Learn how keep up with the latest trends and demands.
Bloggers, publicists and restaurateurs repeatedly use the phrase, “Not yo’ mama’s” when talking about the latest product, new hip bar or modern take on a classic dish. The phrase couldn’t apply more to the constantly developing catering industry – a trade that used to be associated with mom-and-pop shops and old-school banquet halls now synonymous with trendy cooking shows like Bravo’s Top Chef, Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen and Food Network’s Chopped.
Catering companies don’t necessarily deserve credit for this change in perception. Starting with restaurants like Thomas Keller’s French Laundry and Patrick O’Connell’s Inn at Little Washington 30 years ago, American cuisine reformatted itself rather rapidly into being a world contender of fine dining. As the caliber with restaurants rose, so did the expectations of caterers. Now, our clients call about a dish they had at The Purple Pig or Francesca’s and want that exact dish for their holiday party.
Times are changing, and the advent of social media sites such as Facebook and Pinterest only raise the bar even higher. The Internet plus media coverage of restaurants and chefs mean people now know about food. In Chicago, where there’s a great restaurant around every corner, clients are now educated about menu design. They want to know where their food is coming from, they know about seasonality and they definitely care about sustainability. These expectations of caterers were unheard of three decades ago.
As restaurants “grew up” with their offerings, caterers were also introduced to more worldly cuisine. Now, catering clients ask for menu items that they expect to taste like foods from other countries. At Paramount Events, chefs must have an incredibly well-rounded knowledge of foreign cuisine. If a client says that they like Greek or Indian food, we’d better show them Greek or Indian food, or they’ll go elsewhere. Fresh herbs weren’t introduced into the U.S. market until 20 years ago. As these became more prevalent in restaurants and local grocery stores, catering companies began incorporating them into their menus. Even this small change greatly elevated catering cuisine.
What’s astounding today is the prevalence of people ordering catering. With two-income households becoming the vast majority, busy individuals would rather pay for someone else to take care of the cooking. House parties are also on the rise because clients don’t have time to worry about planning, setting up, cooking and cleanup. They’d rather we just take care of it.
As the times change, interest in beverage grows. In recent years, the variety of beverage options increased rapidly. A plethora of wine varietals, craft beers and “mixology” cocktails are a staple at most events in the Chicago market today.
With over 50 catering companies in Chicago alone, the world of off-premise catering is now big business. Caterers turn around an event in 24 hours. They’re called on to provide staff lunches at some of Chicago’s largest companies on a weekly, if not daily, basis. A single Saturday night wedding can mean up to $30,000 for a caterer.
As the opportunities opened up, so did the competition. Twenty years ago, all catering companies served starch-heavy menu items in chafing dishes, cooked and covered hours prior to the event. Now we have to compete every single day to be unique and to be the best. Therefore, catering companies are showcasing local, healthy cuisine cooked a la minute, as well as specialty cocktails, intricately designed food stations and image-driven staff.
Off-premise caterers have their work cut out for them as this trend of increasingly distinctive events continues. It’s a happy challenge for many in the industry who like being on the knife’s cutting edge of catered events.