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.
Now in its final week, here are the last 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, part 2 and part 3.
Adam Noyes, President, Proof of the Pudding
Looking ahead, I am optimistic about the recovery of our catering industry, which has been one of, if not the hardest, hit by COVID-19. While very challenging, managing through this crisis has made us all better and more efficient in doing more with less so that when business does return to more normalized levels, we will be in a good position to improve our margins.
In terms of business, looking forward in 2021, we are seeing pent-up demand, particularly in the social market segment. After a year of mostly canceled or virtual events, there are tons of events that were postponed for those who have been waiting to get married, celebrate an anniversary or birthday, or finally enjoy large family and friend gatherings. Out of necessity, the nonprofit fundraising gala market must get back to business as soon as possible as their fundraising has been negatively impacted without live events. The corporate segment will be the slowest to rebound, but my opinion is that it will be faster than many are predicting due to the fact that businesses have struggled to get in front of their customers and employees to maintain crucial relationships. Companies that are first to get back to entertaining, launching new products, and holding employee functions will gain a competitive advantage in sales, and employee retention and engagement. I believe March 2021 will be the real beginning of the rebound, with most of the pent-up event demand booking in the second half of next year.
Cindy Marshall, CPCE, Conference Services Manager, University of Alaska Anchorage; National Association for Catering and Events local board member; Visit Anchorage committee member
Our conference services department at the University of Alaska - Anchorage, handles conferences on campus, meetings, events, and guest housing for attendees at conferences, as well as academic year housing for guests who wish to stay at least a month in our apartments on campus. We also have some condos available for long-term rentals. We have received some approval since COVID-19 to submit housing reservations for military and medical-related groups/guests. Any event/housing still needs to have final approval from our risk management division, and we see this trend continuing, but as things get hopefully better in 2021, we hope to increase our housing and events. Currently we are receiving a lot of outdoor requests for events in parking lots on campus, which tend to be safer under state/local guidelines, and we see that trend continuing for early 2021. Many of our repeat annual clients were forced to do virtual meetings, but with the outdoor/parking lot options, we see that as a positive way to still have an in-person event.
We also see the hybrid model of work for staff and employees continuing and being productive into 2021. We rotate office hours with working from home and see this as a positive way to move forward in 2021. We are getting a fair number of inquiries for 2021 of student groups/university-related events/conferences and also see this moving forward for the better in the new year.
The important thing we are focusing on is remaining positive and finding a way to move forward with requested events under new protocols. We have a high trust level with our existing/repeat clients, and together we will work toward a positive outcome for partnering events and conferences for 2021 and working toward success with new COVID protocols.
Christina Matteucci, Executive Director, David Beahm Experiences; TEDx Speaker
Due to an increasingly restricted 2020 holiday season, society will be aching to gather in 2021. As indoor dining options continue to come back online and safety concerns are assuaged, I believe the gateway for the return of larger indoor special events will be intimate dinners hosted in unique locations. Venues never previously considered for smaller affairs due to their exclusivity, as well as their vastness and grandeur, will now be on the table. Yes, we will see the resurgence of many restaurants’ private dining rooms, but I predict innovative and unforgettable gatherings for 50 guests or less popping up in expansive museum galleries; atop the massive stages of unused theaters and grand opera houses; and embraced by the vaulted halls of historic castles and stately homes around the globe. The sense of spaciousness these venues provide will comfort hosts and guests; give culinary and event creatives the space to dream and create once-in-a-lifetime affairs; and provide invaluable support to many arts and non-profit organizations who have struggled to survive COVID-19.
Chef Peter McCaffrey, Culinary Director, Leading Caterers of America; Senior Consultant, Certified Catering Consultants LLC
Thirty years in this industry, and I’ve seen nothing like 2020. 2020 has devastated the catering industry with COVID-19, political unrest, and racial tensions. Is there any good that has come out of all this bad? I’ve seen some positive developments through these challenging times.
- Healthy eating habits are here to stay! This trend has been growing more and more over the last 10 years. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to stay healthy and keep health challenges like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes in check. Plant-forward, flexitarian, and clean eating are a way of life. Healthy diets help the immune system and that is more important than ever before. I see customers embracing this lifestyle like never before!
- Diversified companies are weathering the storm best. Those firms that have government contracts, school contracts, and cater to those experiencing natural disasters can use those accounts to help keep key personnel employed until there is a vaccine and our industry returns. I see companies embracing new opportunities.
- Out-of-the-box thinking! Caterers are one of the most creative people I know. I’ve seen companies pivot to find work, from food trucks to ghost kitchens to home-delivered meals. Just because you haven’t done it before or it’s out of your normal business profile, doesn’t prevent caterers adjusting to the times. Owners care about their team. I’ve heard time and time again, “I need to keep my team busy.”
- Chefs create in the kitchen. Chefs have the time to dig into and update their menu and recipe portfolio. They are experimenting and getting ready for 2021-22 trends. Working with chickpeas (the new cauliflower for 2021), fruit and veggie jerky, plant-based dairy, mushroom broth, and new cuisines. I’m looking forward to the new taste and innovative dishes coming out for 2021.
As I look ahead, I’m going to embrace the new year and new possibilities. To me, the glass is half full. Our industry will survive and once again thrive when COVID-19 is finally put to rest, the 2020 election is behind us and we respect and listen to all people.
Jennifer Perna, founder, Fulton Market Consulting
2020 has been a year of heartache, stress, and financial pain. It also has been a year of incredibly tough decisions and forced change. Is there a silver lining in this? Absolutely. It has made us all sit back, reflect on what is really important, and remember why we are in this business in the first place.
I have had many conversations with clients of all revenue sizes regarding what is next. From a $1 million caterer on the west coast to a $50 million caterer on the east coast, these conversations are all the same. I encourage each owner to remember their first day in this business and why they started it. Was it their passion for creating beautiful food? Are they the third generation of the family-owned business? Did they just want to make lots of money?
Well, here’s the great news. This forced change has made all business owners decide what is next and if this is what they really want to do. How many times have you said, “if I could start all over again, I would do it this way”? How often do you get a reset button? How often do you have the time to slow down, look at everything around you and decide if this is what you want to do for the next 5, 10, 20 years? If there is one thing this year has given us, it has been time to think. Chances are, if you have made it this far, you are probably going to be in business in 2021.
Look at 2021 as your new start. Take advantage of this opportunity now to be even better than before. Make 2021 whatever you want it to be.
Ron Ben-Israel, Owner, Ron Ben-Israel Cakes + TREATS
Everyone involved in the food business specializing in custom work in events has suffered greatly. At first, we had no words when faced with such a global calamity. Then, missing my colleagues and friends and wondering how they were doing, I went online to my beloved Instagram and Facebook. I started a weekly Instagram LIVE event called CakeTalk with Ron and Friends. I haven’t missed a week. I talk with cake people, and also chocolatiers and pastry chefs, and now we have up to 10,000 people joining and commenting and learning during each 45-minute segment. Now I have caterers and special events planners from all over the world who want to be on the show. It’s very uplifting.
I have always specialized in custom-made cakes, but in order to pay the rent this summer when weddings were downsizing from 200 to 20, I had to do something with my empty kitchen. I partnered with pastry chef Tom Smallwood to create Ron Ben-Israel Treats, which makes limited-edition mini-cakes, cookies, and macarons. We started out delivering locally on our bicycles, but then everyone around the country wanted their piece of cake, so to speak. Now we ship our mini-cakes and other treats around the country, and even as far as Puerto Rico. The response has been tremendous. Instead of being asked to provide one wedding cake, now people are asking us to provide 160 mini-cakes and ship them all over the country so their virtual guests can join the wedding party. Charities also are ordering our treats to ship to their contributors and donors. We also create custom packaging for the event and include messages and gift cards.
There are so many ways to stay afloat by changing your focus. For me, that meant delivery boxes for the holidays instead of large catered events. I don’t think I ever would have gone in this direction if it wasn’t for COVID.