The Great Recession has been hard on local caterers, but there are signs of life, according to the principal owner of the top-ranked company on the San Diego Business Journal’s list of Independent Caterers.

“It started to pick up again in 2011; clients such as Qualcomm and Life Technologies are adding people and are coming up with new ideas for the kitchen and other events,” said Behind The Scenes Inc.’s president, John Crisafulli. “Everyone loves to eat and drink.”

The 15 companies on the Business Journal’s list of Independent Caterers are serving up a wide variety of fine food, including French gourmet, organic and barbecue fare, in addition to event planning and cooking classes.

The companies reported total gross catering sales of nearly $32.7 million for 2010, employing 1,460 full-time and part-time people.

The criterion used to rank the list is gross catering sales for fiscal 2010, the most recent data available. The growth for the group compared to 2009 was essentially flat at 0.4 percent.

Mirroring the overall list performance at less than 1 percent growth from 2009 to 2010, Behind The Scenes reported 2010 gross catering sales of $7.2 million. Based in San Diego, BTS provides catering services to a broad range of clients locally and nationally.

Gold Medal Service

Notably, BTS is entering its seventh year of a long-term contract to provide catering and hospitality services for NBC’s Olympics crew, staff and on-air talent. BTS is now in preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

“We spend 12-18 months preparing for each Olympic Game, which include site surveys, local vendor interviews and hiring, menu planning, build out of venue locations and kitchens,” Crisafulli said. “Meanwhile, our San Diego office is fully staffed to service our local clientele.”

A venue as large as the Olympics requires streamlined logistics. This was particularly important for the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Crisafulli said.

“It was right after 9/11 and we were required to do extensive background checks on all the people working for us, as well as all of the vendors providing the food,” Crisafulli said. “We had to know where the food was grown, by whom, where it was warehoused, full backgrounds on the trucking companies and their staff — it was quite an intricate tracking system.”

Crisafulli added that his company continues to use the system on a daily basis in San Diego.

“This system has resulted in tremendous efficiencies and cost savings to the client,” Crisafulli said. “We can get better deals on equipment and suppliers and we pass this along to our clients.”