“Catering is a little bit different than a lot of other industries. People are trusting their very special day to us,” McClure said. “In our industry, the wedding happens one day, so it takes a lot of time to build that rapport and trust in the market.”
A lot of the growth in the last five years is largely attributed to a growing economy, both McClure and McConnell said. The U.S. catering industry has grown 4.6 percent annually since 2014, reaching a total revenue of $11 billion in 2019. There are more than 218,000 people employed at more than 68,000 catering companies, according to a study from market research firm IBISWorld.
Elite Catering only does full-service meals, but Little Miami River Catering does full-service along with box lunches, disposable buffets and other catering deliveries. McConnell said LMR used to only do about five catering deliveries a week; now its closer to five a day.
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“We’ve seen an increase in company picnics over the last couple of years —500, 600 person company picnics. But they’ve also started doing more random-type celebrations. Once a month we make special deliveries to several companies for anybody with a birthday,” McConnell said.
The private party business has also picked up in the healthy economy, McConnell said. Some weddings started a do-it-yourself menu style when times were tough. Now they’re spending again, she said.
The internet and popular cooking and wedding television shows have also boosted spending, McClure said.
“With the growth of technology, everybody has become a foodie. Meatballs, chicken wings, the vegetable tray has really gone by the wayside and catering has become another arm of the independent restaurant. It’s become more crafted for the clients and for a well-developed palate,” McClure said.
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Caterers are also expanding into new responsibilities. Both McClure and McConnell have taken on venue management. McConnell’s LMR Catering recently purchased the Mandalay, a banquet and event venue on East River Road in Dayton. LMR is the exclusive venue caterer.
Elite catering is the exclusive caterer at several of the areas’s venues including the newly renovated Grande Hall downtown, the Dayton Masonic Center and America’s Packard Museum.
“We took over managing the venue from an event perspective,” McClure said. “Our growth has kind of lined up with the venue management as well — being the exclusive caterer in those top Dayton venues…There’s been a huge explosion of growth in the venue market.”
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