As more time passes, it is becoming apparent that the industry we love may never be the same. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, catering and events companies have been pushed to the limits, channeling their innate creativity, sharing inventive ideas to stay afloat and pivoting their services into realms they never imagined they’d be in. In a way, it’s forced many catering companies to breathe new life into their services with innovative solutions that are pioneering the new world of events for 2020 and beyond. Many are discovering new demographics to serve, new revenue streams and new ways to provide solutions for their current and prospective clientele.
Recently, the International Caterers Association hosted a virtual sales mixer with catering companies from across the country to learn more and discuss how they’re serving their clients and reimagining events from coast to coast. The ideas they shared were impactful and are sure to help companies and families celebrate together and apart as we all learn to navigate our new normal.
Here are a few ideas that were shared.
Think Inside the Box
It’s not often that people would encourage you to think inside the box, especially when it comes to creative catering options. But we’re living in a new world for catering right now, and it’s boxed meals and treats that are taking over the industry as one of the biggest trends and revenue generators.
A few companies that participated in the ICA sales mixer have rolled out unique boxed options that clients are loving.
Tasty Catering serves the Chicago area and has tons of clients for picnic catering. Typically, summer is booming with outdoor buffets and stations, but this year is obviously a little different. Ellen Harte, Director of Business Development at Tasty Catering, shared their new Picnic Box idea. It incorporates picnic staples like grilled chicken, potato salad, fresh bountiful salads, watermelon and more. This solution has been extremely popular for graduations and summer employee luncheons.
Tasty Catering has developed picnic boxes. Photo courtesy Tasty Catering.
Brancato’s Catering in Kansas City has launched their curated line of “Bash Boxes,” made to send to guests attending virtual events to provide an elevated event experience from afar. Options include snacks and swag for a fundraiser thank you, dine and develop for a business luncheon, a lunch and learn option and more! They give clients the option to incorporate custom branding, cards inside the box and other personalized touches that help create impact with their partners, clients and employees.
The sky is the limit when it comes to custom branded meal and gift boxes. Whatever you dream up, there is a market for it these days!
Crafting Engaging Virtual Experiences
It’s not just up to the client to create unique virtual experiences—it’s an opportunity for catering companies to dream some up as well! Brian Ingalls, Director of Sales and Business Development at Brancato’s Catering, shared their “The Chef Experience” package option, an exclusive option in their Bash Box collection, which has been promoted for fundraising “galas.” Rather than the client coming up with an event and supplementing it with a meal box, the meal box sets the scene for the event.
A virtual cooking class could be incorporated into your next fundraising or corporate event to provide a safe way to virtually gather, with the added interativity.
Brancato’s provides contactless pickup for all attendees of the event to come and grab their meal box. From there, they’re provided a box filled with instructions on how to access the chef tutorial and the client event. They can whip up a Michelin-star-worthy meal in their own kitchen, led by their chef, and then enjoy the program. It’s an interactive way to create a splash!
Host at “Their” Place
While some may not be comfortable venturing out to a venue right now, it’s the perfect time to bring the catering to them. Rajan Mistry, Culinary Director of District Events and Catering, mentioned that some companies are transforming their parking lots into magical event spaces for catered open-air luncheons and celebrations with all the necessary precautions in place to follow the most recent guidelines for their areas.
For large groups, you can play around with timelines and event flow to adhere to social distancing practices. Kurt Beadel, Creative Director/Partner at Vibrant Table, recommended utilizing the same menu but splitting up departments to eat at different times or different days of the week or set up multiple stations throughout the “event space” (or parking lot) to space out participants more.
Consider playing around with timelines and event flow to adhere to social distancing practices.
Another option for more intimate events is catering in-home. If a non-profit typically sells tables at a fundraiser, consider suggesting to them a private in-home experience with the executive director or president of the board. Then, cater a decadent private meal in the host’s home for the donors. It’s a truly memorable experience that will help the organization raise funds and achieve their goals during an unprecedented year.
Be a Resource
While many catering companies feel like now may not be the right time to go out pitching new ideas and new business, it is actually the perfect time. Many companies who are operating full force or easing back into the traditional office environment aren’t sure how to manage catering for their teams. They’ll be searching for experts who have knowledge of current guidelines, unique ways to pivot events and are up for brainstorming new solutions with them as required. It’s the best time to serve as a resource as companies and teams start to navigate their new normal as well.
During the call, Jennifer Perna of Fulton Market Consulting discussed how there are definitely industries out there that still need catering and are seeking options. She provided a list of organizations like hospitals, IT companies, accounting firms, activist groups, as well as non-profits who can’t continue on without hosting innovative fundraising events in the coming months.
Perna stressed that catering services and the instinctive creativity of this industry are needed right now more than ever. It’s up to us to go out and inform local businesses how we can help and be a resource while navigating the new world of catering and events.
It’s Just the Beginning…
We’re entering the beginning of a new era for catering. It’s the trailblazers coming up with the innovative ideas we’ve discovered on our ICA calls who will truly set the stage for our new world of events.
Don’t stop brainstorming, don’t stop transforming and don’t stop reimagining what events can look like in this new normal. Together we will prevail, and our industry will be better for it.
To listen to past ICA sales mixer calls or for more information, visit internationalcaterers.org.