Catersource celebrated its 25th anniversary this year by returning to its roots of New Orleans, Louisiana, a city widely known for its stamp on American gastronomy and culinary influence. As THE industry conference to attend, Catersource is an event we at Blue Plate look forward to every year. Outside of inspiration, it allows us to reconnect with colleagues and peers and the many creative and talented individuals that make this business of hospitality something we truly love.
The Art of Catering Food, the renowned culinary training program, also joined the conference for the first time this year with a three-day culinary immersion school directed by Blue Plate’s Executive Chef Paul Larson, with help from several of our field chefs.
This year we brought five members of our team representing our cross-section of experience across culinary, sales, service and even human resources. Each member participated in several educational sessions addressing topics on human resources, building a strong service team and managing a sales team for peak performance. We also facilitated the show’s first ever education program called “Gather Around the Campfire” that invited participants to a more intimate, speaker-in-the-round setting. Pastry Chef Ashley Harriger’s Fruit Salad Chiboust also received a nomination for Best Dessert.
Below are ten things our team took away. Stay tuned for Catersource 2018 in Vegas!
1. New Orleans is Still a Top Culinary Destination
From the Ramos Gin Fizz at Bar Tonique to a “phenomenal meal” at Restaurant August to “the best sandwich we ever had” at Cochon Butcher and the inspiring modern Israeli Shaya, New Orleans proved why it is such a beacon of inspiration and melting pot of diversity.
2. Talent Recruitment is Key in 2017
Of recent, talent recruitment and retention has hit the hospitality industry hard, and it hasn’t skipped the catering sector, making recruiting talent a core focus. “The consensus is finding and nurturing staff. People want to be developed, mentored and coached,” says Dan Joseph, Operating Partner.
3. We all Face the Same Challenges
Every company has their own challenges, but it was clear that we all face similar challenges. “It’s great to hear how our peers handle the same problems,” says Director of Service, Adam Calero. “Many are looking at operational problems and trying to for solve that i.e. incentivizing employees against broken glassware versus simply replacing.”
4. Elevate the Experience
From impressive stations to chef-led demos, people want an experience in catering. “More than ever, people want experiences,” says Dan. “It’s about the presentation of the food, presentation of the staff, the whole moment. Clients want a unique and special event, something that’s experiential.”
5. Transparency is Still Trending
Product sourcing, the farm-to-table movement, and food sensitivities have prompted people to want to get closer to their food, and this remains. “People what to know how something was prepared, down to certain spices and ingredients,” says Dan. “It’s also important because there are so many variations on allergies and dislikes that you need to cater to.”
6. Sustainability: The Zero Waste Kitchen
Sustainability and reduction of waste in the kitchen continue to influence our industry as companies look to creative techniques and recipes to reduce waste in the kitchen. The “Upcycling & the #nowastechef: New Ideas for the Zero Waste Kitchen” presentation inspired us to continue to build on our existing sustainability practices as a Certified Green business. As Chicago’s first certified green caterer, sustainability has been a core part of our values as a company, so it’s great to see this momentum pick up speed as the food revolution continues.
7. Hold the Alcohol: Mocktails are In
The past few years saw the craft cocktail boom hit. This year, it’s all about getting creative with mocktails and offering non-alcoholic yet crafted beverages like our Full of Pep (pictured) which blends savory ingredients with seasonal citrus.
8. Foodservice Impacts the Economy
Foodservice is a core part the vibrancy of a city, and Catersource proved in New Orleans that the hospitality industry can have a significant impact on the local economy and city morale.
9. Invest in Training Your Talent on Your Brand
From your FOH team to delivery drivers, your team is an extension of your brand. “No matter what level a person is in the organization, they are representing your brand throughout,” says Dan. “The conduct a person takes on an event can have consequences good or bad, so how you train individuals, you can expect that to be the experience to your guests.”
10. Catersource is about Community
Even though Catersource is a large conference, our team agreed to its value of networking and peer connections. “You tend to think that your challenges are your own and it’s nice to understand and see others have similar challenges and have solutions that you can share with each other,” says Dan. “You can have open and relatable experiences. It’s solution-driven, idea-sharing and non-judging.”