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Ready to Rise: 2020 ICA Survey Results

Each year, the International Caterers Association polls our members across the globe to gauge the state of the industry. This year looks different. It’s no secret that 2020 turned our world and our industry upside down. As caterers, we have experienced hardships greater than ever before, but in turn, we’ve also gotten more creative than ever before. We’ve relied on each other and created deeper relationships. This year’s survey confirmed that COVID-19 has severely affected all caterers in some way, shape or form, and we are in this together. All that said, this year’s questions and answers look a little different than any other annual survey—let’s dive in.

About the Participants

This year, we had 145 caterers from across the globe respond to the ICA survey. The highest percentage of participants hailed from the Northeast at 22.07%, followed by 21.38% in the Midwest, 18.62% in the Southeast, 17.24% in the Southwest, 10.34% in the West and 4.83% in the Northwest. We even had just over 6% participation from international caterers this year—a new record!

Current State of Sales & Financials

While there is no surprise when it comes to the financial impact COVID-19 has had on our businesses, it is still sobering to see the adverse impact it has truly had across the board. Over 75% of caterers noted that business had decreased 70–90% versus this time last year, with 90.34% noting that their projected revenue for 2020 is less than half that of the previous year. Less than 1% of caterers are seeing an increase in business during this tumultuous time.

Current State of Events

While many caterers were forced to close their doors or get innovative with the types of services they offered, most have still been able to cater events as we start to reopen and gather again. On a positive note, over 30% of caterers have been able to safely cater events with over 120 participants since March 14, 2020. However, the average number of event participants allowed per local guidelines remains around 50 people for the time being, limiting the size of gatherings for most caterers.

Looking forward to the final quarter of the year, caterers have about 35 events on the books for the remainder of 2020, which means an average of two or more events weekly—a positive outlook as we start to move forward!

While we are starting to meet again, COVID-19 events do look different. From the size of the events to the sanitation and safety practices required on-site, adapting to this new way of doing business has been no small feat financially or operationally. Despite the increase in cost of staffing and sanitization for events, only about one-third of caterers are charging extra for the sanitization services implemented; the rest are accepting it as the cost of doing business in this new world of events.

In terms of event size, one piece of business many have seen a rise in is micro-weddings, with over 75% of caterers noting they’ve had an uptick in inquiries for this new trending way to celebrate love in spite of local restrictions. This is a trend we see staying for at least the near future.

That being said, let’s look ahead!

Looking Towards the Future

Moving forward, we must maintain hope and positivity, as our industry still has a long road to recovery ahead. Just over half of caterers surveyed were optimistic for a quick recovery, while the other half is a little more reserved, thinking it will take a while. In order to recover, the creative services many have been offering during this time will need to remain.

In order to earn new business, many have been looking to new markets. Some have hosted private cooking classes or imaginative pop-up restaurants. Others have catered more celebration of life ceremonies and discovered lucrative areas like the private aviation industry. Many have teamed up with previously unlikely partners, aiding hotels and office buildings that don’t have catering teams back on-site yet. And of course, many are taking advantage of the aforementioned boom in the micro-wedding industry.

For now, many events are still happening virtually or outdoors. While these trends may be temporary, they need to be embraced for recovery. We found that many caterers are offering more picnic menus or curated boxes that can be shipped directly or made available for curbside pickup. These services were implemented to keep doors open during the early months of the pandemic, but we do believe they are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Not only are the types of events changing, but a new layer of complexity has also been added for many teams: furloughed staff. Over half of the caterers surveyed are staying in touch with their furloughed team members until they can welcome them back, while about 40% did not contact for fear of legality or disgruntled staff. Teams that did stay in touch did so via email with updates on local guidelines and events. Some even implemented morale-boosting activities like Zoom happy hours, Facebook groups for daily connection, socially distanced drive-in movie nights or food programs that sent meals to staff weekly.

In catering, our teams are like family. We are all looking forward to the day our teams can be together again, catering events and bringing families and communities together.

We Will Rise 

While this year’s statistics are not as positive as previous years, we are starting to see positive change and have an optimistic outlook for 2021. As caterers, we are tenacious, we are determined, we are resilient, and we will rise stronger than before!

To learn more about the ICA, visit


International Caterers Association

For motivated caterers, International Caterers Association is a resource that provides Education, encourages peer to peer Relationships and Inspires creativity while embracing all segments of the catering industry. For more information, visit