Caterers discuss the sublte 'smoke signals,' such as champagne and appetizer sales, that may indicate better business
Along with official reports from economists and the government, certain signs—such as a spike in RV sales—show that the economy is improving. Recently, a prominent London-based caterer predicted a boost in business based on improving sales of champagne.
So is the "champagne effect" a true business barometer for special events? Special Events has polled some top caterers, and here are their replies:
Although "London isn't Baltimore," jokes Jerry Edwards, CPCE, head of Chefs Expressions of Timonium, Md., he points to some "smoke signals" that show an improving economy.
"'Smoke signals' I see is that we are getting our price, not the requested discounted price we dealt with the past 5 ½ years," he notes. "Other smoke signals are that people are ordering full bars again with specialty cocktails."
When champagne rules …
Champagne says are "absolutely" up, notes Robin Selden, managing partner with Marcia Selden Catering of Stamford, Conn.
"We’ve been adding some fun additions such as pomegranate seeds, blood orange, fresh basil and lychee to the champagne," she adds. "Champagne is a great upsell for the client that’s willing to spend and wants a more luxurious feel to their event."
Jackson Hicks, head of Houston-based Jackson and Co., also sees a brighter outlook in the champagne effect.
"Yes we are selling more champagne and I don't mean sparkling wine from Italy, Spain or the USA--authentic French champagne," he notes. "At our firm, we get few requests for sparkling wine other than authentic French champagne from distinguished champagne houses. Thank our lucky stars!"
Hicks adds, "One signal that things are getting better is that after keeping our retail prices pretty steady for several years due to the down economy, we are now able to adjust those prices slightly upward. Clients seem to understand that you can only sustain level retail prices for so many years before you have to adjust."
And sometimes, only champagne will do.
"We have had a huge increase in champagne greetings and champagne additions to bar packages. For our market, we sell more Prosecco than champagne or cava," says Sabdy Pacheco, sales and marketing manager for A Joy Wallace of Miami. "We rarely get a request for cava, actually. If a client specifically requests champagne, they almost always have a specific label--Moet, Pernod Ricard, etc. Prosecco is still an open label request from clients. I do believe it has to do with an improving economy since champagne is such a celebratory beverage … almost as if our clients feel 'okay' celebrating in big ways again, and want to share it. I also see a lot of events getting champagne sponsors, which is great because it means the top brands are supporting the celebration as well. This has been significant in Miami with a variety of corporate events."
Pacheco adds that she see other subtle indicators that catering business is better.
"Dessert is another catering smoke signal for us," she says. "We have more requests for seated dessert trios, bigger dessert stations. Where there are celebrations, there must be sweets!"
And it isn't always champagne …
"What we have seen the biggest increase of is people booking catering for small dinner parties rather than doing the cooking and decorating themselves. Although it can be a bit of work to pull off a dinner party for 20 people, it can definitely be done. Rather than take the time, however, more and more people are calling us to take the stress off of them so they can enjoy the time with their guests. In years past, it was only the celebrity or very wealthy clientele that would do cocktail or dinner parties of this nature. Now, we have younger and not quite as high income clients throwing these types of parties."
Jessica Mills, Love Catering, Los Angeles
"People are definitely adding the extras--desserts as well as the wedding cake, special favors or to go gifts for events and big entertainment was back at our holiday parties this year."
Stacy Zeigler, Bold American Catering, Atlanta
"Here in the Midwest, we are seeing the event industry improve drastically, but our signs are not in champagne sales. We are seeing an increase in late night buffet sales--the food after the food. Our clients are adding mini burgers, milkshakes, pizza and fries--and not champagne!"
Kelly Early, Thomas Caterers of Distinction, Indianapolis
"Champagne is very 'yesterday.' Today’s high-end bar consists of small batch bourbons and single malt Scotch. And yes…the economy is better."
Ronnie Davis, Great Performances, New York