As the country begins to reopen and restrictions on large gatherings are lessened, it will be more critical than ever before to be prepared and have solid standard operating procedures in place to execute safe and successful events. While no one is truly an expert in what post-COVID-19 events and catering will look like, The International Caterers Association (ICA) has been examining the many ways that caterers are planning to adapt to this new normal in our industry and helping to forge the way for our industry’s new requirements.
In an effort to provide insight into the future of events and what companies are doing to adapt, the ICA spoke with Lee Ann Kelly, vice president of sales, marketing & global sourcing for American Metalcraft and Frank Christian, managing partner at Taylored Hospitality Solutions LLC. These two industry pioneers have been leading a weekly operations roundtable call throughout the pandemic with catering peers to discuss the current state of the industry and collaborate on how best to prepare for the future.
Ameircan Metalcraft has released plexiglass dividers as part of their new protective barriers product line. Photo courtesy ICA.
There have been many key takeaways from these conversations that will be vital for all catering companies and future success moving forward; here are five that can’t be ignored.
Meet with Your trusted advisors
Everyone has their expertise, and while many catering company owners and managers have a firm grasp on event contracts, the world is changing, and it is time to pull in an expert’s opinion. For financial wellness and limited liability moving forward, consulting your lawyers and insurance agents is crucial. They will be able to review your coverage, documentation and policies to ensure that the future of your business is as secure as possible during these ever-changing times.
A few documents you will want them to review are your contracts, post-COVID-19 contract addendums, change orders and insurance coverage. Christian emphasized the unique need for documents to be flexible enough to provide security; with the guidelines changing daily, there is now no one-size-fits-all solution in our new business atmosphere.
Stay educated and up to date
Now more than ever, it’s important to keep up to date with industry requirements and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, especially if you operate in multiple states with different guidelines. Kelly says, “read, listen, absorb everything you can, especially from others in the industry or in closely related hospitality fields. The beauty of the catering industry is that they are such a sharing group of peers. So much can be learned in just one ICA roundtable discussion.”
Division of staff from guests will be the normal moving forward. Photo courtesy of ICA.
Kelly continued to discuss just how impactful these ICA roundtable discussions have been, stating, “there is so much caring support in this community where competitors are best friends. No one wants anyone to fail. It truly is an amazing group of people that continue to learn from each other each week.” Register for the next call to experience this special community, learning and collaborating together for future success.
Revise policies and procedures
Kelly put it perfectly, stating, “the clearer you are with all policies, the greater the chance of compliance.” She and Christian both touched upon the necessity for both back-of-house and front-of-house policies to address the safe execution of events, PPE requirements and sanitization efforts that are updated with changes in CDC guidelines and shared with employees weekly.
Once policies and procedures are in place, both Christian and Kelly touched upon the importance of sharing these with clients, planners and venue partners in order for the execution to be successful and safe. Kelly says, “for clients, setting clear expectations of what your group will be doing to keep their event safe along with clear guidelines on what is expected of each guest appears to be the overwhelming suggestion.”
Christian also made a unique point that as companies will be adapting and relying on a leaner staff as business starts to get back to normal, companies who begin to streamline operations and create internal processes and procedures now will be the ones who are able to adjust to lower guest counts and tighter operating budgets as we dive back into events.
Embrace the pivot and channel creativity
If there is one thing caterers are good at, it’s getting creative. Creativity is the nature of our business, and COVID-19 has brought to light just how creative catering companies can get.
As businesses have pivoted services during the pandemic, starting to pivot for getting back to business is also critical. Some trends that Kelly says have been discussed by many companies include:
- Grab-and-go portions and small portioned, covered plates for cocktail hour
- Plated meals covered and served atop a tray where guests can grab their own entrees
- Buffets behind acrylic shields being served by staff following proper safety procedures
- Action stations
- Cocktails to-go in pre-packaged containers
- Individually packaged condiments
These new options paired with appropriate signage and directional tools will be key for success.
On the financial wellness front, Christian emphasized, “the way in which [management] rethinks their organizations will go a long way in determining their long-term competitive advantage. Companies that have pivoted their business may have new revenue streams that they would not have had in their strategic plan.”
It's a good idea to over communicate your health and safety practices with guests throuogh signage and other means. Photo courtesy of ICA.
It may not be time to ditch the delivery service or those meal kits to go as we start to get back to the new normal. It’s time to channel the creativity that kept catering businesses afloat during the past few months and continue that same mindset as guidelines and the world of events continue to change.
Continuous staff training
The policies and procedures you’re working hard on revising can’t stop on management’s desk.
It’s critical that staff training is placed at the forefront of your business goals during reopening. Christian cited Peter F. Drucker’s famous quote, “the most dangerous thing in times of change is not the change itself, but to operate with yesterday’s logic.” This is a sentiment that is shared by many as we navigate the massive but necessary changes to the events industry.
Christian emphasized, “staff will need to understand that daily or weekly changes will be part of the reopening process. The old way of events and execution will change. Documentation and continuous improvement will help companies stay on top of the changes and keep their staff trained properly.”
It's time to meet again...
Both Kelly and Christian agreed that what makes the catering industry so special is its resiliency, creativity, passion and flexibility. These attributes paired with careful planning will help to ensure that the future of our business during this new normal is bright. It’s time to meet again—safely!
American Metalcraft and Taylored Hospitality Solutions are proud vendor members of the ICA. For more information, visit internationalcaterers.org.