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Disasters of an Indifferent Nature

The joy of summer has arrived and with it, burgers, brats, and ribs from the grill, frothy cocktails, peaches and cream, and the scent of sunscreen. This is an exciting and hectic time for caterers: the phones ring off the hook, planners hustle to produce menus, chefs work at rapid pace, and operations staff coordinate endless deliveries. In the midst of such enthusiasm it’s difficult to consider the underside of our industry—the disaster. 

Interview a caterer on the meaning of disaster and you’ll hear tales of broken down trucks with fresh heirloom tomato soup congealing in the back. You’ll hear of the staff that never showed, the china that wasn’t ordered, or even when the biggest event of the season that was somehow marked on an incorrect date. While disastrous unto themselves, most caterers adapt quickly, pull magic out of a hat, and even laugh about it some time later. We all have a story like that, right?

However, true disasters are of a more consequential nature. These are the type that can bring a business to a screeching halt. These are the disasters that tax a company’s preparedness to survive fire, flood, extreme acts of nature, and more. Think no further than Hurricane Sandy that caused the better part of Manhattan and all of Staten Island to close down entirely or consider the rash of sudden rioting in major markets.

The tasks of preparing for an emergency can be daunting under any circumstance, especially given the number of factors that caterers must address. Steps for success may become even more pronounced when a caterer is serving a multitude of parties within a tight time frame. Disasters are completely indifferent to our calendars. There are no optimal times for emergencies to strike so, especially during a businesses’ prime selling season, the caterer should always be at the ready. 

Are you prepared?

While essentials for disaster preparedness are many, here are the first recommended steps within a multi-tiered process:

• People and safety come first
• Maintain a close relationship with your insurance provider, legal advisors, and vendors, even municipal emergency services
• Compose a list of emergency telephone numbers, including the administrative chain-of- command per vendors, purveyors, and venues
• Communicate clearly, confidently, and often with each and rally your team
• Create a list of responsibilities and assignments for your staff re: anticipated emergency situations
• Write a description of education, training, and drills required to provide during such times
• Procedures should be as simple as possible so that they are easily understandable to even the newest employee
• Although time is of the essence, it’s important to resist the tendency to rush or to take shortcuts. If the efficacy of the work becomes compromised then problems will compound.
• Protect data
• Regardless of the urgency, never engage a restoration company without verifying the company has bona fide credentials, is fully licensed, insured for maximum coverage, and is able to respond immediately
• Should a company have to temporarily close, a well designed back up action plan must be in place. Coordinate alternative locations for administration and operational planning that are ready with work stations, dedicated telephone lines, computers, printers, fax, and all other basic office equipment. This can take place within a private home, a rental trailer, a temporary rental office, a social hall—whatever works for you. Secure licensed kitchen space, contract with a mobile kitchen unit, church, and social hall kitchens, even consider a collaborative relationship with another caterer.  

Not all disasters, particularly natural disasters, can be prevented, but the risk of safety and loss of assets and can be mitigated with careful planning and high execution standards. It is strongly suggested that businesses set aside additional capital and resources specifically for disaster management. While daily and routine planning and event production stand as “the norm,” so too should our response to emergencies.

OK, then—just like the fire drills we used to practice when we were young and in school, the alarm has ceased and it’s time to get back to work. You may now return to the thrill of the grill, the soft ocean breezes, and the gorgeous sunsets. Enjoy a safe, flavorful, and prosperous summer.

Jon Wool is the president and owner of JHW Hospitality Consulting and part of the Catersource Consulting Unit (CCU). He can be reached at [email protected].


Assistance in crisis

The 501 (c)(3) charitable organization SEARCH Foundation was formed in 1997 to assist special event, meetings, and hospitality professionals faced with illness or catastrophic occurrence. Who do you turn to when you are faced with disaster or unable to perform your job and keep your business open? Contact, download and fill out the Crisis Relief application, have it notarized, and you may be eligible for up to $5,000 per calendar year to assist with your recovery. Questions? Call 877.777.9340.



Jon Wool

President and Owner, JHW Hospitality Consulting

Jon Wool is the president and owner of JHW Hospitality Consulting and is part of the Catersource Consulting Unit (CCU). He can be reached at [email protected]. He is also part of the Catersource Consulting Unit (CCU).