In a challenging and cost-conscious business environment, catering companies within the Irish market are being forced to diversify and remain price competitive in order to succeed.
Although perhaps under-reported, catering continues to be an extremely important component of the Irish hospitality sector. Clients can vary from corporate and state bodies to hotels and pubs, with public events like festivals and sporting fixtures also representing significant business opportunities for catering companies. However, there now exists an obvious increase in cost-conscious clients in the industry. Catering companies are faced with the challenge of continuing to provide a high quality service at very competitive rates. Customers that might previously have been content to stick with one catering provider are now increasingly prepared to shop around, and so in order to keep their heads above water, caterers must avoid complacency. The services some catering businesses now provide can range hugely, from the straightforward provision of food and beverages to other tasks like physical maintenance and cleaning.
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One such company which has adapted extremely well in this environment is Sodexo Ireland. In September 2012, Margot Slattery became Sodexo Ireland’s first female managing director after being with the company for 21 years, but has been in the industry far longer. Having worked in hotels as a youngster, Margot went to the Galway/Mayo Institute of Technology to study hotel and catering and become a chef. After working in the likes of Adare Manor in Limerick, Margot headed for London to work in establishments like the Intercontinental Hotel before returning to Ireland, joining Sodexo in 1992.
Since then, Margot has seen a lot of changes to the catering industry. “In the last couple of years it has become more commoditised,” explains Margot. “In common with many other companies operating in these times, price is extremely important but the demand for a quality offering remains high.” This may sound like an obstacle for a catering company but, as Margot notes, those who can adapt, do. “We need to be flexible as our client needs are constantly changing. If you want to operate in this industry you need to be extremely well managed and well on top of cash flows. There is no point putting forward a proposal to a potential client without being sure you can achieve that.”
It is an ethos like this that ensures Sodexo continues to achieve high standards of service across the industry. “Whether it is an old client or a new one, everyone is looking for value. What we do at Sodexo is we try to be proactive. We try to come up with the value offer first. For example, we like to offer a bundled service to clients. So, we can suggest running their catering as well as other services like their reception desk, cleaning, waste management and security. That way the client sees significant savings, and can work with one provider, which makes life easier.”
This bundling technique is clearly the way the entire industry is going, and Margot is quick to point out the convergence of competitors. “We probably had more competitors a few years ago actually, but now companies have consolidated and are looking at our USP of offering many services. So it is very competitive,” she notes.
It will be interesting to see how much changes in the coming years as the entire industry continues to adapt to this new-look Ireland.