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System catering re-invents an old concept

New focus in eating out

Over the past few years, restaurant kitchens have embraced system catering. But this development has not come out of nowhere. The precursor to the modern kitchen was communal catering.

System gastronomie
Aspects such as creating a warm, convivial atmosphere for customers whilst they are eating is important for restaurateurs. Photo: © Monkey Business - Fotolia.com

It is a well-known concept: serving food in canteens and dining halls, and providing meals in hospitals, retirement and care homes. Communal dining is not to everyone’s taste. However, for many years developments in society have also influenced the direction of communal dining towards healthier and lighter food. The trends today for vegetarian and vegan food have of necessity led to changes in what is served in canteens and dining halls. Far more attention than a few years ago is now paid to a balanced diet. A long overdue general review of demand is taking place. “What used to be laughed at as food for eco-freaks is today the latest trend,” confirms Brigitte Jung, Service Manager at the Jülich research centre. Today’s customers place an emphasis on the quality of the food. It’s not just about filling up any more.

System restaurateurs have to re-invent themselves

Communal catering has developed further over the past few years. Small offshoots have grown into large branches which themselves have created their own trends. One of these trends is now enjoying great popularity.

Let’s look at one case study to illustrate this new concept: A customer enters a dining room. First he receives a registered smart card, on which his bill will later be stored. He now wends his way through the crowd until he reaches the counter of the show kitchen. He places his order there. He has a free choice of various antipasti, pizzas, salads and pasta dishes. For these, the chef relies on weighed-out 180g portions. The guest is now back in the queue again. He has a choice of various sauces which he can add individually to his pasta. And he can also choose from a variety of desserts. What sounds like a production line here has a name – system catering.

This approach, bringing together and simplifying whole branches of catering, started at a much earlier stage. And this time again the idea came from the land of limitless opportunity, the USA. Decades later, 23 system catering concepts have been registered according to data from the German Association of System Gastronomy (Bds). The system restaurateurs listed run more than 3,000 outlets. Many system restaurateurs (particularly the fastfood chains) are having to re-invent themselves currently, to keep up with innovative concepts thrusting themselves onto the market. But what exactly is system catering, and how does it differ from traditional models?

System catering benefit from quality assurance and logistics

According to BdS, system catering in the catering industry represents an interface between production and service. One of the main features of this modern approach is a clear concept, purposefully orientated towards central control, standardisation and multiplication.

Central control in this context means that all the processes can be coordinated through a central point. “In purchasing, individual businesses in system catering benefit from supply contracts, quality assurance and logistics, as these are mostly run as franchise operations. There are also advantages in creating new recipes or new trendier products,” explains Brigitte Jung. Multiplication is ultimately the consequence and also the aim of central control and standardisation. The concept can and should be duplicated as simply as possible in this way. But system catering does have its own natural weak points. “For a restaurateur running a business based on system catering it is much more difficult to satisfy customers who have special requests. Individual gastronomy has a clear advantage in this respect,” continues Jung.

An alternative to a traditional home-cooked festive meal

A convivial atmosphere and working at an emotional level, System gastronomy is fundamentally based on group catering, but aspects such as creating a warm, convivial atmosphere for customers whilst they are eating is more important for restaurateurs using this approach. A further principle of system gastronomy is to be continuously available to customers. Standardisation and central control are in this context the basic prerequisites of multiplication.

Many of the large businesses applying the principles of system gastronomy – particularly the fast-food outlets – are open round the clock, seven days a week for their guests. Including the Christmas period. One or two decades ago, Christmas was all about family, eating a festive meal at home together with the obligatory present-giving – but now, globalisation and changing lifestyles have led to changes in consumer behaviour over the Christmas holiday period. And now it is not only system gastronomy which offers an alternative to a traditional home-cooked festive meal. An increasing number of traditional restaurants offer “festive menus-to-go” in the catering field.

Header photo: © Westend61 - Fotolia.com

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