; it’s simply creative catering.”

Simply does it

The recession has certainly impacted our business over the last 12 months or so, explains David Hendry, managing director of Bash Bars; a combination of reduced client spending, and an apparent media crusade against lavish hospitality has seen the number of high budget productions reduce significantly.

However, Hendry states that Bash Bars has “fared pretty well” – and in many cases, customers have cut other parts of their event, such as entertainment, in favour of a simple venue and bar format. This back to basics approach has been a feature of the past year, and has certainly benefitted the company.

“We have focussed our attention on further improving the quality of our products and service, the marketing of our business to key clients, and of course, customer care. Unfortunately, our advertising and exhibition promotions have been cut back a little during this period. The market is incredibly price sensitive at present – we have responded with targeted offers that support our regular customers during these challenging times. 2010 will be a year of recovery, and I am confident that the events supply sector will emerge leaner, fitter and stronger. ’’

The Bar Bazaar has had a busy start to 2010, supplying reception desks and VIP bars at London Fashion Week and the Ideal Home Show and bars for the launch of the Citreon GQ at the Hospital Club.

It has launched a Mirus unit, which has been booked for use at Kent University’s summer ball and will potentially be seen at this year’s Gumball 3000 event and Greenwich Comedy Festival.

Tamasin Rhymes of The Bar Bazaar explains: “Companies have been anxious to get a good deal but not shy of booking if they are happy with the price. Regular customers come back because they are really happy with the service, the quality and love the mix of design and practicality in our bars.

“There will always be some clients who simply don’t have the budget for what they want so we have developed a new bar and dry hire option. The Mirus bar is designed to help people stretch their budgets without cutting back on quality. It is a simple structure, which works as a stand-alone bar or part of a larger array for bigger events.”

One of the reasons Bar Bazaar developed the product was to allow larger events to have optimum working space, display areas and back bars so that they can concentrate their budget on a feature section.

Continues Rhymes: “The new units are as flexible as possible to suit hard pressed catering companies. You can wheel in ice bins, coolers, or hot cupboards and still have a stylish front and practical working counter. We also have sections to take tills and corners to allow presentable layouts in the most awkward of corners.”