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2021 State of the Industry, part 2

Editor's note: This is part 2 in our three-part 2021 State of the Industry. Check out part 1 here. 

As we start thinking about the future of the catering industry, The big question is…

When do you think the catering and events industry will return to some semblance of normalcy? Here is what your peers said:

  • Q1 2021 - 4%
  • Q2 2021 - 17%
  • Q3 2021 - 29%
  • Q4 2021 - 17%
  • Q1 2022 - 14%
  • Q2 2022 - 13%
  • Other - 7%

And, “other” does not necessarily mean beyond Q2 2022. Some pointed to widespread distribution of a vaccine as the tipping point, some to a return to normalcy after the new political administration occupies the White House, many were unable to speculate, and one stated, “2020 is a wash; 2021: fixing everything; 2022: some profit; 2023 hopefully back to normal.” 

Creative ideas for experiences “in a box” ran rampant throughout the industry, limited only by box size and availability. Photo courtesy Jeffrey Selden

We clearly hope it doesn’t take that long, but if we tally the first three listed percentages above, we are at a solid 50% of the group who believe events may be somewhat back to normal by June 2021 and beyond. 

When we are once again “normal” most caterers (72%) answered “yes” to: If you have the opportunity to reconstitute your business to what it was before the COVID crisis, would you do this? Those on the fence (unsure – 7%) offered interesting observations, however. I appreciated the person who mentioned that good lessons were learned from this experience that they would not change, but “that said, if I could re-employ all those who lost work, I would.” Another added, “It’s really a mix. Some things we are glad to see go—we’re focusing less on large weddings and events and adding a greater focus on our catering delivery service and in-house private dining. As a wise mentor once told us: mine the diamonds in your own back yard.”

To stay afloat, caterers have turned to delivery/pick up, contract foodservice, and disaster services catering. Food trucks, meal kits for one or many, hybrid and virtual events, online teaching, hotel partnerships (see more about that on page 54), retail sales of branded merchandise, groceries, PPE development, and corporate holiday gifts were other new business implementations mentioned.

We do what we can to keep the lights on.

Chefs took to the small screen, with help from Zoom, to present food and beverage demos for an audience hungry to interact. Photo courtesy Marcia Selden Catering & Events

Travel time

For those of us who travel for our jobs, or who offer destination events, here is some good news for you: people are already twitchy (in a good way) to board planes: 36% of respondents named Q4 of 2020 as when they would be ready to travel personally. It gets better. By Q2 2021, that percentage jumps to 69%. 

For business, by Q2 2021, 61% will be traveling for business. OK, so we at Catersource were interested especially in Q3 2021 (…our big show and all…) and personal travel rises yet again to 83%. For business: 78%. Whoo hoo! Considering Miami Beach is also a great location for a family vacation, we can only expect that we will see you all live there next July!

Money money money

Over half (57%) received government assistance in the form of PPP or grant; 39% of companies returned event deposits with no holdback; 11% returned deposits with some offset for costs already incurred; 22% returned some deposits but held onto some others per the terms of the contract. Of the remaining 28%, respondents were either unsure or were able to move deposits into a rescheduled date. Only 16% of caterers asked that a non-disclosure/non-disparage agreement be signed before money was returned.

Check back next week for the third and final part of our Sate of the Industry.

Kathleen Stoehr

Kathleen Stoehr is the Director of Community & Content Strategy for Informa Connect | Catersource and Special Events magazines, including all digital content for both websites and e-newsletter products. She also vets, hires, guides and coordinates all live education at Catersource Conference & Tradeshow, Art of Catering Food, Leading Caterers of America Executive Summit, and bridge content at The Special Event.