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Can Receptions Survive?

As leaders, owners and operators start to come out of this cloud of uncertainty, voices are beginning to think strategically, and some new procedures are emerging. They are coming from various points of views from hoteliers, casinos, restaurant groups and independent operators. There is one operational area which is of most interest to the catering world, close contact receptions or networking events that preclude a manageable seated dinner.

For many social and corporate caterers whether it be a hotel or venue to large event management companies, the industry has been functioning with this style of presentation for many years. The display and presentation of served and self-served and food and beverage from crafted and designed stations focused on the guest experience is a hallmark of our business.

There are two fundamental knowns from the coronavirus. The first is how it is transported from human to human either close contact or being in contact with an object or in an environment where a person could have unknowingly infected the area. The second, the only current proven method of mitigation is social distancing and the use of PPE in public.

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Both of these knowns are completely opposite to what happens in large social events where close contact, social interaction of both guests and employees are fundamental to the social experience with the service of food and drink.

If we are going to have a phased return to somewhat normal events where larger numbers of people, where more than 10 can be in close contact, we as caterers must ask ourselves what that looks like as an operational model.

Here are some fundamental questions that are going to be asked and some answers that are being slowly put into place for catering events such as memorial services, delayed birthdays and which are probably the first to be requested as extended families and friends reconnect.

How do we first protect our employees and guests?

The first discussion is the use of face masks which should become mandatory for servers. For guests, they cannot necessarily enjoy eating and drinking with a mask, but we need to ensure that we do not put our service team in an unwarranted position by returning to work. The focus is the removal of direct service functions with close proximity contact. This includes clearing and passing. The use of disposables with a directed movement to a greater number of trash drop-off points with hand sanitizing stations is the current thought. 

How do we maintain guest social distancing?

The focus is the use of booths, sweetheart tables or small highboys for guests that are from the same family such as couples or larger farm tables with distance seating for individuals to provide networking opportunities. Using assigned seating with staff greeters to direct them to their table can be implemented. Tables can be set with individual sanitizing bags, glass kits and wrapped ice for beverages. The extensive use of stanchions, decor to create guided traffic flow to and from beverages and services should be emphasized.

Building larger stations with spaced no-contact pick-up points for pre-packed items can be also controlled with stanchions, informative signage and staff to direct guests are being used as planning models.

What kind of food can we serve?

The food you serve will not change that much but the presentation and service are changing to more a modified pre-packaged program with grab-and-go and kits, such as the use of airline liquor bottles and pre-portioned mixers to make your own drinks.

When using seating or controlled assigned areas, the use of disposables is widely seen for no-contact pick-up or pre-set. These plates can be safely prepared in the kitchen under sanitized conditions you control. These can be constructed in accordance to either individuals or known group size based on the seating configuration.

Won’t it cost us more?

There will be added costs but the cost of not doing business is more of an impact to our community that not being able to provide these services which some cannot provide themselves.  


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...