Caterers should overcome their fears of e-trading, Catering Forum speakers said last week.
Delegates were told that despite some downsides to sourcing products and services online, there were also clear advantages. Diana Spellman, managing director of purchasing consultants Partners in Purchasing, said: "For caterers procuring products, it allows them to throw their net wider. The chances are that more bids will also lead to lower prices."
But Anne Bibbings, purchasing director at sandwich and coffee bar Eat, disagreed, claiming human contact was the key to a sound business relationship. "With e-auctions, suppliers can get carried away in the bidding frenzy. Sometimes we then find they can't sustain the price or continuity of supply - which is crucial to an operation like ours."
Spellman conceded there were pitfalls for clients seeking contract catering services online. "When it comes to services, clients need to be more open-minded and inspired by the bid rather than sticking faithfully to the scope of an online tender," she said.
Charlton House chairman Tim Jones agreed. "E-auctions can work for a commodity but not a service. There are too many variables to consider. Human relationships are the key in this business."