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Is the Catering Industry on Simmer?

29 October 2008

With the help of celebrity chefs and food programs, the catering industry has grown in attractiveness but how is it faring in today’s economy?

It was reported recently that more people wanted to go into the catering industry than be an astronaut but since we hope that most people surveyed were probably over the age of 10, the results weren’t that surprising. A new study by the Recruiter has shown a 36 percent year-on year growth in the catering industry but the British Hospitality Association has released a statement indicating that things have ground to halt by urging the industry to consider how many graduates they may be "missing out" on. The media have also been eager to show you how to make meals stretch and Hamlyn publishers have just released the The Credit Crunch Cookbook which indicates that the industry is feeling the effects of the economic downturn.

Adrian Winslade, the managing director of Millers Catering Equipment, operating since 1952 and recently appointed the distributor for top Italian cookware company Agnelli Cookware Company, has confirmed that there has been a sudden slow down in the industry. ‘It takes 9 months to a year for the catering industry to feel the knock on effects of recession; buildings get deferred and the cost of equipment from overseas can become more expensive with the current exchange rate. There are more people wanting to get into the industry, especially youngsters but it has slowed down lately.’ Adrian also reported that the most popular piece of catering equipment is the Combi Steamer. A unique steaming oven and roasting oven combined which reduces shrinkage during cooking and allows food to go further. recommended to a restaurant owner new to the industry who wanted know how much food to serve, that pricing should be the last thing on his mind. “Don’t believe for a second that you are going to be affected by the Consumer Price Index or the “credit crunch”, etc… what you are going to be affected by is the degree to which you can communicate your story and what you have to offer that fills a void in the social lives of your potential guests. Sell them that and you can write your own ticket – for a while.”

David Trunkfield, Director of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, believes restaurant customer levels will fall but spending per customer is likely to remain constant. “Wallets and waists are getting thinner as consumers tighten their belts and prioritise what they spend their dwindling disposable income on,” he said. “Footfall will drop for restaurants across the UK but spend per head should be less affected.”

Since the boom after the early 1990’s recession our perception of eating out has arguably shifted from the luxury to the ordinary. People work longer hours and many women work full time leaving little time for cooking at home. It is estimated that now 3 out of 5 people regularly eat out compared to 1 out of 5 in early 1990’s.

“The challenge for restaurants is to try and keep the same customers through promotions, discounts and good set menus, but more importantly through excellent customer service,” Mr Trunkfield advised. “Customers need to walk away with more than a full stomach - they will be looking for a good experience that provides value for money. If they are dropping visits, patrons must make sure they drop them from other restaurants.”

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