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'Old School' RSVP Catering Rolls With Changing Times

Owned and operated by Yolanda Hughes

Asked what’s kept RSVP Catering open for decades in the highly competitive catering business, owner Yolanda Hughes has a ready answer: In this highly-specialized, rapidly changing industry, it's often what’s stayed the same that makes the difference.

“RSVP is really old school,” she said. “We like to tell our clients we can do as much as you want us to or as little as you want us to.”

The company enters its 44th year in 2017. Hughes has been around for well over half that, first as an employee and, since 2003, as owner. Handling every detail of weddings, corporate gigs and other events — from booking facilities to ordering napkins and invitations to baking the cake — prepared her to meet the specialized competition that would mount steadily through the years in the form of wedding and event planners.

“[When the company started] catering was not considered a profession,” Hughes said. “Back in the day we did pretty much everything. We were kind of one-stop shopping before Walmart took that slogan.

“We still offer all of those services to our clients. We have a pastry chef on staff, we do wedding cakes and any kind of pastries. The list of what we do is vast.”

Technology has also played a big role in the changing nature of the business. Hughes recalls one recent wedding party where she didn’t have so much as a telephone conversation with the honored couple (whom she’d never met) until the big day itself. Preparations for the 100-guest event were made entirely online, in just two weeks.

“With the Internet, people want to click and have,” she said. “In the past, we used to have nine months or a year to plan an event for a client.” 

At the same time, Hughes hasn’t dug in her heels against market trends and technology. To the contrary, she’s found a flourishing niche providing dinner service with many orders placed online. The service thrives on busy families and fewer adults knowing how to cook and it’s also been a continuing education on the intricacies of changing tastes and dietary needs.

“Food is just like fashion, it has different styles, different seasons,” she said. “I didn't know anything about vegan for years, then I fed a vegan family and got familiar with all these particular dishes. It used to be that peanut allergy was never an issue; it is now. Gluten now is a substantial issue.”

RSVP Catering targets primarily central Arkansas, but has done events as far away as Texas and Memphis. Hughes keeps a call list of about 18 workers to match the ebb and flow of events, with December being the company’s busiest month. During this party-heavy time of year RSVP will handle around 500 events and Hughes says the variety that comes with that volume of business is what she enjoys most.

“No two days are ever the same,” she said. “I love meeting different, interesting people and I get that on a weekly basis. I love what I do because it's challenging and it's just very rewarding.”