An Analysis of Catering Services in India

Catering services encompass the provision of food and beverage-related services for diverse events, functions, or occasions. Caterers are responsible for preparing, delivering, and sometimes serving meals to clients, whether for weddings, corporate meetings, parties, conferences, or other gatherings. These services can include a variety of offerings, from full-course meals to finger foods, and may include additional services such as event planning, setup, and cleanup. Catering services are sought after by individuals, businesses, and organizations that wish to provide high-quality and professionally presented meals without the need for personal cooking or event coordination.

Unlike the private sector, which has the flexibility to place an order for any vendors of its choice, government agencies are compulsorily required to advertise their requirements in the form of a tender and then choose the best offer. This mandatory process is in place to ensure transparency in contract awarding. Governments and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) release tenders for catering services to ensure efficient and high-quality food provision during various official functions and events. Catering services encompass a range of offerings, including event-based catering, outdoor catering services, onboard catering services, duration-based catering services, cooking services, supply of packed food and the outsourcing of cooks. 

A canteen, a type of catering service procured by the government, is situated within organizations, schools, or military facilities, and it serves as a designated space where individuals can conveniently purchase and consume food and beverages. Canteens provide a convenient option for employees, students, or members to fulfill their nutritional requirements without the need to leave the premises. These services encompass running a food canteen and milk parlour, offering fixed menu-based canteen services, implementing an employee welfare model canteen, managing canteens or stalls at locations like bus stations, railway stations, and airports, licensing spaces for food courts and  overseeing mess services. 

This analysis provides a detailed examination of the catering services needs that the Government of India advertised for the year 2022-2023. Indian government agencies have collectively issued 4107 tenders for catering services over the past 12 months (from November 2022 to November 2023). Delhi takes the lead with 614 tenders, constituting approximately 15% of the total, and 389 tenders were published in the state of Maharashtra. These procurement opportunities extend across various sectors such as hotel and tourism, health, transport, and social welfare. A comprehensive breakdown of catering services by sector is presented below.

A total of 151 government agencies advertised catering tenders in the last year. In the travel and tourism sector, the following agencies actively advertised for catering services: Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC), Mantralaya Canteens, Tourism Corporation Limited and UP State Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. For instance, the IRCTC purchased onboard catering services for more than 460 passenger trains, catering at non-railway locations, leasing cafeteria space at tourist information centers, and overseeing the operation and maintenance of restaurants and fast-food units at railway stations. The demand for catering services in the travel and tourism sector is high especially because the railway network in India is quite extensive with 7,349 railway stations. 

Apart from the tourism sector, the defense sector does significant procurement of catering services. The Indian Army for instance advertised 119 tenders to provide catering services for the various events organized by it. In these events, the caterers are required to provide buffet type of service, snacks and high tea. Also, the Army sought to engage caterers to provide lunch, breakfast and dinner services regularly for a certain time duration. Besides seeking prepared food on an outsourced model, the Army sought to engage the services of manpower agencies which provide cooks on a man-month basis. 

Various road transport corporations in India are key buyers of catering services. These services are to be provided in the 20,000+ bus stations located across India. The transport corporations aim to engage caterers to cater to the needs of passengers passing through these bus stations. The management of canteens and refreshment rooms at bus stands is delegated to external service providers through a tendering process. 

The Airports Authority of India sought to select qualified agencies on a licensing model to operate and maintain snack bars, food and beverage outlets located in the various Airports in India. The Airport catering market in India is quite large with 35 international airports and 123 domestic airports and is expected to grow in the coming years. 

Many state governments in India provide mid day meals as a measure to encourage students to attend schools regularly. The Directorate of Municipal Administration in Maharashtra for instance has advertised a tender for supply of cooked food across various schools, from a centralized kitchen. A similar tender was advertised by the Khunti district administration in Jharkhand. The provision of cooked food for mid day deals is a large catering requirement. Similarly, the government agencies in the social welfare sector sought to purchase energy-dense nutritious food and hot cooked meals for urban Anganwadi centers.

Many of the 9073 government run colleges sought to engage service providers to run canteens and mess facilities, located within their campus. Several industrial and textiles agencies, such as Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research, and the Handlooms, Textiles & Handicrafts Department, released tenders for providing canteen services. A few banks such as the State Bank of India have also sought to outsource their canteen services. 

A few outdoor catering service requirements were advertised as well. For instance, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bhubaneswar sought an outdoor catering service provider for the Inter IIT sports meet. Many universities advertised catering services requirements for the convocation event. 

Besides the above, there is a varied set of catering service requirements as given below: The Punjab State Cooperative Milk Producers Federation Ltd released tenders for leasing space for milk booth parlor services. The District e-court of Madhya Pradesh tenders for the operation of a mobile canteen (Food Van). Additionally, Cyberpark issued tenders to lease out two of its five food courts for providing different varieties of North Indian or Arabic and Bakery or Juice cuisines. The Department of Archaeology and Museums released tenders for setting up and running an Indian vegetarian multi-cuisine restaurant. 

As of December 26th, 2023, there are currently 640 active tenders for catering services. Among these, West Bengal leads with 200 tenders, constituting 31% of the total, followed by Maharashtra with 119 tenders at 19%, Delhi with 108 tenders at 17%, Karnataka with 71 tenders at 11%, Rajasthan with 60 tenders at 9%, Tamil Nadu with 44 tenders at 7%, and Uttar Pradesh with 38 tenders at 6% of the total tenders. This distribution of live tenders highlights a widespread demand for catering services across various regions in India.

This analysis underscores a substantial demand for catering services, primarily advertised by the tourism, civil supplies, transport, and education departments. Those engaged in catering services stand to gain numerous business opportunities by participating in tenders specifically advertised for providing food and refreshments at events, functions, or institutions.

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