Working from home has proven challenging for those fortunate enough to remain employed: combatting with rambunctious children or pets, dealing with weak WiFi signals, and above all else just coping with the loneliness and isolation of not being around colleagues. However, one group that has had to get unique with staying busy is executive chefs since not only are events cancelled, many are not even able to get into their kitchens.
“We need to find something to keep us from going crazy because we can’t cook,” said Dylan Westfall, Chef de Tournant at Footers Catering, during a recent ICA webinar.
The International Caterers Association held an executive chef’s round table webinar on March 27 where several chefs discussed how they have kept business going, while keeping themselves busy.
Probably the biggest way that most chefs are staying active is buy switching gears to a drop-off/pick-up delivery model. Whereas many caterers have either stuck to their current menus or used a simplified menu for family meals, others have started thinking outside the box in terms of what they can be offering.
For example, Marcia Selden Catering immediately embraced the idea of drop-off/pick-up meals, and recently they have even expanded to include additional items such as keto options and even snacks.
“We started thinking about what our families are doing right now,” Robin Selden said, “and they’re all at home watching movies and playing games.”
Additionally, other caterers opted for a more specialized drop-off/pick-up business model. Footers Catering decided to help families celebrate Easter why stuck at home with two different packages. The first, a brunch menu, has everything families will need for a delicious Easter brunch including ham, quiches, biscuits, bacon, sausage, fruit and even a cake. The second option is a Family Time Easter Experience package, which offers a chance for families to actively celebrate Easter together. The package includes cocktail and mocktail mixers, a cookie decorating kit, and floral centerpieces.
Marcia Selden Catering is also helping families celebrate the holidays by delivery everything from soup to nuts for Passover Seders. Marcia Selden Catering is also delivering eggs with a decorating kits so that families can have some fun together, all delivered to the doorsteps of clients contact- free.
Learning Something New
With so much extra time on their hands, many chefs and caterers are turning their attentions to reviewing their business practices, cleaning their kitchens, and rethinking their menus. Another great way to kill time? Learn something new.
For example, Karen O’Connor from Daniel et Daniel has decided to use this to time to set up a new software program from her kitchen called Galley.
“I’m actually glad that I’m going to have the time to get this done,” she said. “Hopefully by the time we’re back we’re going to have this beautiful system.”
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Jason Sutton, executive logistics chef for Footers, is also toying with the idea of starting a new project, but for him its setting up a HACCP so that they can apply for a picking variance.
“That’s a really good way of occupying your time,” said Greg Shapiro of Tastebuds Custom Catering, who was also on the webinar last week.”
Even in the world of social distancing and shelter in place, it’s important to stay connected with not only clients, but also staff. For example, Footers Catering said they have been having regular Zoom or Snap Chat happy hours with the team as a way to stay connected to each other.
Selden agrees that keeping the team together is so important now, that once things are back to normal everyone is ready to hit the ground running.
“If you give that virtual hug to your team now,” she said, “you will make them feel like their safe and that they have a home and a place to go after this over.”
It’s also important to be I touch with clients, Sutton said, especially those brides who will be having summer or fall weddings and who are looking for tastings. For Footers, they are putting together a one-sheet documents outlining all of their safety and health measures as a way to reassure them that the food is safe to eat. And in terms of conducting the tastings, there are way to do them without contact.
“We can drop tastings off at their door, either hot for with reheating instructions,” Sutton said. “We can also set up Zoom calls with the brides to discuss the menu.”
Keep on Cooking
Regardless of all of the other ways chefs have found to occupy their time, it’s important to not underestimate the importance of getting into the kitchen. One way that Adm Gooch of Common Plea Catering has keep busy in the kitchen is to set up a virtual cooking class with one of his corporate clients.
“While you’re stuck at home,” he said, “it’s important to have fun.”
Piggybacking on Gooch’s idea, Westfall said that filming in-home classes, or just showing yourself at home in your kitchen is a great way to stay connected.
“It’s a chance for chefs to talk about something their passionate about,” he said.
“People want to see the realness,” she said.