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What Is the History of the Catering Industry in the US?

It’s simply human nature to hunger for both socialization and great food, creating the perfect recipe for the catering industry in the US. 

Learn about the history of the catering industry in the US.

Dating back thousands of years, our ancestors fed people at social gatherings such as weddings, celebrations, and even in times of war and religious pilgrimages. While the history of catering is a long one, the industry truly flourished in the United States in the 1800’s. 

The industry has evolved from simple roots, but the priority remains the same – serving people delicious, professionally prepared food, making event planning easier and less stressful. 

By the end of this article, you’ll become an expert in the interesting history of the catering industry in the United States. 

The Origins of Catering

Before we can dive into the history of catering in the US, we have to go back to its origins. 

The first recorded evidence of catering meals to customers dates back to China in the 4th millennium BC. However, it was the Ancient Greeks that truly established the idea of catering in their culture, as they are credited with having the first inns and hostels serving food and hosting guests. 

The Romans adopted the idea of catering from the Greeks and implemented it into their lavish public banquets or private dinner parties. They would often serve three-course meals and indulge in tasty meals for hours with friends and business partners. 

Entering the Middle Ages, inns and taverns would cater to travelers, especially those on Christian pilgrimages. Eventually, catering would be reserved for royalty and the wealthy, hosting large parties or exquisite dinners in the 17th and 18th centuries. 

The History of Catering in the United States

While catering events and feeding people has been ingrained in our history for thousands of years, the industry that we know today was established in the United States. 

America’s First Catered Event

The very first major event catered in the United States was in 1778 at a grand ball in Philadelphia. The event was catered by Caesar Cranshell. This event marked the beginning of a lucrative industry in the newly independent country. 

Robert Bogle: The Father of Catering

Robert Bogle was an important figure in the history of catering.
Photo © Andre Beckett

While Caesar Cranshell may have catered the first major event, the founder of America’s catering industry was Robert Bogle. 

Bogle was an African American restaurant owner in Philadelphia in the 1800s. He would cater events around the city, preparing food and sending his staff to serve at the event. 

During the 1840s, the catering industry was flourishing and predominantly run by African Americans. 

Nationwide Promotion

By the 1880s, the term “catering services” could be seen in newspapers and local directories, advertising restaurants that would serve food at events and special dinners. 

The modern-day catering industry expanded throughout the nation and even into Europe by the 1930s. 

World War II and Catering

Entering the 1940s, while the United States fought in WWII, businesses and citizens at home had to ration food. Restaurants had to simplify their menus due to these rations. To stay in business, restaurants decided to offer catering services during the war as well. 

In the post-war era, as the country experienced a boosted economy, more families started eating out and choosing to cater for events.

Homecooked Catering

In the 1970s, as women entered the workforce, many decided to use their skills to start small catering businesses. Women would use their own kitchens to cook homemade meals to deliver and serve the food at the event. 

These home-based catering businesses were limited by the kitchen size of the home, though. This led to the expansion and incorporation of catering businesses throughout the country. 

They would operate out of industrial kitchens rather than cooking at home and scale their businesses. 

Modern Day Catering

Until 2006, catering was predominantly offered by companies specializing in catering services for events. Restaurants saw the growing attraction and decided to take a piece of the market by offering their own catering services. 

You’ll notice many restaurants, such as Cafesano: Italian & Mediterranean Bistro, promote catering services for office events, private parties, holidays, and more. Customers can have their appetizers and meals from their favorite restaurants catered right in their homes, offices, or venues. 

As of 2023, catering is a $12.2 billion industry in the United States, with a growth of 1.9% during the year. This is great news as we saw a decrease of 4.3% per year between 2018 and 2023, but could be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and limitations for socializing. 

The top three states with the most caterers include California, New York, and Florida. With over 90,000 catering businesses and services in the United States, the industry won’t be disappearing anytime soon. 

People will always have events that require food and beverages, making catering services a necessity in the United States in the present day. 

Cater Your Next Event in Northern VA with Cafesano Italian & Mediterranean Bistro

Cafesano offers catering in northern VA.

As one of the thousands of businesses offering catering services, Cafesano Italian & Mediterranean Bistro is among the best caterers in Dulles, Virginia

Specializing in heart-healthy and delicious Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, our talented chefs and catering staff make your event top-notch. From office meetings to holiday parties to dinner at home with friends, we guarantee your guests will leave satisfied. 

Offering vegetarian, gluten-free, and meat options, there is a meal for everyone when you cater with Cafesano! 

Check out our catering menu to build the perfect meal for your next event with Cafesano today.