The events industry has been among the hardest hit by the economic downturn caused by the spread of coronavirus. Despite these trying times, caterers across the country are shifting from putting on weddings and cocktail parties to providing vital services to their communities while keeping their core teams hard at work.
We spoke with a number of our catering customers and summarized the top 5 ways caterers are pivoting their businesses to serve their communities.
1. Providing Meals for Medical Professionals
As many metropolitan hospitals have reached capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, the need to support healthcare professionals is of utmost importance. Since safety precautions are top of mind, some hospitals have begun to rely on caterers to provide meals as an alternative to continuing their internal kitchen service. Thomas Preti, owner of Thomas Preti Events to Savor, described how their team transitioned from feeding party guests to everyday heroes in scrubs:
“We went from operating at full capacity in February to shutting things down completely in March. An industry colleague reached out to say they were at maximum capacity serving another hospital and offered this opportunity to us. Within a matter of days of connecting with NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, we went from 0 to 100 mph once again. After rallying our team, we began preparing 850 meals a day to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the medical professionals and military on site.”
Though hospital deliveries have provided a change of venue, they certainly haven’t provided a change of pace. Thomas and his team are busy as ever and thankful for the opportunity to feed the frontlines. “We were fortunate to receive a loan from the Small Business Association,” says Preti, “and we are actively working to bring back as many employees as we can.”
Amidst the sometimes difficult atmosphere in New York City hospitals, Thomas and his team bring a dose of cheer.
“Very kind notes have been pouring in from those at The Allen Hospital and we are glad to know they are enjoying the food. The vice president of the hospital told me he can’t wait to see our truck each day. We love making good food and this has been a great opportunity,” says Preti.
2. Feeding the Elderly
The elderly are especially at risk for contracting coronavirus. Many have to make the heartbreaking decision of whether to risk contracting coronavirus by going outside or going without food.
As coronavirus began to shutter the city, Great Performances shifted from putting on high end events with hundreds of staff to working with the NYC Department for the Aging to provide 40,000 weekly meals for housebound elderly no longer able to go to their local senior center for meals and company.
Providing fresh and healthy meals is an act of true hospitality to the elderly, and helps Great Performances keep their core team working. “In times of emergency, we are feeding the most vulnerable New Yorkers and keeping our family at work,” says Carina Hayek, marketing director for Great Performances.
3. Feeding Families in Need
Another way caterers are pivoting is by partnering with local non profits that are already in touch with the needs of their communities. By cooking raw food donations, packaging meals, or delivering to local families, catering companies can put their skills and time to good use. Simply Fresh Events has leveraged existing community ties to react quickly during the crisis.
“We’ve always partnered with Nourish Now, a local nonprofit in the Washington D.C. area that recovers leftover food and delivers meals to those who are food insecure,” says Matt Phelan, president of Simply Fresh Events. Because serving the community has always been a strong value for Simply Fresh Events, they were up for the challenge when an even greater opportunity for impact arose.
“When the governor shut down all casinos in the area, Nourish Now received a phone call that they had twenty two pallets worth of food to donate, “ Matthew explained. “After unloading all of our trucks we sent the team down to pick up all the food. We cooked and distributed about 45,000 meals worth of food directly to the homes of people who needed it most.”
Simply Fresh Events will help Nourish Now provide meals for local families throughout the duration of the crisis. Matthew, a self proclaimed optimist, looks beyond the current downturn with a sense of hope.
“We’re asking ourselves how we as a company can help our staff to adapt and prepare for the future,” Phelan says, “and I really hope for everyone in our industry that we all come out of this crisis stronger.”
4. Meal Delivery
A number of catering companies have pivoted from live events to meal delivery. By creating a well thought-out menu of prepared foods, or promoting one that already existed, caterers can remind their customers that staying at home doesn’t have to mean cooking 24/7. Marcia Selden Catering & Events spoke with us about the success of their zero contact meal delivery division.
Marcia Selden Catering & Events has seen success with their Gourmet to Go division which typically delivers to corporate clients. This sparked an idea to create something similar for those now staying home. “We designed a really intentional menu with the goal of filling people’s fridges or freezers with food that works for everyone,” says managing partner Robin Selden.
Robin emphasizes how important it is to think creatively about how to reach potential customers who could benefit from your offerings.
“We shared our advertisements with local parent groups, upscale housing developments and apartment buildings. Knowing that many tenants might be in the demographic most at risk if they are exposed to coronavirus, we want to provide options for those not comfortable grocery shopping. And everyone we contacted was more than happy to share our menu with their tenants.”
Although catering looks quite differently for them now, Robin’s team understands the value of safely providing meals during a stressful time.
“What I love about my job is that we create these amazing memories for people that live on forever. They’re usually celebrating happy occasions and now, it’s not so happy, but at least we’re evoking some kind of happiness through food.”
5. Feeding Your Team
Whether the team is working regular hours, on a reduced schedule, or not at all, they could likely benefit from a stocked fridge. When their March and April events were canceled, Catering by Michaels’ leadership team acted quickly to make sure their staff were fed.
“We had millions of dollars of events canceled, so all 10 of our walk-in coolers were full of produce and proteins, and we felt it was important to us that our employees and their families could get a meal,” says Lisa Ware, Catering By Michaels’ director of business development.
Catering by Michaels takes extra precaution to make sure no one gets sick. “Our stations are six feet apart and our servers drop the packaged food directly in our employees’ trunks, so it’s a zero contact pick-up.”
Checking in with employees to see how they’re doing is equally important. Catering By Michaels sends weekly updates to their team with resources regarding rent abatements, bill delays, free fitness, stress management, and all of the relief funds that are available, including the Nowsta Worker Relief Fund. “It’s our way of saying ‘Hi, I’m thinking about you and I hope you’re ok.’,”says Ware.
There are many ways to make an impact beyond the five we shared. The responses above remind us of how creative, responsive, and adaptable the catering industry has always been.
Looking for a way to help? Consider giving to the Nowsta Worker Relief Fund.