After more than 30 years in the catering business, Michael Rapacioli is almost considered a veteran – we spoke to him to see how the industry has changed and what the future looks like 

From working behind the counter of his family’s sandwich shop during the school holidays in the 70s, to founding one of London’s most successful catering companies, Michael ‘Mick’ Rapacioli has seen it all. Now approaching 50, he reflects on his 33 years in the business and shares his predictions for the future. 

‘At age 16, I became bored of standing behind the counter and decided to start knocking on office doors, trying to sell sandwich platters and flasks of coffee,’ Mick says. It was from this little idea that Sands Catering was born.  

Sands Catering interview with Michael

Now, Sands provides affordable and reliable food for office meetings, as well as conference and event catering. Staying true to his roots, Mick’s business specialises in finger food, and, of course, sandwiches. 

Looking back, Mick says the most dramatic change in catering has been the enhancement in technology. ‘Online food couriers from restaurants are dominating the food market,’ says Mick. Technological advancements have changed the way people get their food and how businesses compete for custom. The gap in the market for consumers demanding an easy way to receive the food they want, when they want it, has been filled.   

Sands Catering interview with Michael

Another feather in Mick’s cap is that Sands is one of London’s largest independently owned corporate caterers. These days, indies are championed, something Sands benefits from. ‘Consumers are once again becoming interested in supporting local business and boutique eateries,’ explains Mick. 

But it hasn’t always been like that. When Sands first started operating 25 years ago, the highstreet was dominated by single unit, family-run establishments. When new kid on the block, Pret a Manger, first launched its chain stores, the old-school vendors never believed the concept would last, so they refused to join the revolution. This was the beginning of the monopoly chains eventually achieved on the highstreet that saw the diminishment of sole traders. Now, as boutique eateries are flourishing, Mick says it’s beginning to come full circle.  

Sands Catering interview with Michael

On the topic of the future, Mick claims the question of healthy eating leads the development. This also ties in with the green wave and the increased focus on ethically sourced produce, vegetarianism, veganism and the reduction of food waste. The emphasis on the environment and what the events industry can do to reduce plastic waste, plays its part too. But how does it affect the catering business specifically? 

‘As with any change, there are teething problems; in the initial stages, we see prices rising in raw materials, food costs and packaging,’ Mick explains. ‘This, inevitably, leads to an increase in price for the end-user too, which may impact people’s eating habits.’ Mick hopes to see this stabilise in the future so that food in general, not just catering, becomes more sustainable and cost-effective. 

Overall, Mick has had an incredible journey with his 30 years in the industry, eventually becoming adaptable and wise enough to avoid facing the issues that many others will. ‘Saying that, it is always challenging building a business alone,’ he says. ‘My advice to those thinking of joining the catering sector would be that it is hard work, but the harder you work, the luckier you get!’