Serving up FM the catering challenge

Discussion paper

  • Soft services,
  • Sustainability
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01 March 2014

Discussion paper


The pros and cons of catering as a single service or as part of a TFM/bundled solution are currently exercising some of the best minds in the sector. In such a fiercely contested market, strengthening the total client offer by bolting on a catering function can create a real competitive edge. Certainly, for some major clients there is a great deal of evidence that would suggest there is a preference towards an integrated or TFM approach and as long as the quality of the catering delivered this way is “best in class”, then FM operators will continue to look to strengthen their service proposition by acquiring established caterers or creating their own in-house divisions.

But catering comes with a high emotional quotient, and the relationships it demands between supplier and client are of a different order to that of more prosaic if essential services such as cleaning and maintenance.  The complexity of food service, and its importance to staff wellbeing and morale, means that some clients will be wary of bundled solutions, believing that flexibility and quality are inevitably sacrificed. Within the FM sector, outsourcing is second nature for many organisations and with a thriving network of service providers, there is a need to ensure both parties work as effectively as they can together in order to deliver the best service for the organisation, the local community and wider society. 

This leaves the door wide open to independent caterers who are sufficiently agile to personalise their offer. However, it also makes these caterers acquisition targets for FM operators who believe they must have a catering offer, badged either under the parent company or given a separate but umbilically linked identity.

How the market develops will be determined by customer requirements, and how they perceive their needs to be best met. But FM operators can also shape the market’s future by educating clients about the industry’s capabilities and potential. Client perceptions that FM’s roots are deep in “hard” services such as construction and engineering, and not the “soft” services of hospitality need to be challenged. FM’s best in breed are already demonstrating catering excellence, and others need to follow. Those who have acquired caterers are finding their overall perception in the market has been enhanced, so there can be demonstrable benefits in going down this route, even though the rich price tag may take some swallowing. 

What’s undeniable is that catering is a specialist service, requiring expertise and passion in equal measures. What’s equally undeniable is that FM operators are perfectly capable of managing specialisms, even complex and specialised ones such as catering. The way that ownership structures evolve over the next few years will be ultimately determined by how sensitively and imaginatively facilities management companies can graft the skills of catering into their operations. 

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