It’s finally happening—events are back! Albeit slowly but surely. After months of brainstorming alternative revenue streams and struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, catering companies are getting back to business. Things look a little different, events may be smaller and there are more rules and more creativity required on-site than ever before, but it still feels so good to be back doing what we love.
During COVID-19, the International Caterers Association started sales mixer calls for catering leaders throughout the country to brainstorm, share ideas and commiserate during a tough time. The calls have continued to be an incredible resource, and this month’s discussion centered around how we navigate moving forward. Can we sell? Do we discount? How do we execute safe events and serve guests while adhering to new event guidelines?
There are so many questions as we begin to serve our clients again, but if one thing is for sure, we are stronger together! Here are a few tips and tricks our friends in the catering industry shared with one another this month.
Creative selling techniques
These days, business isn’t always coming to us. It’s important to be proactive—and more importantly creative—with your sales techniques. As we start to get back to hosting events, they won’t look like they have historically, which means our client bases may look a little different as well.
The consensus on the call this month was that the biggest pieces of business booking right now are small weddings and social celebrations. Corporate isn’t quite there yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t pitch them for events later in the year or curated culinary gifts for end of year. Jeanne Whitworth, Chief Sales Officer for Butler’s Pantry, discussed how they’re pivoting their holiday party sales techniques to center around employee appreciation mementos and celebrations. This year more than ever, it will be important for employers to show their thanks to keep morale high.
Target fresh opportunities
Other catering companies are targeting a brand-new market that has typically been “off limits.” That market is hotels and event venues who would usually have their own exclusive on-site catering solutions.
Brian Ingalls, Director of Business Development for Brancato’s Catering, brought up the fact that most of the hotels and event venues have not been able to bring back their staff full-time. Most aren’t booking pieces of business large enough to justify taking their staff off furlough or hiring new team members. Many catering companies have seen success with this new model. Vagn Nielsen, Corporate Executive Chef at Proof of the Pudding, leveraged his partnership with Boar’s Head to pitch catered boxed lunches to local hotels who had also been using Boar’s Head for catering prior to COVID-19. It’s become a beneficial partnership for all parties.
Frank Christian, Founder of Taylored Hospitality Solutions, added that you can also negotiate to manage the bar service for the hotel, not just food service.
So right now, for immediate income, catering businesses can lend a hand in these types of situations. We can be a resource for those organizations in the industry fighting similar battles—and that’s a great way to pitch it. Will it produce long-term results? Maybe not. But right now, getting resourceful with current opportunities and creating new connections within the industry could be the difference that allows doors to stay open as the industry begins to make a comeback.
To discount or not to discount
One hot topic during this month’s call was discounting as a sales tactic. Participants discussed whether or not companies should be discounting their services to win business opportunities in a time where it may be difficult to do so.
The general consensus from everyone on the call was definitely not. How will you operate while meeting costs and paying salaries if you’re not charging full price for the smaller events you’re booking? Discounted rates will not pay the bills right now, and looking toward 2021, the outlook for events is super positive. Many companies have postponed and rebooked events along with new inquiries filling the pipeline for the entire year. We must remain optimistic, hopeful and stay true to ourselves and our business models; we will see great success again!
Inventive service & setups
One question so many catering companies have is how to set up safely but provide effective service—for both bar and food. Brian Ingalls noted that his clients are still expecting impeccable displays and presentations despite restrictions. His team has started to craft creative displays and pre-set cutlery inside napkins tied nicely to keep them safe and clean.
To create beautiful setups that are safe, American Metalcraft is coming up with innovative display solutions that are effective and pleasing to the eye. Lee Ann Kelly, VP of Marketing & Sales for American Metalcraft, discussed their new Lift Collection, which offers melamine trays with clear glass domes to contain food, as well as their hand sanitizer dispensers that are in the works. There are going to be a lot of new products popping into the market to display food safely but beautifully!
Marcia Selden Catering has been crafting batch cocktails in individual containers for self-serve stations. Photo courtesy Marcia Selden Catering.
In regards to bar service, Heidi Brice, Sales Director at Puff 'n Stuff, noted they’ve been adding a six-foot table between the bar and the clients with an additional staff member passing drinks from the bar to the clients. Robin Selden from Marcia Selden Catering has been crafting batch cocktails in individual containers for self-serve stations. Others have been pre-pouring drinks for welcome cocktails and topping with logo paper tops like you typically see for hotel room service for additional branding opportunities.
The options are limitless for serving food and setting up safely, they just require a bit of creativity!
Stay the distance
As we start hosting events at a variety of venues, you’ll start to see that many venues aren’t holding guests to social distancing standards. Frank Christian noted that as caterers, it’s going to be our job to keep employees and guests safe. Many catering companies have started to hire security firms to be the “COVID police” as required, to avoid being placed in an uncomfortable situation.
The more diligent we are about promoting social distancing guidelines and safe event practices, the more quickly our industry will be able to rebound—which is the most important thing for many of us.
As we start to bring our teams back into the field, safety is a topic that is so important. Many teams are still taking temperatures before shifts, as well as deploying health questionnaires and emphasizing the importance of self-monitoring. Our culture has manifested shame around calling in sick for years, so trying to shift that mindset and emphasize the importance of staying home if you’re not feeling well in the slightest has been super important for catering teams managing events and catering jobs at this time.
Teams at Puff ‘n Stuff Catering and Catering by Michael’s have implemented A/B teams. The teams are put on opposite shifts and events so that they never interact with one another. In the unfortunate case that a team member is exposed to COVID-19, there is still a full healthy team that can execute remaining business commitments.
Success is on the horizon
As states start to reopen and we begin operating in this new normal, we are so hopeful. Hearing all the success stories from teams who dove back into hosting and executing flawless catered events is so inspirational. We are ready for this new beginning!
To listen to past ICA Sales Mixer calls or for more information, visit internationalcaterers.org.