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The new reality for... Caterers

The new reality for Catering

by Laura Bickle

As the industry ponders what reopening will look like, every segment has its own unique challenges. Each week we are reaching out to those sectors to get their insights.

This week, we spoke to J'Val Shuster, proprietor of Devour Catering and Events in Calgary.

What is the current operating status of your business?

We have never really ‘closed’ although we were working from home for several weeks. That being said, we have only been providing delivery service or curb side pickup. We have only provided on-site event service for one event so far.

How are you working with planners and partners to reschedule postposed events?

All of our events that were scheduled from mid-March until the end of June have been either cancelled or put on indefinite hold. We are staying in communication with all of these clients to decide when or if it is appropriate to proceed with their event.

How are your employees being prepared/trained to meet the new safety expectations?

We are currently only working with our core team of four people and have been since mid-March. Since we are on off-site catering company that provides food and service in very different locations ranging from private homes to rented venues to offices, we are thinking carefully about how, or if, we can provide onsite service.

What are you doing to ensure attendee safety and confidence?

As mentioned, we have only been part of one event so far where we have had staff on site. We talked through the procedures of providing service and maintaining physical distance.

What will be the greatest challenges in returning to event catering?

The greatest challenge is going to be whether there will be enough event business to return to for us to only do that kind of work to stay in business. People are possibly going to be reluctant for a long time about getting together and our event staff may be reluctant about serving larger groups of people in different venues and locations. Also, being in Calgary, we are also preparing for a challenging time economically because of the impacts of COVID and the oil and gas industry. So, even when its ‘safe’ to have events, people may not have the money to spend on them like they did before.

What changes will attendees and event organizers notice in regard to food service?

There won’t be shared items such as passed hors d’oeuvres, buffets, grazing boards, self-serve bars or beverage stations. Seating arrangements will have to be altered to allow for smaller groupings of guests. Guests may have to remain in certain areas for the event instead of moving around from area to area and station to station. Hand sanitizing stations will have to be set up at various points at an event space and staff may be required to ensure that all guests are cleaning their hands frequently.

How do you think the pandemic experience will affect your operation in the short and long term?

The initial impact has been immediate and fairly severe in terms of there being a complete stop to cash flow. We will have to restructure the way we operate to possibly do things we didn’t do before. All the income that we are not able to generate right now will never be recovered. The long-term impact of that is still unknown to me.

What lessons have you learned from this experience?

That anything can happen at any time. Make sure you have a strong team in place all the time—it is, and has always been, the most important thing for a business. Maintain a strong connection and communication system with your regular clients. Keep your mind open to possibilities. Don’t focus too much on what you ‘used to do’ and think instead of what abilities and assets you have in terms of people, skills, equipment and networks and how you can use those to do something you maybe never imagined. Surround yourself with good, honest, trustworthy people. 

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