The National Association of Catering Executives (NACE), headquartered in Columbia, functions as the industry’s central source of educational programs, networking and business resources. Focusing on assisting its members to enhance career success and deliver excellence to clients, NACE has grown to be the world’s oldest and largest catering association.
NACE members can take advantage of professional certification programs, chapter initiatives, outreach opportunities, recognition and awards programs, a job bank, community service projects and the industry’s most prestigious annual conference.
The organization represents all the various skills and professions involved in the catering business: chefs, caterers, event planners, venues, photographers and videographers, even balloon designers and cupcake makers. “From the beginning to the end of the event, not just the caterer,” said Bonnie Fedchock, executive director. “Our members cover the whole operation.”
The organization has 45 chapters nationwide, with 4,100 members in the U.S. and a few in Canada. Although NACE will make recommendations for a various service, more and more member organizations are involved in putting the whole event together. Each organization generally has access to all of the specialty crafts necessary.
NACE began in New York City in June 1958 as the Banquet Managers Guild. Starting in the early 1950s, several hotels had begun hiring sales managers specifically to sell and direct their growing catering businesses. The post-World War II boom in U.S. industry brought about the beginning of sales meetings as we know them today, and the increase in air travel led to an expansion in leisure travel. Hotels found that catering events could be hugely profitable.
Initially, most catering managers reported to their sales and marketing departments, but as business increased, several of the hotels, led by New York’s famed Waldorf Astoria, established a separate catering department. Other New York hotels followed the Waldorf’s lead and then recruited their catering directors from the Waldorf. Estimates hold that the first 15 to 18 catering directors in New York came out of the Waldorf Astoria.
The Banquet Managers Guild existed only in New York City until 1960, when a former Waldorf Astoria manager migrated to the Warwick Hotel in Philadelphia, taking along the notion of employing a professional catering manager. At that point, the guild had a total of 12 members.
The new Philadelphia chapter was the first of the national chapters. The guild continued to expand, soon adding Atlantic City; Washington, D.C.; Boston; St. Louis; Miami; Chicago; and Atlanta to the roster.
Expanding membership enabled the guild to expand its offerings, holding its first educational seminar in 1965 at the Bellevue-Stratford hotel in Philadelphia with 32 attendees. In 1980, the guild changed its name to the National Association of Catering Executives to reflect the trends in industry job titles and the increase in off-premise caterers.
By 1985, NACE had more than 1,000 members and formed the NACE Foundation. A year later, NACE created the Certified Catering Executive designation and gave its first certification exam. The name was changed to Certified Professional Catering Executive (CPCE) in 1994, the same year the Catering Research Institute at the University of Houston was founded.
Changing and Evolving
A professional management company ran NACE until early in the 2000s when the organization moved to Columbia and brought in its own management team. Even the industry name has undergone change, with “event management” replacing the less encompassing “catering.”
“We have so many East Coast members; probably 40% of our members are here,” explained Fedchock. “Columbia is easy to get to and multiple member chapters are nearby. We don’t need to be in Washington, D.C., because we do not do any lobbying.”
“We are not into advocacy,” she continued. “That isn’t a part of our mission. We will inform our members of pressing issues.” As an example, she mentioned California’s new food handler regulations that govern anyone working in a food facility and performing any duties that involve preparing, storing or serving food in that facility.
“We notified our members that the rule exists and that they have to comply.”
NACE promotes its code of ethics and maintains a certification program — the CPCE — covering seven core competencies including accounting, contracts, legal, and food production. Candidates must accumulate a certain amount of points through work experience and previous knowledge before they can sit for the exam. NACE also provides study materials.
Plotting a Strong Future
NACE also looks to collaborate with allied professions. Event managers need to know how all the various elements integrate. Weddings are a major product, with more than half of the members involved. NACE conducts an annual wedding survey that indicated that more weddings were taking place in 2011 compared to 2010. This is the second consecutive year of growth in the number of weddings according to the survey, which also reported increases in wedding budgets.
“We are definitely looking to make NACE the one-stop-shop,” said Fedchock. “We want to promote education, information and service for the consumer. We want to become a better servant for the industry. Event management is the fastest growing segment of the food service industry.”
“This is an amazing group of individuals,” she continued. “They are the kindest, most giving group of people. All chapters have community service projects such as Meals on Wheels.”