WyBoston Lakes

With the return of live events the corporate catering business is coming back to life, but has COVID-19 left a permanent mark on the industry, and how will it look moving forward? H&E North takes a bite-sized look.

The return of live events means a return to business for the catering industry. Though this may be the case, the pandemic has left its mark on the industry, and has perhaps
altered the way planners approach largescale catering forever. We speak with a variety of catering professionals to discuss the landscape post-pandemic.

Shushma Solanki, Event Caterer and Owner of Sushma Snacks

It’s hard at the moment, and it has been since last March. Ever since 17th May things have started to open back up, but everyone is still a bit unsure about what’s going to happen. No one knows if the 21st June unlocking date is going to go ahead and nobody wants to book anything. The pandemic has affected the kinds of food I can serve. I’ve had to buy a lot more packaging because whatever I do it has to be in boxes. We used to serve canapés as a buffet, but we can’t do that anymore. Now we serve a selection to each person in individual boxes. Packaging has become so expensive at the moment, and at times you can’t even get it. And the catering itself is more difficult now. You have to wear protective equipment all the time and gloves especially can make some of
the things I have to do much more difficult. But it’s important to say that we’ve done everything we can to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19. Hopefully things will open up soon, with more people getting vaccinated, but I don’t think we’ll ever go back to our normal. In my opinion, the effects of the pandemic are going to be around for a long time.”

Jon Davies, Managing Director of sports catering organisation Levy UK + Ireland

It’s safe to say that the global hospitality industry has been one of the most heavily impacted sectors during the COVID-19 crisis. With the cancellation of large-scale
events, capacity restrictions and extended lockdowns, there is no doubt that every catering business, large or small, has had a difficult time. While we’ve started to see
delegates returning to venues we certainly still have some way to go until normal service can be resumed. Embracing technology has been crucial in improving COVID-19 safety for both visitors and staff. We’re fortunate enough to have been an industry leader in events technology for a number of years – we had a forward-thinking approach to going cashless, with our venue partner Tottenham Hotspur‘s football ground built to be the Premier League’s first cashless venue. Going forward, these innovations are likely to stick around and develop even further, with profound effects on the broader guest experience as well as to boost COVID-19 safety. We’ve recently seen delegates  able to visit entertainment venues, which has been great to see. We’ve also extended some of our key client partnerships as well as signing a number of new venues, which has been fantastic.”

Philip Mayling, Director of UK  independent foodservice distributor MKG

As foodservice suppliers, the challenges of the pandemic were very obvious to us from the start of lockdown – a lot of our clients in the leisure and hospitality industry went into hibernation mode and have yet to fully get back on their feet. We’ve had to furlough staff until such time as the business impact is mitigated. Given reports of further outbreaks, variants, and uncertainty around lockdown restrictions easing, it is difficult for our clients to assess the situation. Everyone is extremely cautious, because purchasing stock at the current time could prove costly if further lockdown measures are delayed or brought in. For some of our competitors the situation has
proved too difficult, and they have been forced to close. We have been fortunate in that we have been able to keep our heads above water and not make any redundancies, but it has not been easy. We have had to improvise and innovate at short notice. For example, we have made strong efforts to advise our clients how to minimise the possibility of COVID-19 transmission and have even created a new app-based ordering service that allows them to operate freely and safely. Ultimately, the biggest challenge of a post-pandemic world is the uncertainty of when, exactly, you can say the pandemic is over. And the only way to overcome that challenge is to retain the habits and procedures we have developed already, and to put faith in our ability to keep working flexibly and innovating whatever comes our way.