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Catering helps Boro restaurants boost bottom line

            A function that occurs mostly "behind the scenes", catering has become a very important means of revenue generation for many local restaurants.

            Last January, Jenny and Jeremy Coulter opened Barberitos Southwestern Grill and Cantina in the Market District on Fair Road in Statesboro.  

            "When we opened, I didn't really know what impact, if any, that catering would have on our business," Jenny Coulter said. "Let me tell you, it is big. It is particularly important when the university is out and the students are gone."

            Coulter said her restaurant's catering business has increased each month since opening.

            "From a catering standpoint, each month has been better than the month before," she said. "I really didn't realize the impact that the students have on the restaurant business. When they are gone, you have to supplement your income, and we have been able to do that with catering. We haven't been through a Christmas season yet, so I don't know what our catering numbers will be. We will just have to see."

            Coulter isn't the only "new" restaurant owner to see the importance of catering to their business. Cathy and Tony Sammons bought Vandy's restaurant in Statesboro two years ago, and have targeted catering as their avenue for expansion.

            "We already have the overhead in that we have people in the kitchen cooking and preparing meals for folks that come to our restaurants," she said. "We don't incur any additional costs to have them cook for more people than can fit in the restaurant. The most logical way to expand our business is through catering."

            Sammons said it is harder and harder for people to find the time to cook and prepare for parties and the like, and so, more and more people are using caterers.

            "So many women work now, and they just don't have the time to cook like they used to," she said. "They have turned to caterers, and it has become a very important part, I feel, of the restaurant business itself."

            While restaurant owners use catering as a way to augment in-store sales, some local caterers who don't own restaurants are feeling the pinch of increased costs for food and gasoline.

            "The price of gas affects everything," said Lucy Cassidy, owner of Big Granny's in Brooklet. "It increases our food costs, production costs, everything. It makes our business very difficult, because you don't want to price yourself out-of-business, but our costs keep going up."

            Famous for her 12 layer cakes, Cassidy said she intends to cater through this Christmas season, but isn't sure what next year holds.

            "There aren't very many people locally that have what I would call an official catering business," she said. "It looks as if those numbers are going to decrease."

            Sue Beaver, co-owner of the Beaver House restaurant in Statesboro, has been catering for 18 years. Beaver said although it is an important part of their business, catering isn't something she and her son, Clay, depend on.

            "It's nice and we enjoy doing it, but it isn't day-to-day and you really aren't sure how much you are going to get, so we treat it like a bonus," she said.

            Beaver said she has noticed some changes over the years.

            "There is still a lot of business related catering, it just seems to be on a much smaller scale," she said. "There are some very large parties, but the massive corporate parties that were thrown on a regular basis in years past just aren't being done as much anymore."

            Sammons said Vandy's does get an occasional assignment with 200 people or more, but that isn't typical.

            "I would say that our average catering job is for 100 people or less," Sammons said. "That is just fine. It is a great size to cater and a boon to our business."

            Beaver said that even though the parties have downsized somewhat, people giving them are far more involved in choosing the food.

            "It used to be that people would call and say I need you to cater a party for 100 people and that was that," she said. "Not anymore, they are involved with every detail, and actually I like that. It makes what we do much more interesting, and frankly the parties are generally more fun."

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