Forget ‘keeping up’ – stay ahead!

I am constantly asked how we keep on top of the ever-evolving world of food trends, and most importantly, how we ensure our customers continue to be attracted to our food offers. We’re often asked in our industry “how do you compete with the high street?” and “what can you offer that a high street store can’t?”.

These are fair questions. In my eyes however, a good B&I offering is so much more than just a catering option. If you can truly reflect the wants and needs of your clients, along with channelling your chef’s creative ideas and visions, you can produce a menu that is truly unique and an offering just for the employees you cater for.

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While we do have to compete with the high street and would be foolish to ignore what they do, it is far from just copying high street vendors. Behind large corporate chains are teams of skilled business people who effectively direct the vision of the restaurant, and the food offerings must reflect that. It is clear that not every restaurant chain seems to be able to effectively take on this challenge though, with tens of high street branches closing in 2018 already. it is evident that chains are not always as in tune with their consumer wants and needs as much as they may think.

We obviously cannot ignore the challenge contract catering faces (especially within cities) with regards to the high street. With good quality, affordable snacks available on every single street in London, employees are already spoilt for choice with their lunch options. The real test for B&I catering lies in preventing the workforce from looking outside of the workplace, and instead being enticed enough by the internal offerings to keep returning customers, and gain new ones.

A fundamental element of our work, is ensuring that there is something for everyone in the building we’re catering for. Particularly within diverse cities such as London, you can be catering for a multitude of different diets, let alone preferences, in one building – so simply offering the standard ‘meat, fish, veg’ just won’t cut it. As caterers, we need to be continuously evolving, yet also remain consistent and reliable enough that the chosen name for said brand becomes a work-wide name.

To combat this at Vacherin we change our menus on a daily basis, utilising our chef’s creative minds and experiences, regularly referring back to the feedback we receive to ensure that our services reflect the needs of the customers we are serving. My main advice here, is to be versatile and provide variety, while ensuring that what you are trying to achieve is realistically deliverable, without straining teams on the ground.

To cohesively reflect the trends from the high street into contract catering deals, it’s important that you realise that one style does not work across the board for every contract, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach is hardly ever appropriate. Each and every site you work at will have entirely different requirements, visions and demands – but that needn’t be a strain. Play this to your advantage and use that as a means of building a genuine relationship with the person on the ground at that site. Regularly touch base with them to ensure you’re delivering, and they’re as happy as possible with your service.

In facing the fierce competition out there in the catering scene my advice would be to endeavour to keep abreast of the new trends before they arrive, and don’t be afraid to try new concepts. We actively encourage our chefs to push the boundaries and get creative with their offerings, and our clients love that. We also conduct thorough research and get out there, in the field as it were, to see what’s on offer elsewhere. Have your concepts ready to go, and if they’re on trend – great, if not, you’ll simply be offering something unique! Check on cultural and global trends, read as much as you can and don’t refine this to just what you’re used to, or your own market, take inspiration from far and wide.

By Dan Kelly, director of food at Vacherin, London-based catering company

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