Agri-Food Trade Service
Food Catering: Changing the Art of Celebrating*
Maximiano Darel M. Africa
Center for Food and Agri Business
University of Asia and the Pacific
Filipinos are fond of gatherings, be they spontaneous socials or planned events. In a country where the reception is more than half the occasion, food and drinks play an integral part. In the past years, changing consumer preferences and their busier lifestyles (especially in the urban areas) gave birth to a new trend in holding events, popularly known as food catering. Food caterers oversee the purchase, preparation and serving of food and drink to an event. Other duties include decorating the venue, ushering the guests, and even preparing invitations and party give-aways.
Catering for All Tastes
Catering is the business of providing food for various events and clients. There are different types such as institutional catering, mobile catering and event catering. Industrial catering provides food service to schools, universities, airlines, companies, prisons, and all other institutions. Long-term contracts govern institutions and the caterers. Meanwhile, mobile catering provides food from a vehicle. Mobile caterers are normally found at concerts, business areas and workplaces. On the other hand, event catering provides not just the food but all other services in an event depending on the client. It is basically bringing a restaurant to the event.
Events can be classified into three categories: corporate functions, social gatherings, and miscellaneous events. Corporate events refer to company or business meetings, annual stakeholder meetings, conventions, trade fairs, or parties. Social events include baptisms, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, Christmas parties and even funerals. Meanwhile, government meetings, sports team assemblies, gathering of religious and fraternal organizations fall under the miscellaneous events category. Corporate functions can have as many as 6,000 guests while social and miscellaneous events can vary from about 50 to 400 persons.
Who Eats When and Where?
The demand for catering activities usually follows some seasonality since it is an occasion-dependent industry. According to Mr. Steve Tamayo, president of Tamayo's Catering and board member of the Food Caterers Association of the Philippines (FCAP), the peak would be December to January because of the holiday season, while the off-season would be July to August because of the rainy weather.
The catering sector is driven but not completely dependent on the increase in corporate profits (for corporate functions) as well as the growth in personal disposable income. Given the fact that people need to eat and will always forge relationships, there is always a market for caterers. There is no doom and gloom for caterers as people still plan lavish weddings, anniversaries, debuts, baptisms, and parties even if they cut down on spending. Mr. Tamayo said that most clients, about 90 to 95%, are from the National Capital Region, though events especially weddings are held at different venues like Tagaytay and Laguna.
The players in the catering industry are fragmented. Many small caterers sprout as they recognize the bright prospects of engaging in the business. Catering, being a high growth area, likewise attracted hotels and restaurants to extend catering and private-dining services for incremental sales.
In 2001, a group of catering businesses felt the need to professionalize the catering industry, by prioritizing not just prestige but standardization. These key players established the FCAP which, at present, has more than 50 members (Table 1). Most of these companies are located in Quezon City, Manila (eg. Binondo, Tondo, Malate and Intramuros), Marikina, Parañaque, Makati, Las Piñas and San Juan with some members based in Tagaytay, Pampanga and Rizal.
Table 1. List of FCAP members in the Country
- Al Navarro Catering Services
- Aramicos Catering Services
- Auffrance Catering
- Avengoza Catering
- Batis Asul
- BBMarciano Catering Services
- Better- Pan Catering
- Beverly's Catering Services
- Casa Marinero
- Center Table Catering, Inc.
- Conti's Pastry Shop and Restaurant
- CVJ Food Catering
- Delica Catering Services
- El Jose Catering Services
- Elars Catering Services
- Gerry's Grill
- Goblet Catering Services
- Gourmet King's Golden Chef Catering
- Henry's Catering Services
- Hizon's Catering Services, Inc
- Ilang Ilang Restaurant
- Ineng's Special BBQ
- Jack & Jenn Catering
- Jojie's Catering, Inc
- Josiah's Catering, Inc
- Juan Carlo, The Caterer
- Kusina Ni Kambal
- La Milagrosa Catering Service
- Lina Vitan Catering Services
- N.E Catering Services, N.E Cakes and Restaurant
- New Peach Blossoms Restaurant
- Patio De Tata Roque Catering Services
- Pick A Chef, Pick A Cuisine
- Plaza Ibarra
- Propezz International House
- Of Catering
- Queen J Catering and Food Service
- Queensland Catering Services
- Robert Camba Catering Services
- Royalty Catering
- Set You Up!
- Sitio Lucia Hotel & Resort Corp.
- Swan Catering Services Corp
- Tagaytay Country Hotel
- Tamayo's Catering Services,
- Restaurant & Flower Shop
- The Manila Catering Services
- The New Albergus Inc.
- The Red Chef & Events Specialist
- Tio Julian's Catering Services
- Town's Delight, The Caterer
- Uni-Chefs Catering Services
- Vieren Catering Services
- VS&F Classic Food International
Aside from assuring quality service, the FCAP also has contacts with local suppliers to ensure the quality, quantity and availability of raw materials and other ingredients to its members. It also holds events like bridal fairs. Other private organizations which are integral parts of the catering industry are the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines and the Flower Club Philippines.
The FCAP uses certain criteria for a catering firm to be a member. These include the number of years in the business, capacity in terms of manpower, and number of approved facilities, among others. The acceptable years of experience in catering must be around two to four years depending on the type of operations and clients served. Catering deals largely with food which has a high risk of spoilage, thus, the business requires not just experience but expertise.
The Art of Catering
A typical catering event starts with consultation with the client to plan the type of event, guest count, venue, and special food requests. In addition, the caterer may also handle the decorations, flower arrangements, facility rentals, entertainment, photography, and even pastries or the dessert buffet. Afterwards, the caterer produces a detailed proposal of the event. The proposal should include the menu, presentation, decor and entertainment details.
Menu. The focus is on selecting from a variety of foods to best suit the occasion and the time of event. Some people may prefer a Filipino, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Japanese or a classier menu with a sophisticated atmosphere. The services can be an off-premises catering where the food is prepared away from the venue. It can also be an on-premises catering with meals served and prepared at the event location. Off-site catering has more operational hurdles during events. Caterers consider the distance from the warehouse to the venue, weather forecast, and even the temperature at the venue since food is highly perishable.
Presentation. This considers how the client wants the event to look and run – the kind of tables, chairs, and place settings as well as the formality. For instance, the client may opt for self-serve buffets or have waiters and waitresses serve at tables.
Decor. Decorations offered by caterers can vary from simply providing the table, venue settings, and center pieces to accentuating more sophisticated decorations such as waterfalls, fountains, plants, lights, and dance floors.
Entertainment. Caterers can provide the entertainment or book something that suits the event. Some options include a disc jockey, a live band, a singer or instrumentalist, a comedian or even clowns.
In 2007, the Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development (BSMED) of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) released a guide for starting a catering business as a part of its "Sulong Kabuhayan, Sulong Pinoy" Program. The investment mainly includes equipment, tools and other paraphernalia (Table 2).
|Equipment and Tools||Gas oven, gas stove, refrigerator, tables, chairs, wok, frying pans, kettle pans, sauce pans, food warmer, etc.|
|Utensils||Cutting boards, measuring cups, kitchen utensils, strainer bowls, kitchen knives, etc.|
|Chinaware||Dinner plates, soup bowls, salad bowls, fish plates, dessert plates, coffee cups and saucer, tea cups and saucer, water goblet, glasses (for soft drinks, champagne, wine), glass pitcher, ice bucket, etc.|
|Hollowware||Soup tureen, supreme bowl, water pitcher, wine cooler, chafing dish, fish tray, etc.|
|Cutlery||Spoon, pork, knife, ice cream soup, etc.|
|Other materials||Table cloth, table napkin, sugar/creamer tray set, salt and pepper shaker with tray, etc.|
A catering business which can cater to about 75 persons needs an investment of at least P500,000. Assuming there are 12 catering services per month, the business can have a payback in four months, assuming a 40% mark-up. This is ideal scenario, and the values could vary from one caterer to the next.
In addition, the caterer needs to allocate funds for the operating costs which varies for each event. The operating costs include the cost of raw materials, indirect cost and overhead cost (Table 3).
|Direct materials||Food ingredients (meat, fish, vegetable, fruits, spices, drinks, etc.)|
|Indirect cost||Wages for cooks, waiters, driver and dishwasher|
|Overhead cost||Fuel, electricity, water, gasoline, cleaning utensils, etc.|
Challenges and Prospects
The catering industry faces certain challenges, which include keeping up with the latest facilities and trends in the business, as well as ensuring food safety. Food safety starts with acquiring the best raw material such as meat, herbs, vegetable and spices. Mr. Tamayo said that one of the most important aspects of food catering is building relationships not just with clients but also with suppliers. Catering deals with food, and getting the quality and volume of the raw materials is like the fuel of the business. The profitability of caterers depends on cost controls and effective marketing. It is also labor-intensive because operations are not a rigid 8-hour shift but could run for 24 hours. Tamayo's Catering, for instance, hires about 300 waiters per day.
The catering sector is dramatically growing mainly because more and more people are choosing to get catering services. Catering has evolved from simply providing the food to events to becoming a one-stop shop for clients. Before, the market was limited only to high-income consumers but now, it has expanded to the lower-income groups. Perhaps it is because food plays an integral part in the Filipino's way of celebrating. It is a culture that traverses all income classes. In addition, many people do not want the hassle of preparing and would rather pay someone to do it. Food catering also appeals to the consumers since it brings prestige and stature to an event. These trends present huge opportunities for the catering businesses.
- Starting a Catering Business, BSMED-DTI. July 2007
- Tamayo, Steve. Owner, Tamayo's Catering and board member, FCAP. Personal Interview. March 2010
- Duecy, Erica. Catering boom outstrips sales growth rate for industry. Nation's Restaurant News, February 28, 2005.
* Published in the March 2010 issue of the Food and Agri Business Monitor, a monthly magazine of the Center for Food and Agri Business, University of Asia and the Pacific, Pasig City, Philippines.