Catering to the Supply Chain

Saving time can be just as, if not more, important than saving money. And for the time-crunched catering world, it's everything.

[From iSource Business, March 2001] Administrative Assistant Jeremy Moser often needs to arrange and purchase lunches for corporate meetings for CitiDirect, which is a Denver-based data hosting center that supports Citibank's government and corporate procurement card Web site. Through Castle Rock, Colo.-based he's found a way to save time and his sanity. We have a lot of meetings that come up really rapidly, Moser says. Sometimes it's hard to get a caterer to agree to our parameters. It's also incredibly time-consuming to leaf through the telephone book or a file folder crammed with caterers' menus and contact caterers one-by-one.

Deann Hoffman works for Catering101's corporate purchasers, and, through her previous employment with a caterer, she knows others in Moser's office which led her contact Moser and invite him to give the Web site a try. The site allows Moser to enter the dates of an upcoming event to find out which caterers will be available. He can then link to a variety of local caterers' Web sites and peruse their offerings, select the event's menu, include any special instructions, and pay for the catering services online. also keeps purchasers' historical information, so Moser can return to the site and reorder a popular lunch combination for a future event or easily keep track of how much his company has spent on catering services. It would take many hours to plan an event if you were just trying to select caterers out of the phone book, Moser says. Catering101 gives a ton of selection and it's a good smorgasbord of all different types of food. The whole application is really easy and user friendly.

A Rising Interest

Meg and Todd Ballinger combined their expertise to start Catering101 in May 1999. The husband-and-wife team had several relatives in the catering business, and they also had experience in organizing lunches and purchasing catering services. Through these relationships they saw the need to link caterers and purchasers in a more streamlined fashion.

And the rest of the world is taking notice. After only a few months online, Catering101 received a nomination from Merrill Lynch for the Ernst & Young 1999 Entrepreneur of the Year award, partially due to their domain knowledge, since several members on their staff are in the catering industry.

The Ballingers expanded their offerings into Orlando this last November and Washington D.C. after the first of this year. Later this year they will rollout Catering101 nationally.

Catering101 recently landed Outback Steakhouse as one of its caterers, which will enable Catering101 to offer the menu internationally. Catering101 can provide catering for private chartered planes, so the flight attendant can order meals for passengers, and they have the technology to order meals for corporate suites at sporting events as well. The system allows the business transaction to go right into invoicing, thereby preventing errors.

A Word From the Supplier

Caterers find Catering101 helps them reach more customers with little effort on the part of the caterer. They gain a Web presence inexpensively, as well as application service provider (ASP) services.

Kent Kidwell, general manager and partner with Denver-based caterer Gourmet Alternative, linked up with Catering101 in the summer of 2000. Gourmet Alternatives will receive orders from Catering101 via e-mail and confirm them the same way. They will also fax hard copy confirmations with Gourmet Alternative's logo.

Caterers pay a percentage of their total sales through the site to Catering101. We don't pay unless we sell a product from the site, Kidwell adds. It gives us an additional sales staff. The more people selling my product the better.

Gourmet Alternative also has its own Web site and uses it mainly for marketing. They can also direct inquiries to the site rather than mailing menus. They don't offer online ordering through their Web site, but direct those who want to do online ordering to their nook on instead. They manage the site for us and we do virtually nothing, Kidwell says of Catering101. I am not very computer literate, and it has worked very well for me. It is extremely simple for my company to use.

Because the catering world has increased its attention to time by bringing its services online, suppliers and buyers alike have benefited. For customers like Jeremy Moser, moving service purchases, such as catering, to the Internet means the value proposition of Internet-based business continues to expand. The online catering purchase continues to prove the opportunities for the not-so-common online purchase. Where business is effectively enabled, business works.