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With Little to Celebrate This Year, Catering Companies Are Facing a Crisis

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With Little to Celebrate This Year, Catering Companies Are Facing a Crisis

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The coronavirus pandemic, and its subsequent restrictions, sent a shockwave through the U.S. job market in 2020, causing a ripple effect felt through much of the labor force. In short order, many jobs shifted, creating a catering crisis.

As such, jobs have dwindled at restaurants, bars and retail stores.

“The year 2020 has impacted our business dramatically,” said Amber Stewart, client and operations director for Minneapolis-based Chef Jeff Catering, in an email to The Food Institute. “All of our events were canceled by clients from March through June. We didn’t lay anyone off but, due to limited hours, many staff [members] had to leave and find more stable and reliable work options.”

According to research by The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 29), overall employment across industries is down 6.5% from February. Some segments, like warehouse jobs, have recently grown to exceed pre-pandemic levels.

But restaurants and bars lost their spot as the largest major employment category tracked by the Labor Department. Reopenings allowed the industry to recover, but only slightly. Payrolls for restaurants and bars fell 17.2% from February to November.

CATERING CRISIS

The aforementioned issues have forced those throughout the food industry at large to get creative to withstand challenges of the pandemic. And few sectors of the industry have gotten as creative as caterers.

December is typically a key month for caterers, including bookings for corporate holiday parties or social gatherings. Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a major wrench in such plans this year, causing countless cancellations of events, including weddings. Stewart’s company in Minneapolis, for example, has seen revenue decrease by almost 75% due to pandemic restrictions limiting large events that typically make up most of its business.

This holiday season demanded fairly drastic measures from catering companies, many of which are experiencing reduced staffing that has forced remaining workers to take on multiple roles, including delivery.

CLOSING THE YEAR CREATIVELY

Many caterers have turned to small, yet creative solutions to recoup revenue this winter.

Chicago-based Catering by Michael’s is offering a new dinner for two for those staying at home to celebrate New Year’s Eve, which features a plated entrée, a mousse for dessert, plus a bottle of white wine, according to a report by Restaurant Business (Dec. 22). The celebratory package costs $179.

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Direct-to-consumer packages are bringing in some revenue for caterers, but their businesses are almost universally struggling, due in large part to the fact that many large Christmas parties were called off this year. In response, some catering companies sold festive meals for employers to deliver to their employees.

Looking ahead, many catering companies are making plans for Super Bowl packages, picnic boxes, and packages for outdoor micro-weddings for when weather turns warmer.

“We’re continuing to find creative solutions for clients,” Stewart said, like “putting together meal kits for clients, where they’ll be able to watch a video with Chef Jeff walking them through how to cook the meal. We’ve delivered meals to the homes of a group of board members and they ate it while on a Zoom call.

“If and when business gets back to normal, we’ll keep some of these new services, now that we’ve learned better ways of offering them during the pandemic.”

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