If you are wondering how caterers have been impacted by COVID-19, or how your catering business can move forward in the post-corona era, you have come to the right place. Like restaurants, the catering industry was hit hard by the pandemic, coming to a near-grinding halt when the lockdown to combat COVID-19 began. Social distancing rules made cooking for weddings, corporate events, religious ceremonies, and other large gatherings almost nullified. At the same time, pre-booked events – a caterers’ bread-and-butter – had to be postponed at best or canceled altogether in the atmosphere of uncertainty.
Caterers Cater to Demand with Generous Gratuities
In a bid to stay engaged with their clients and keep their operations running during the height of the crisis, many caterers joined their restaurateur colleagues in promoting takeout services. They also adjusted refund policies, provided postponements, and offered other flexible arrangements.
Here is what one wedding caterer and some industry professionals shared:
“For us, the most important thing we can convey to our couples is that we are all in this together and we will get through it together. We are offering our couples the option to postpone to sometime later this year without any additional fees…everyone has been very appreciative of our flexibility and understanding.” – Sara Parrell, Muckenthaler Mansion & Colette’s Catering
“I’m supporting my clients by being flexible and patient with them. If they want to reschedule the wedding, I let them. If I have another wedding on their new wedding date, I will send my associate. My heart really goes out to them…I’m trying to do anything I can to support my clients during this uncertain and scary time.” – photographer Carissa Woo
“We are not charging any penalties; we are offering them store credit…. with no expiration date so they can allocate their store credit at their discretion; so if in the future they decide to celebrate with friends and family we can design and provide the florals for them.” – Dalel Snider, Los Angeles Floral Couture
Similarly, if customers need to cancel or postpone an event, Kramer Events has allowed them to transfer all amounts paid to a future event of equal or greater value for the next year.
Catering and Corona Financial Losses
However, these generous gestures do not come cheap, and in fact come at great financial loss to many catering services. As explained by wedding- and event-planning specialist Lynzie Kent from Toronto: “Postponements are pushing our calendar optimistically by two quarters and pessimistically by an entire year. The wedding industry in Canada is seasonal, so I think, on the low end, we’ll lose an entire quarter of revenue, and on the high end, all of our 2020 revenue will be pushed to 2021, leaving vendors in the event industry without earnings this year.”
How to Grow Your Catering Business Despite Corona
As bad as the data sounds, if you work in catering and have successfully weathered the worst part of the storm, it’s time to don your chef’s hats once again and start thinking; What’s next? In what is being called the ‘post-corona era’, what creative strategies can you cook up to stand out from the crowd, to attract customers your way, and to provide corona-safe services?
To help you move ahead, here are some recommendations from the experts:
- Offer catering to the military, the local Red Cross, prisons, government facilities, hospital cafeterias, and other ‘out-of-the-box’ venues
- Save money on a storefront by transitioning to a home catering service that offers your longtime customers their favorite menu items and that promotes special deals to attract new business. While the traffic and income keep you afloat, you will also be earning significant loyalty points for the future
- Offer your catering services to school cafeterias and canteens, emphasizing COVID-prevention measures that reduce the risk of transmission and that put educators and parents at ease about sending their children back to school. Some practical suggestions to keep your catering staff and the students safe include: A lunch pre-order option where students select their menu items in the morning, allowing your staff to prepare in advance and reduce queuing times during lunch hour when students pick up their orders. Another option designed to reduce crowding, enable distance seating, and limit the number of people in the lunchroom at any one time, is staggering lunch hour into several shifts so that not all students arrive at once.
- Some caterers are successfully selling a variety of boxed meals for families, individuals, and corporate clients. With the menu and number of orders pre-determined, efficiency increases and food waste decreases. You can further boost profits by providing boxed meals for special dietary needs i.e. vegetarian, vegan, Kosher, gluten-free, dairy-free, salt-friendly, Paleo-friendly, and more. Finally, remember to market your boxed incentives.
- Stay current with COVID-19 updates from the World Health Organization, your local government and health ministry, and other reputable sources such as John Hopkins, where you can access Daily Updates. You can also gain invaluable support and a wealth of industry news and updates from your colleagues by joining the 24/7 International Caterers ICA Roundtable on Facebook and associations such as the National Association for Catering and Events (nace.net) where informed caterers can help you make decisions and answer questions regarding insurance, employment/unemployment, and more.
Corona Prevention Strategies for Caterers
The dining-out public wants to know what you are doing to keep them safe from corona. Be completely transparent with your customers regarding the corona-prevention steps and sanitation measures your business is committed to. Here are some tips from COVID-19 hospitality marketing experts:
- Emphasize social distancing practices, such as heeding government directives regarding the number of event guests allowed at one time; placing physical barriers between tables; removing queuing
- Provide low or contactless services, including home and curbside deliveries, online menus, cashless payment options, and private room or small room eating areas
- Provide hand sanitizers for staff and guests, and require frequent mandatory handwashing for your catering employees
- Increase the frequency of cleaning/sanitizing restrooms (i.e. every 30 minutes throughout an event). Designate staff members responsible for wiping and sanitizing hand railings, doorknobs, and surfaces throughout events
- Appoint a Chief Sanitation Officer/Director of Sanitation who is responsible for overseeing sanitation and safety procedures within your organization
- Implement mandatory pre-screening surveys that all event attendees/staff are required to fill out. Any attendee who has experienced fever/flu symptoms within 96 hours leading up to an event, who has travelled to highly affected areas within 14 days leading up to an event, and who has been directly exposed to a person with symptoms and associated risk factors of corona within 14 days leading up to a catered event – is prohibited from attending
- Monitor for signs of infection by investing in thermal screening at event entrances (non-contact thermometers)
- On event stages, set microphones on stands for hands-free usage and disinfect before/after each use
- Implementing ‘no-touch’ greeting policies for staff and guests. For example, take inspiration from the professionals at Kramer Events: “Our team will be washing their hands with soap and water at multiple points throughout the event. Although it’s hard for us, we will refrain from handshakes, high fives, hugs, etc. We do air hugs, however!”
Corona’s Impact on Weddings Takes the Cake
When it comes to events profoundly impacted by COVID-19, it is safe to say that weddings ‘take the cake.’ In the pandemic’s early stages, strict social distancing rules limited wedding ceremonies to a mere five people: the couple, two witnesses, and the ceremony performer. Countless couples were forced to postpone their longtime nuptial plans, temporarily cancel their weddings, ‘un-invite’ guests, cancel caterers and photographers, and more. Some were fortunate to benefit from the good will of professionals who allowed them to alter their plans at minimal or no cost, while others were not as fortunate. And when weddings got hit by corona, so did their ‘sister’ industries such as bridal stores, flower shops, limousine services, and airlines and hotels due to cancelled guest flights and bookings.
Creative Ways to Get Married in the Age of Corona
There is good news on the horizon for wedding caterers, however. With the pandemic slowly subsiding, the number of permitted guests at weddings has been rising and the industry is coming to life once again. At the same time, social distancing rules and ‘downsizing’ protocols still restrict wedding planners and eager-to-tie-the-knot couples from creating the wedding of their dreams.
Fortunately, with everybody eager to hear wedding bells chime once again, creative event-planning has come to life with a growing number of non-traditional ways to get married. Increasingly prevalent, for example, are virtual weddings. With hopes for a future large-scale reception where the champagne will flow along with a limitless number of guests, many engaged couples have shifted to live-streaming their wedding ceremonies from their living rooms or an outdoor location, followed by a small catered affair for their closest friends and family.
But if you are hungry for a new getting-married recipe and like to think out of the box, be sure to check out the latest innovation: Drive-through weddings. Believe it or not, you can now exchange vows and rings while sitting in your car! In compliance with COVID-19 social distancing rules, the couples’ paperwork is passed in and out of the vehicle’s window, while the event is recorded online or played live-stream so that family and friends can participate.
Professional Post-Corona Advice for Wedding Planners
Finally, with the corona crisis hopefully becoming a thing of the past, wedding dates are being rescheduled and delayed plans are being set into motion. Although weddings may be toned down, with smaller budgets and lowered expectations, wedding planners remain optimistic that vows will be exchanged once again in a style befitting each couple.
In addition, as marriage venues for 2021 are quickly filling up, wedding caterers are advising couples to consider exchanging vows on weekdays or during the off-season. In the words of Lynzie Kent: “Guests in 2021 will be so excited to finally be able to attend a mass gathering that they won’t care if it’s a Monday or Wednesday.”
Congratulations and Best of Luck!