With the increase in the number of exhibitions and conferences and the growth of receptions and incentive travel, catering as a special type of service is becoming more and more popular, and market demand for this service is also increasing. Hotels begining to concentrate more on hosting meetings to benefit from the expanding MICE market – and this includes catering services. They are improving the packaging and service levels of their catering offerings to increase their market share.
Catering is more than food delivery. It includes complicated procedures, and cannot be handled by common food suppliers. It is important that buyers and professional conference organizers choose good catering services for their meetings. In this article, we look at how catering sevices can enhance meetings.
What Is Catering?
Most people perceive catering as supplying food and a few related services such as the provision of wait-staff. In practice it is a complex systematic project. Catering for a large-scale event includes planning, preparation, team work, creativity, equipment, and many other aspects.
On one hand, food is definitely the focus the catering world, but it's only one part of the equation. Usually hotel that provides catering services also provides full meeting services, which means food is no longer a focal point, but part of a broader mission. Catering is about satisfying all the senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. With the right atmosphere, one can appeal to all of these senses in a way that makes an event special and memorable. Of course, beautifully prepared food can appeal to the senses of taste, smell and sight — and perhaps even touch — but it shouldn't outshine the rest of the event. Hotels want every piece of the puzzle, from the decor to the glassware, to have that same kind of impact.
Whether it's a cocktail party for 50 friends or a corporate event for 500, the goal is the same: delighting the guests. So, how to accomplish this grand task? It all starts with a few simple questions. From flatware to flowers, lighting to linens, and tables to tunes, everything should complement the food to create a unified overall experience. Continuity is the key. You want every aspect to be in sync with the others.
What Makes A Good Catering Service?
At its most basic level, catering is all about food. No matter how beautifully the venue is decorated or how carefully the place settings are arranged, clients won't return if the food is awful. You also need enough cooking experience to make recipe substitutions, plan menus, and safely prepare, reheat, and transport large amounts of food.
A good catering service should be aware of, and comply with, the latest food safety laws. In depth training in this field is offered many culinary institutes and local colleges.
Caterers work with clients to design a menu. Being courteous, tactful, and diplomatic is necessary, as you may need to persuade a client to substitute an ingredient or change a dish. Good communication and people skills are also vital to building up a client repertoire and catering for a successful event.
Flexibility and Creativity
Recipes may need to be adjusted to cope with food allergies, and cooking methods may have to be altered to conform to religious dietary requirements or personal preferences. Good caterers will be able to triumph in these situations, and instill confidence in their clients in the process.
A caterer has to manage a staff of cooks, servers, cleaners, and dishwashers, while ensuring their team is aware of their schedules, the layout of place settings, serving customs, and food safety regulations. It may also be necessary to provide directions and advice to customers.
Choosing a Suitable Catering Service
Most professional caterers hope to make a memorable, creative, and successful event for guests. As part of an event, catering is not just preparing food; it is more about fulfilling guests' ideas.
Organizers must take the budget into consideration before choosing a hotel's catering service. The organizer may give an outline budget to a hotel so the hotel could choose the best service, menu and other details to meet the client's requirements or to match the style of the client's event. This will keep the expenses within the budget while satisfying the client.
Inspection in Advance
A good catering service will make both the organizer and the guests fell special. Before selecting a catering service, it is important to know the desired outcome of the events and to know which of are achieveable. This will help to find a good hotel providing good catering service. The earlier one starts to choose catering service, the more time one will have to compare the food and the service of different hotels, and even to attend to some details such as adjusting the menu. In addition the organizer should confirm with hotel if it can meet special requirements such as vegetarian meals or other dietary requirements. If price of this special service is too high, it might be necessary to revise the menu to add some new dishes to satisfy each guest.
Service Beyond F&B
Catering is not only about providing food and beverage but is about providing a seamless service from start to finish, from soup to nuts. It includes providing professional and polite service personnel to take over the responsibility of the organizer some extent and to manage everything from tableware to table. One should check if the hotel could bring up any rationalization proposal within the budget and see there over-commitment in any area. Before final decision is made one should also find out other people's opinions on alternative hotels as well as studying their successful cases in the past to make the right judgment.
Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center
Vivian Lorenz is the director of conference and events at Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center. She said that catering service expands the potential of food and beverage for the hotel. The market prospects are very bright. Catering is also one of strengths of Kempinski Hotel Beijing and has been an important revenue driver and a highlight for banqueting sales.
Clientele differs with different events, says Lorenz. The flavor of food, the style of the event, the requirement for drinks varies from one to another. Kempinski Hotel Beijing has seven food and beverage outlets including Italian, Chinese, German, and Japanese restaurants, which assure that the hotel could be flexible enough to cater for a variety of guests.
Site inspection is important for catering, including circumstances, restrictions and the atmosphere the client expects. Communication with clients is the key and one needs to pay attention to every detail, fully understand clients' expectations, and foresee the problems that might be encountered.
Kempinski Hotel Beijing aspires to provide clients with a complete solution. Basically their needs of food and beverage should be met. It is not problem for the hotel as it has great advantages in Chinese and Western cuisines. Secondly, from table cloths and dinner ware to mobile kitchen equipment, chef demonstrations, the drinks mix, to the on-site service team, the hotel strives to focus on the quality which is its lifeline. With over 18 year of professional experience, the hotel has built a great event consulting and logistics team and can handle different catering events from a boutique cocktail reception to a thousand-people dinner. In a word, competitive hardware and software made Kempinski Hotel Beijing stand out in this market.
Kempinski Hotel Beijing provided the catering service for the Daimler Tower Mercedes-Benz Star lighting ceremony in its Wangjing headquarters in Beijing in October 2010; as well as the company's Family Day event for 1,500 people in Chaoyang Park.
Novotel Wuhan Xinhua
Eric Li is the executive assistant manager at Novotel Wuhan Xinhua. He said that catering is a incremental revenue source for food and beverage and a symbol of a hotel's quality and capability — especially with the current drastic competition, both from five-star hotels and also from large restaurants.
Novotel Wuhan Xinhua offers a wide range of selections in F&B to match different types of clients, including Chinese, Japanese, European, and West Indian. The hotel can personalize the menu according to a client's requests together with the hotel's professional suggestions. Whatever the client wants the hotel will make available at a reasonable price.
Based on client's requirements, the hotel must provide the same good service outside as in the hotel; in terms of hygiene, product quality, safety, and decoration when providing catering service. This means the hotel needs to take everything into consideration before actual implementation. For example, it is important to have a site inspection in advance to check whether the equipment and facilities are satisfactory and whether the venue is suitable for catering, so hotel can handle any emergency in a timely manner. The hotel can provide theme breaks, afternoon tea, cocktails, a western buffet, or a Chinese set meal.
Li has introduced some of the hotel's successful catering cases, including the 1,200-people French National Day cocktail party and buffet dinner in 2007; the Porsche Club theme break in 2008; the Areva factory opening ceremony buffet lunch in 2009; the Beaujolais Nouveau wine tasting parties for China Resource Real Estate from 2008 to 2010; an d the PSA annual party in 2010.
Take the Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Tasting Party for China Resource Real Estate as an example. It was held in one of their newly opened apartment building's landscaped garden, and the hotel conducted site inspection at least five times to decide the best layout for the function set-up and the connectivity of water and electric supply. Novotel Wuhan Xinhua designed three different styles of decoration according to the environment and client's requirements. For the menu design, to match the schedule for wine tasting, the hotel prepared different cuisines with the most suitable materials for both local people and foreigners. In addition the hotel trained all its service staff on wine knowledge so they could explain to guests how to enjoy the wine. It made a wonderful and memorable night for all the guests.
Hyatt on the Bund, Shanghai
Peter Zhou works as the executive chef in Hyatt on the Bund, Shanghai. He believes a hotel's revenue depends on the scale of the hotel. It is not easy to provide more products and seats to increase market share of meetings and activities. Catering, which is not restricted to venues, is a good way to open a new revenue stream and to promote the hotel.
Every course is customized according to the client's requirements, and the quality is the same as that in the hotel. Zhou gives five checkpoints for a catering service First, check if the surroundings of the venue meet the hygiene standards. Second, check if there is convenient access for a truck to get to the venue. Third, check if there is enough food, especially for a buffet dinner. Fourth, check the list for all things needed, including equipment, utensils and food. Fifth, assign specified work to staff. Zhou said the hotel provides various food and beverage services, and the caterers can do the same as inside the hotel if conditions allow. Catering provides the same good service and food as inside the hotel, which is the hotel's significant advantage.
Zhou said that the hotel had provided the outside catering service for LV, Visa, Skoda, Rado, Cartier, Ferrari, and many other companies. The latest event was for Ferrari on November 25-28, 2010. Hyatt on the Bund has provided food and beverage service (buffet breakfast, lunch, and morning and afternoon coffee breaks) throughout the day at Shanghai International Circuit.
Four Points by Sheraton Shenzhen
Tan Zhi, the senior sales manager at Four Points by Sheraton Shenzhen, said that catering accounts for about 10% of the hotel's food and beverage revenue. The hotel mainly provides catering service to exhibitions, 4S stores, and companies, and most of them are in the form of buffet.
Tan said the hotel will communicate with a client in advance to find out about the client's requirements, and will inspect the venue to arrange transportation and other details. Four Points by Sheraton Shenzhen has been in long-term cooperation with Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center offering buffet catering, and has been cooperating with companies in the Free Trade Zone for years. With this experience, the hotel can offer reasonable and professional proposals to clients. Besides, the hotel has established long-term cooperation with STMicroelectronics, and will check everything from the beginning to the end. For example, confirm route and time to arrange vehicles and food; handle procedures for traveling in and out of Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in advance; prepare food packaging and insulation equipment; arrange service personnel to go to the venue with the vehicle and to discuss details in advance; assign a person to be in charge during the event to follow up; and confirm the end-time and arrange clean-up things.
Crowne Plaza Shenzhen
Crowne Meeting Manager of Crowne Plaza Shenzhen told China Hospitality News that the hotel's revenue in catering has been increasing since 2007, and market demand for catering has also increased in recent years.
Market demand for hotel catering mainly covers following areas. First, along with the development of real estate industry, there are more and more new property launch ceremonies which might need catering services from hotels. Second, some property owners will hold concerts or art exhibitions that need high-quality catering services from hotels. Third, new companies will hold opening ceremonies inviting some guests that will probably use the hotel's catering service as well.These catering cases account for5% of the hotel's monthly revenue.
A catering menu will be made up based on client's requirements and the conditions of the venue. Catering also involves transportation, which means the cost will be 20% to 30% more than dining in the hotel.
The hotel will make up a buffet, BBQ, or cocktail party based on a client's requirements. Food safety is the first consideration for a hotel catering service. A hotel should make sure the food is healthy, and change dishes according to the weather. Take salmon for example. There is strict requirement for the freshness of salmon, so it would be unsuitable if there were salmon in the catering menu. In addition dishes that could change color or shape during transportation also should not be included in catering menu.
The menu will be confirmed after site inspection, said the manager. There will be a team involving banqueting, cleaning, sales, kitchen work, stewarding and other sectors for every site inspection to investigate every detail including water supply, power supply, and food prep room. There should also be a plan for coping with bad weather.
The hotel has the experience of providing a dessert catering service to some well-known enterprises. To highlight and emphasize a theme, the F&B department may put a company logo on chocolates and cakes.
The hotel may also use some special elements to enhance the atmosphere. For example, it once put the dishes on Venetian gondolas to create a romantic and mysterious atmosphere. Another time all the waiters wore tailcoats to enhance the luxury feel of the event.
Catering Services Perfect Hotel Events
Xie Pei, the manager of CITS Guilin Company's MICE Dept, told China Hospitality News that catering services were provided for high-end events in Guilin. When asked about how to choose catering services, Xie said that budgets were the top priority due to high costs including design, relocation, venue renting, outdoor heating equipment, kitchen, and chefs.
Clients usually prefer creative venues in order to avoid monotony, for example outdoor venues. As a result, catering services are essential. Xie pointed out that there are two key things that need attention, namely food safety and weather conditions. He says that hotels usually offer western food and buffets, and there are few problems regarding that. In addition, service software also matters. Some staff at foreign hotels dress in ethnic costumes when delivering foods, which brings a new experience to clients.
Xie and his team have served a 300-attendee annual meeting for BNP Paribas in Reed Flute Cave. For the 400-attendee technology and channel meeting for Siemens Asia Pacific in Mulong Lake and Reed Flute Cave, Xie and his team ordered Sheraton Guilin Hotel's catering services, which helped to perfect the event, along with the lights and music.
Star-rated Hotels Provide Quality Catering Services
CITS Hainan Exhibition Company project director Feng Baodan says that Hainan province's overall MICE market had experienced growth in 2010. However, natural disasters and global economy have affected the MICE market on the island. Strong players have become stronger, while weak ones have quitted the stage. Feng points out that outside catering services will be ordered when hotels fail to meet the demand for quantity of food or size of venue.
Feng says that market demand for catering services will be greatly boosted once more exhibition and convention venues and public squares have been built.
When asked about how to choose catering services for MICE groups, Feng pointed out that hotels have comprehensive, high quality, and detailed services. In addition, hotels are able to provide the necessary employees and equipment. Menus are made in according to meeting venue, theme, and the number of attendees. All those factors make star-rated hotels candidates. Feng said she would check food samples, obbserve procedures and find out if they have supplied food before. She would take every necessary step, such as serving staff, equipment, procedure, speed, and efficiency to ensure the food safety.
Feng was impressed by the catering services at HNA Beach & Spa Resort and Baohua Harbour View Hotel. She once ordered a catering tea-break for an auto show at the Haikou Convention and Exhibition Center. At that show, five different snacks, and three kinds of fruit were served: together with coffee and tea. Those specially-designed snacks were in line with the event's theme and were praised by the guests.