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What’s Working in the World of COVID-19

It’s been about five months since Catersource where we experienced highs and lows as our industry walked into the unknown. I wanted to give you an update on what I've seen to be working and where there are still opportunities to come out thriving on the other side of this.

The success stories that I have witnessed focus around three major themes: investing in staff, embracing technology, and adaptation.  

Investing in staff 

For many companies it was a brutal spring when we were all faced with the “big three” in terms of payroll: lay-off, furlough or provide the option for the staff to stay on but at reduced schedules and pay. The successes I have witnessed have been with companies who made the decision to keep their staff on in some form, and then take advantage of PPP or other loans to pay their staff, even without events. The question was why?

Even before the crisis, companies where always looking behind their backs, and were fully aware that there was a need to change the way they did things but were too busy to do so. There are many success stories where key staff members were kept on and put to work to rebuild systems, take on the responsibilities of other departments, and become the agents of operation improvement. The operations that are surviving are doing so by creating a culture of inclusion at all levels, not just the owners trying to save their livelihoods.  

Embracing technology 

We have heard many times that there is no one piece of technology that is perfectly suited for every situation. However, not trying to leverage as much as you can in an integrated way is a worse-case scenario. Companies ventured into quick solutions such as online ordering, and enhanced their social media and videos as means to better communicate, and any number of other technical advances where they quickly learned that without them, it is hard to survive and compete.

From personally knowing and advising companies on the need to embrace technology, I have only seen success. The success has come from a top to bottom organization commitment to adapt, embrace and fully execute technology-driven operational processes. These include integrated accounting systems, proposal writing, production and recipe management, staffing, online conferencing just to name a few. 

What that means is that by investing the time in creation and management of  the data while building  a seamless system that is customized to your specific business model, you are able to have your staff involved in every step of the journey. How does all that effort pay off? By creating your systems through accurate and operationally driven information, you are able to create top and bottom-line growth! Those companies that have invested in their staff and are focused on the advanced competency and capabilities of their current and available technology are the ones who are successfully forging ahead. They are seeing growth month after month with a clear understanding of exactly how much money they are making and how much they need to produce, schedule or account for. They are also being completely transparent even before the sale is made. That is the power of embracing technology now, especially even before events come back. The days of the estimate are gone. Clear detailed information for each event is what the market wants. Customers want to know what they are actually paying for and so should you. 


As we left Las Vegas, several people may have made a few bets in their heads on the business coming back relatively quickly to the same as what we had left the previous week. Others may have taken the long shot and wagered it may be a while.  Those who placed a bet on the later had one key instinct. If I am going all in, I better have a plan “B”. Catering in all its forms has had no clear direction from both federal and consumer fronts with many still asking what does the future look like?   

They only way to see what the future looks like is to create your own vision and set your sights and actions upon it. Companies who are adapting, reinventing themselves and being honest by making realistic expectations each and every day are succeeding. 

Things may look slightly better now but I am curious to see how many more successes are out there in another five months and what is leading us down the path. 


John Reed

Owner, Custom Culinary Solutions, Chicago, IL

John Reed is a professional chef with over 30 years’ experience. He is the owner of Customized Culinary Solutions, a culinary consulting firm located in the Chicago Northshore area. He works with restaurant, catering, and foodservice companies to provide the highest quality food possible. His contributions include menu and recipe development, emerging concept development, and transition management for companies introducing culinary and production software programs. His company specializes as an on-demand culinary department supporting out-sourced culinary project management.

An active member of the ACF, he has earned certifications as a Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator, and American Academy of...