In the F&B industry, food catering refers to a range of services that span cooking, delivering, and even serving food. However, upon taking a closer look at the word itself, it becomes clear that catering begins with realizing a certain need and attending to it with passion.
“Anyone who’s opening a new business must ask themselves why they’re opening this business. When I asked myself this question, I felt a certain joy in my heart that I’d never felt before. I felt like I was opening this business for the working moms, the families whose chefs have traveled, and the women who don’t like or don’t have the time to cook,” says Siham Taha, founder of Taste & Event Catering.
For Siham, the need that fueled her desire to build Taste & Event was personal. Since her arrival in Kuwait 12 years ago, the Lebanese-American mother had struggled to find any catering services that offered family-size, home-style food fit for feasts and family dinners. If the challenge was real for her, it was bound to be real for others as well.
With passion and a strong sense of purpose and drive, Siham prepared herself and her business to launch on the first of Ramadan in 2015.
A Solid Business Begins with Solid Grounds
Unlike many caterers who begin their journeys from the safety of their home kitchens, Siham and her partner began by legally registering the company and renting a fully-equipped central kitchen. Nonetheless, their kick-off menu was limited to just a few items including potato balls, lasagna, a couple of salads, and some appetizers like vine-leaf rolls and kebbah. Modest as the menu was, Taste & Event managed to receive around 15 orders on its very first day simply by relying on excellent marketing tools and being present on third-part online ordering platforms.
No business can thrive if people are unaware of its existence. The same, however, is true for a business that falls short of its customers’ expectations. As early as the conceptualization of Taste & Event, Siham had decided to set her business apart from other service providers by offering home-style food that was prepared with the best ingredients and plenty of love.
“For more than five years, I have seen customers place orders daily because they know that the quality of the ingredients we use to cook their food is the same as what I personally use at home,” says Siham. Consistently investing in high-quality ingredients is one of the elements that she attributes her customers’ earned trust to.
But Siham has another secret ingredient: her friendly staff. “And when I talk about friendly staff, I mean the cooks in the kitchen more than the customer-facing staff at buffets. You know why? Because when someone is cooking, their state of mind affects the taste of the food,” says Siham. “There are recipes and manuals to follow, but I really believe that one’s personal feelings for the food they’re cooking impacts the outcome greatly. If the cook isn’t at ease, the food will never come out as expected.” And among Siham’s favorite ways to keep the environment at ease is to let music set the rhythm.
Important as it is to zoom in on the details and refine them to excellence, Siham also realizes the importance of taking a step back to evaluate the entire journey, commonly referred to as the service. The service, according to Siham, begins the moment the customer calls to place their order moving forward to preparing it, dispatching it to the driver, and finally delivering it to the customer.
As a customer herself, Siham often suffers from various aspects of the service that have nothing to do with the food itself such as prolonged calls before the agent gets the order right or difficulty tracking her order. These pain points and others are constantly being improved to ensure a holistically comfortable and satisfactory service.
Challenging the Market One Buffet at a Time
For a while, Taste & Event revolved entirely around regular daily orders, cooked freshly and delivered to the comfort of the customers’ homes. This was up until an opportunity and a challenge knocked on Siham’s doors when a well-renowned figure called to inquire if Taste & Event offered catering services. “We always had this fear that venturing into catering is a lot of work, that it’s exhausting, and we always thought it wasn’t the right time to launch this service,” recalls Siham.
The event was in four days from the time of the call and it was for 200 guests. “Believe it or not, at the time, I didn’t even own a fork, a serving plate, a table, or any of the needed tools and equipment for catering. But I saw that a huge opportunity had come right to me and I couldn’t have turned it down,” she says.
With every step along the Taste & Event journey, Siham always took the time to pause and consider what her business’s edge was. Serving her first buffet was certainly not going to be an exception.
“When we started offering catering services, I put myself in the customer’s shoes. This led me to think: If I’m having a dinner party, how would I choose the catering company? The first thing would be choosing the most delicious food, then I would consider the price - it has to be reasonable - then there must be something special about the buffet and the service,” says Siham. For her special buffet twist, she decided that her buffets were going to be as much a feast for the eyes as they were an extravaganza of flavors; every buffet since then has been elaborately decorated with flowers.
Siham believes that a great deal of the catering success goes back to her being the sole contact point with the customers. “I feel like I have my own sales and marketing style, right from my heart to the client’s,” and maintaining this style is often what convinces a customer who’s calling in to place a regular order to host a buffet instead.
As the catering business steadily grew, Siham relied less and less on renting equipment as she built her repository of equipment. However, this growth wasn’t meant to last forever.
“When I expanded into catering, I found that one buffet is equivalent to around 20 orders. I started getting more catering orders than regular ones until the pandemic broke out and restrictions were enforced,” said Siham. “We got back to relying on regular orders which is something that I personally needed.”
Reality is However We Choose to See It
With social distancing and a ban on group gatherings, the catering industry was in jeopardy. However, Taste & Event had its daily orders to fall back on. The travel ban forced many vacationers to stay in Kuwait, and without any entertainment facilities, they spent their money on food.
“The catering service was affected big time but I didn’t see this as a loss. I saw this as a chance to develop and enhance the business. How can I get better if I’m constantly too busy?” says Siham. “So this turned out to be a much-needed break for everyone. I purchased new equipment and I boosted the catering service to a whole new level.
“No matter how dire the situation gets, if you decide to look at things positively, they will be positive, and the same happens if you decide to look at things negatively. So, I decided to walk the positive path. And thank God, till now I’m surviving.”