Here’s How the Badly Hit Catering Industry is Coping with the Pandemic

Industry Watch | September 17, 2020 | Feature

Food Art Hospitality Cream of the Crop TGB Banquets & Hotels Ranch Cuisine Concepts

The catering industry is one of the worst-hit during the pandemic and might be the last sector to pick up pace as the situation begins to normalize. EVENTFAQS Media reached out to catering company owners to get some insights on the current situation.

The questions we asked: How did COVID impact the catering business and how are stakeholders coping with unlock? What are your strategies to adapt to the new normal? What is your new approach towards events? Which are the sectors where you have already started work? How challenging it is to provide services for events during the current situation? What are your post-COVID plans and what will be your future initiatives?

Here is what the respondents had to say.

‘We're operating as per the WHO guidelines.’
- Parth Girdhar, Director, Food Art Hospitality

COVID-19 has impacted all the industries but the wedding industry is the first to get hit and the last to recover. Post the unlock, we've started doing micro-weddings, with 50-100 persons, but financially we’re struggling as our overheads are high but in order to maintain our brand visibility, we've started taking smaller gatherings as we can't disappoint our clientele.

We shifted to our new state-of-the-art facility last year, our commercial kitchen is the one of the most hygienic kitchens. After the pandemic, the client is extremely particular about hygiene more than anything else. We're doing regular sanitisation and using a food-grade sanitiser for fruits and vegetables. We've decoded the future of dining and we're focusing more on serveware and tableware, taking our food quality a notch higher and curating bespoke menus for our clients. Small events require more styling, presentation and more attention to detail and that's our focus right now.

We're operating as per the WHO guidelines, no staff is seen without gloves, mask and face shield. We haven't pulled the plug on buffet yet, so we've introduced the 'no ladle touch' concept where the guests aren't allowed to touch the ladle, our team would do the needful for them. If the client requests pre-plated meals, we're also open to that. All tables and chairs are placed in a way that obey the social distancing protocol.

We've started catering to small gatherings of 50-100 people as of now. With micro-events trending, we've started hosting private parties as well. We're expanding our horizons and brainstorming new concepts which I would like to discuss once implemented as it's still in the incubation stage.

It's extremely challenging right now as we need to educate our staff and spread awareness to take precautions and maintain social distancing. We ask the clients if they want to get COVID tests done of our staff and some of them are getting it done. With smaller number of guests, the cost goes up as the client asks for more variety with no compromise on service. We're trying to adapt to the new normal.

Our post-COVID plan is to focus on micro-events as I don't think that the Government will remove the cap on the number of guests anytime soon, so we're prepared for that.

We're constantly innovating on new concepts such as grab-and-go stations and re-thinking food service and re-imagining buffet spreads. Our strategy would be to manage multiple micro gatherings simultaneously. We will have more stringent systems on safety, hygiene and social distancing. We will conduct a COVID test drive of our employees to ensure safety and well-being of everyone associated with the FAH family. We will work together with our venue partners to make sure that the guest area is regularly cleaned and sanitised prior to the event.

‘Catering industry is still almost at the first lockdown stage.’
- Puneet Ahuja, Co-Founder, Cream of the Crop

Like most businesses, during lockdown, the business of catering was also down to zero. We at COTC still made good use of our resources at that time and managed to feed close to 2,00,000 meals to the needy through an initiative taken up by Delhi Catering Fraternity along with the NRAI (National Restaurant Association of India). Our meals were entirely crowd-funded. Unlock 4.0 is now underway in India but honestly for the catering industry, it is still almost at the first lockdown stage. With only 50 people allowed to gather in Delhi, the situation is still very precarious.

We have put in stringent safety SOPs: thermal scans, masks, hand sanitization, kitchen space sanitisation, social distancing, etc. Special care is being taken while serving at buffets and bars, using gloves with frequent sanitisation. We are looking at giving complete solutions and for that purpose, are in the process of collaborating with various vendors to give a complete one-stop-shop solution to our clients. They are now wary of dealing with too many agencies.

We have come out with a new vertical under the COTC brand, called COTC CASA. It is for small home gatherings. We believe small is in vogue. So under the COTC CASA brand, we are serving small home gatherings with minimalistic staff if needed or sending food with DIY instructions.

Initially, it seemed a Herculean task, but now with the SOPs in place and the staff trained, it isn’t that difficult. We have adapted to the situation.

Going forward, we are looking at working with our industry partners to come up with packaged solutions for our clients that are safe for all concerned. Safety is the buzzword and is critical. Thus, working with trusted vendors and having a strong team is the key; we are looking at giving end-to-end solutions to the client.

‘We don't see the catering industry normalizing before a year.’
- Narendra Somani, Chairman and MD, TGB Banquets & Hotels Ltd.

The catering industry has been hit drastically. We have permission for only 50% of work which is now mostly with banquet halls or hotels; thus it impacts us financially. More than five crore people directly or indirectly associated with the catering industry have been affected due to the pandemic.

Unlock is being implemented in the country, but it's not the wedding season so we do not have that much business. After November, we might get good business as the situation may get under control and the wedding season will also start. At the moment, we don't have business more than 5% of what we did earlier.

We are strictly following the SOP provided by the Government. We are implementing the best safety measures for our workers and for our clients. We maintain the best kitchen hygiene. Raw materials are sanitized properly so that it is safe for use. Every three hours, we check the temperature of our staff members to maintain safety. We don't see the catering industry normalizing before a year;so we plan to update our menus to be healthier.

We plan to provide as many live counters as possible for events because people will now be suspicious of the hygiene aspect. Every industry is now looking to cut cost and in the catering industry, it is important to get all raw materials ready to prepare the food with fewer staff members; hence frozen food will be great during this time.

We familiarized staff with the SOPs and work accordingly. We in fact got raw materials at cheaper rates than usual during the pandemic. We have come up with an initiative where we register each guest and check their temperature before they enter the dining area so that if anything is amiss, they are stopped from entering.

We have started with our own frozen food factory that will function locally for customers and in various cities across India for businesses. We are also planning to enter the F&B market as we have started our own bakery, introducing a few products amidst lockdown.

‘There’s a positive trend in customer confidence for future events.’
- Akshay Khurana, Managing Partner, Ranch Cuisine Concepts

COVID-19 has been catastrophic for the outdoor catering business. Due to the extreme infectious nature of the virus, social gatherings have been discouraged which in turn has disrupted the business. The outdoor catering industry was majorly dependent on larger volumes for their feasibility. It has been a major setback for us.

However, the unlock has been good so far, we are seeing a positive trend in customer confidence for booking events for future dates. Various associations from the events industry like EEMA are working closely with the Government to develop a safe model for the forthcoming season.

Various Government and food regulating agencies have released their guidelines which led us to form our SOPs. In the last two months, we have had numerous training sessions to educate our staff to provide a safe experience to our clients. On the strategic front, we have released contactless menus to reduce touch-points and limit the workforce. We provide the option to choose from traditional buffet set-ups to individually plated concepts, fancy disposables and stationed temperature-controlled appetisers over pass-arounds.

Our approach towards events has certainly evolved. In the pre-COVID era, styling, taste and quality of food mattered the most. However, now safety and hygiene are going to be the main factor. Hence, we are working on developing healthy and nutritious menus.

It was certainly challenging initially, our costs have also shot up to implement the newly formed SOPs but I'm pleased to say that all our systems are in place and we are prepared to cater in any part of the country.

Considering the fluidity of the situation, every hospitality company has been forced to re-invent and consider alternative revenue streams. We too are looking at different models, we have just launched our sub-brand ‘H.O.M.E by Ranch Catering’ that would cater packed menus for small get-togethers, cater to small gatherings of upto 20 people and provide many interesting options for intimate gatherings.

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EVENTFAQS Media reached out to catering company owners to get some insights on the current situation.

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