The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic fallout, the chaotic U.S. presidential elections—you don’t need us to tell you that 2020 was not the best of times for most of those who, up until March, had been cooking on all burners. But catering professionals are nothing if not forward-looking, quick-learning survivors who, as Bill Hansen, CEO of Bill Hansen Catering & Event Production says, are finding ways to make lemon cake out of the lemons 2020 has tossed their way.
Tired of all the gloom and doom of 2020? So are we! Here are 22 ways your peers have learned from the hardships of this year and plan to make next year their best one yet. Hansen, our Catering Ambassador for Catersource’s July 2021 annual conference and tradeshow in Miami Beach, is just one of the 22 top industry thought leaders sharing their perspectives about what they have learned through these extraordinarily trying times, and what they are looking forward to as we round the corner into what hopefully will be a much better 2021.
Every other week we will be brining you just a few of the ways our industry peers have coped, and the ideas, trends, and positive perspectives they have for the future. Take a look at part 1 of this series here. Check back on January 28th for part 3.
Warren Dietel, CEO and Owner, Puff ’n Stuff Catering
Things are without question improving at Puff ’n Stuff Catering, but we still have a long way to go. We have kept our team busy supporting a number of community programs feeding the food insecure and a variety of smaller social events. This helps us retain a core group of leaders and also put many on-call team members back to work. We are a 40-year-old company, and this is the first time our predictive model has simply broken apart. The forecast for 2021 is better than 2020, but it is still significantly smaller than previous years and we need to develop new channels to grow revenue. We have traditionally focused on corporate, weddings, and social business, and now we have to recalibrate to find a way to support our customers in their homes and when they return to their offices. The question becomes, how do we create a model which drives efficiency and a fair profit while creating something that works for our customers in their homes and businesses?
When COVID-19 first hit, out of necessity we quickly shifted to providing family meals. It was mildly successful, but we realized there was something more to the model. We decided to land the proverbial airplane and develop the model while on the ground versus when it’s already mid-flight. We took a step back and analyzed all the data we collected and explored paths on how we could do this efficiently. We are now developing an app we plan to soft launch in December as the beginning of a four-phase business plan for a new company. Heirloom is built on the nostalgic ideal of bringing the family back together at dinner. We will deliver individual and family meals first, provisions, and support for small gatherings then expand into a corporate network delivery model, and ultimately a ghost-kitchen model that will include third-party aggregators like Grubhub, UberEats, etc.—all e-commerce-based. Ultimately, we think it could be bigger than our existing business model and we intend to continue beyond the time when our traditional business returns.
Kristin Banta, Creative Director, Kristin Banta Events
We have all been blindsided and hurt by what came with 2020 but there is always a positive result that stems from any negative, a pendulum swing. In reaction to social distancing and a lack of socialization, we all find ourselves desperate to connect and to gather. I believe this need will spark a renewed enthusiasm for events and a post-COVID resurgence for this medium as a cornerstone for connectivity. Further, it is likely that companies forced to furlough teams or to revise operations to a work-at-home model will have the impetus to turn focus back to community culture in order to maintain team synergy. Budgets previously dedicated to traditional models of operation may now be unallocated dollars that will need to be leveraged toward company events and team building, compensating for remote employment. This all indicates that when we are on the other side of this, we will party—and we will party harder than ever.
Kris Reinhard, Partner, Fifth Group Restaurants and General Manager, Bold Catering & Design
It feels like the corporate work-from-home trend might be here to stay, or at the very least change the way corporations operate in the near to mid-term. Post-COVID, this trend will be a positive for the events industry. People will still need to come together and with more remote workers, we expect team-building events and remote meeting capabilities will be in high demand.
Roy Porter, Activities Director, Engage Works
Think of the COVID experience as if one were tempering the steel of a good knife. We’re learning about this situation all the time in terms of treatment and prevention, and I’m positive that business is going to return. In the meantime, to get through these rough challenging days, recall your purpose and will to survive and succeed again. Also, remember the key is not to adopt to the circumstances, but to adapt to them. There will be many new, different challenges and opportunities in the future. Instead of fighting—or just giving in—look for creative solutions, ways to adapt to come out on top and still accomplish what needs to happen. Unfortunately, there will be many closures of customers, caterers, venues, and suppliers. Look at these as opportunities to increase your market share and customer base, to add venues and new creative partners. The economy will return and in time be very strong. History shows that those who weather these storms are stronger and better in the long run.
Ken Barrett-Sweet, Vice President of Catering, The Catered Affair
The trend that will hold over from 2020 into 2021 is the importance of experience relative to catering and events. This crisis has provided us the reminder that we must clasp onto all that matters most to us—the relationships and the experiences with those who hold the greatest significance in our lives. Lavish weddings, for example, will no longer be the keystone to proving one’s stature in the community, but rather we will find more focus on the celebration of life and love. We could see that these celebrations will be smaller in number, but clients will invest heavily on those intimate gatherings. As we transition into 2021, we should focus on the experiences that we facilitate as a part of our services to clients. These “intangible” feelings will resonate with the buyers in 2021.
As nonprofit and corporate event planners navigate hybrid events, I do not see the “boxed gala” going away any time soon. We could have never imagined that luxury vendors would turn their focus from in-person activation toward creating impact on a device and remotely. Chefs are handing over their artwork to be left in the hands of home-based amateurs in hopes that the outcome will be fantastic. We are learning how to communicate more effectively, create value, experience, and joy in a consumer relationship where we have no interaction—challenging, but necessary. This will not change for the foreseeable future as corporate “trainings” develop in a remote, work-from-home world.
Bill Hansen, CEO, Bill Hansen Catering & Event Production
We are doing our very best to make lemon cake out of lemons. Our sales team of 10 works remotely with daily 9:00 a.m. Zoom meetings that have helped us all stay connected and focused. We’ve also taken this opportunity to commence an awesome sales training program by Grant Cardone.
Although corporate business has ghosted for the most part, couples marry regardless of the economy and 2021 will be a record year for weddings at my Villa Woodbine in Coconut Grove, and our exclusive venues in the Redland in southwestern Dade county.