The broad concept of catering
by Alessia Bianchi
When we speak about catering, we are talking about one of the hinge pins of the Italian economy, a constantly growing sector in spite of the fact that the national recession slowed it down slightly.
A continuously evolving sector both in its term and in its economic development.
The public consumption of food has always been both a private matter (eating) and a collective event (socialising).
To understand it, we have to know a little about the history of its birth, starting with the concept intended widely as an activity that includes the production and the distribution of meals.
As we intend catering, it is only a recent service.
The story goes that there were taverns and inns in Ancient Rome that multiplied during the Middle Ages when trading and pilgrimages began. The first big hotels were opened in the 19th century, to meet customers’ hospitality needs.
Since the 20th century, alongside traditional restaurants there have been new facilities for rapid, inexpensive catering for students, workers or travellers needing to eat outside the home.
That is how canteens and motorway service stations began.
This change in habits gave rise to the birth of a type of catering that differed greatly from the traditional one, that was able to nutritional and relational needs at the same time that hundreds of people have at mealtimes.
Italian catering has found solutions in recent years that have on the one hand optimised traditions that are universally-acknowledged as essential parts of “Made in Italy” and on the other hand offered innovative solutions that are in line with new food consumption models.
A few days ago, I was talking to Carlo Molon, Executive Chef at Ristorante Gusto at the Sheraton Lake Como Hotel.
With a view to Host, we were discussing how catering has changed in recent years. Food trends have followed each other, giving life to real phenomena of habits.
“Attention to Italian catering is directed at searching for origins, without neglecting all the new techniques that have been invented in the last 10 years.
There is a trend to try and understand the customer’s needs, trying to satisfy them and making their time spent at the table a pleasant one too.
Eating does not mean making do: daily demands leave little free time and nobody wants to waste it by eating badly and renouncing quality. Fast food must guarantee fast service, without sacrificing healthy, tasty food.
Being a chef today does not just mean knowing how to cook well. It is necessary to know how to pay more attention to the needs of customers, who right now are looking for healthy cuisine that is still rich in taste and aromas” says Chef Molon.
“In recent years, food intolerances have also increased and it is the Chef’s task to provide emotions even when removing some elements from a dinner that could cause discomfort to the diner.
In the restaurant where I work, we try to meet all needs with vegetarian, gluten-free dishes. I have created a menu that respects tradition and the local area, sometimes using influences that I learned overseas” and continues “There are three main moments in eating: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For some people, breakfast is a ritual, while for others it is just a quick coffee. For 90% of working people, lunch means a sandwich or a quick plate of pasta and it is only at dinner that people dedicate adequate time to taste and enjoy true emotions at the table, and this is where team skills come in (restaurant and kitchen) providing the client with a moment of pleasure and, why not, of being carefree when sat before a good dish of food and a good wine”.
In light of what Carlo Molon told me, I find myself confirming the idea that in recent times, the term catering no longer refers just to restaurants and bars, but also to pubs, nightclubs and fast food diners, places that consumers have now accepted as alternatives to the classic restaurants.
This has happened to keep up with consumer trends, needs and choices.
Italians have the increasing habit of ordering food online or on the phone, that is then delivered to their homes.
Another growing trend is that of food on wheels, i.e. street food.
Three out of four Italians have eaten food on the move at least once in the last year, and these figures are destined to rise, given the diffusion of festivals and fairs that are dedicated to this particular sector.
Coldiretti-Censis have carried out another interesting study to analyse the new frontiers in the sector, starting with the food sharing economy that is a new way of eating with strangers.
There are more than 3 million Italians who compete with traditional catering using the home restaurant formula. I am talking about home chefs and the fact that the number of Italians who go to home restaurants, the formula created online and that has not yet been defined in legislation, is increasing.
According to Coldiretti and Censis, the novelty of home restaurants “has expanded the range of opportunities, without entering into direct conflict, at least for now, with the more traditional forms of eating out”, but is a key that is still not clear to many.