The Future of Commercial Catering

The Future of Commercial Catering -
Customer Satisfaction and the Moment of Truth

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From your children’s tuck-shop to the executive offices of Australia’s top corporate companies, from the footy ground (finals fever! whichever code you support) to the most remote places in Australia there is only one thing in common – the commercial caterer. There are four or five dominant players in this $5.0 billion (AUS) dollar hospitality sector (according to IBISWorld) that reach deeply across the Australian landscape followed by a large number of regional specialist caterers. You might recognise your commercial caterer more readily through their “famous poached chicken sandwich” and we will forgive you for thinking this ubiquitous little delight is just from one caterer!

Until recently, low levels of customer satisfaction in commercial catering (usually based on varying lack of standards in quality, service, variety and delivery) were not always tied directly and financially to outcomes and were easily explained away by contractual arrangements, inadequate scoping, inbuilt cost constraints, individual staffing issues, logistics (usually on the day, just your luck) and my personal favourite because it’s in a different sector - aged care/hospitals, education (secondary & tertiary), corporate offices, public retail, airports, major events & stadia, blue collar café/canteen and remote industry. 

Thankfully, there has been a trend moving away from just a ‘process’ of engaging a commercial caterer who will execute the food service offer in the contract to the intended market and deliver the F&B to the letter of the contract – the minimum standard allowed. Clients are now seeking to engage a caterer to deliver an F&B vison, a ‘food, beverage and hospitality experience’ and typically employ a competitive catering tender process to compare, judge and select a caterer that will deliver on that vison. More and more commercial catering contracts are becoming highly customised ‘living’ documents that are designed with the end customer in mind to actively engage, encourage and reward customer feedback and some caterers will need to make the evolutionary leap while others are leading the way.

Whether it’s the chicken sandwich you order for your seven year old (on wholemeal, of course - via phone APP), the sandwich that you bypassed for the three hot chips (because two is never enough) at the G, the sandwich cut into triangles on the grazing station at the diversity workshop training course in your office or the one in the grab and go fridge in the dining hall before heading out to the mine site - customer satisfaction has never been so important with the ‘moment of truth’ passing in a nano second – the visual stimulation that attracts us to the food and then the taste, texture, freshness, fullness (value for money) processed by the customer and usually filed away automatically in the daily food experience as: good or bad. No second chances!

Feedback – customer satisfaction - can now be given and measured in an instant wherever that sandwich is eaten! In today’s competitive F&B landscape where the good and excellent high street standard is never physically far away (thanks, online ordering platforms) coupled with the customers heightened expectations, in this ever more connected society - the humble chicken sandwich has never been so quickly measured, analysed, reported on and now for caterers - weighted for a financial reward. 

From marketing gurus to mining workers, food is one of life’s pleasures and plays a huge role in adding to the quality of our lives and is the social glue that brings us together with family, friends and work colleagues. The days of delivering an inconsistent, poor food and beverage experience that do not meet or exceed customer expectations are coming to a close. It is no longer acceptable to deliver poor quality products, service, culinary capability, food display and visual merchandising. The future is here - the customer can now experience the commercial caterer’s food offer in multiple hospitality sectors in a very short space of time and standards matter. Quite rightly the thought of ‘why can’t I get the same quality’ is valid and customers can now share their commercial catering experience and satisfaction - their ‘moment of truth’ with everyone in a nano second.

Cover image: Function Catering (Image via The Knot)