Caterers might not always be the world's most natural self-promoters, but there is little doubt that their contribution to an event has an uncanny power to guide its overall quality. To put it another way: food is important, and what's more, not just anybody can do it well, particularly on a large scale.
Catering companies that specialise in events are many and diverse, from far-reaching organisations such as the Crown Group - whose divisions include Crown Venue Catering, Crown Society and corporate delivery service London's Flying Chef - to highly-focused specialist caterers such as Rhubarb Food Design, Dish, Red Snapper and Create Food and Party Design, among others.
A constant thread in the events catering business is the need to maintain a healthy list of major venues. These venues are, in turn, required to put their own lists of accredited caterers out to tender every few years for the sake of due diligence. So to a great extent the quality of a given company's business is at least partly dependent on its roster of venues.
Looking at larger venues
"We have got about 22 venues on our books," says Nick James, director of Dish, which is CEA Catering Company of the Year and count venues such as Madame Tussauds and 45 Clarges Street in London's Mayfair on its list.
"We probably need to look at a couple more of the larger venues, because that is where you start to make money."
Dish employs 10 full-time staff and has grown fast in recent years. As well as handling events for clients such as BAA, Kodak, EMI, Firetrap and Evisu, it was recently awarded the contract to cater for up to 4,000 people at December's Entice parties in Canary Wharf.
Larger outfits obviously maintain larger lists of venues, with a company such as Create accredited by more than 60 prestigious venues in and around London. Create is part of the Concerto Group and counts brands such as Aston Martin, O2 and JP Morgan among its clients.
Red Snapper Events is another popular contemporary caterer based in south-east London, and its founder Damian Clarkson has a knack for self-publicity, having made an appearance in the most recent series of BBC2's The Apprentice, mentoring one of the teams as it attempted to launch a catering concept for the Thames Festival. Clarkson also had his own birthday party profiled in-depth in The Independent on Sunday last year and has catered for clients including the Lord Mayor of Westminster.
Clearly, having the right connections is crucial to success in catering.
As its name might suggest, Crown Society, part of the Crown Group, specialises in high-end events. It will be catering for 3,000 people at the Henley Regatta and is to erect its own marquee at the Cartier Polo for the first time. "It is proving to be a busy year," says PR and marketing manager Amanda Beer. "Crown Society had its busiest ever February and March."
The company also holds catering contracts for half-a-dozen major venues, including Vinopolis near London Bridge.
The resurgence in the live music industry has guaranteed a healthy stream of work in recent years for companies providing tour catering. Watford-based Eat To The Beat has built a reputation as a powerful player in that market, along with competitors such as Popcorn Catering (Robbie Williams, Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead) and Flying Saucers (U2, Bryan Adams, V Festival).
Music tours and festivals
In fact, Eat To The Beat, whose recent tours have included Take That and Coldplay, is the largest of three divisions within the Global Infusion Group, which also acts as an umbrella for Chevalier Event Design and e2b Logistics. The three operations cover far more than music tours and festivals.
Their remit includes private events, corporate bookings, sporting events such as February's Amgen Cycling Tour of California and, increasingly, comedy jaunts including The Mighty Boosh, Lee Evans and Little Britain.
Its ability to cater to increasingly broad and evolving tastes, particularly for global cuisine, is what keeps Eat To The Beat ahead of the curve, according to sales and marketing manager Liz Madden. However, she says the company takes nothing for granted and constantly strives to prove itself both in terms of quality and price. "Often it is not a case of cheapest wins," says Madden. "Clients do put quality into the equation, but it is like everything - you have got to keep an eye on the bottom line."