The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the catering industry on its head, as industry staples like business conferences, large weddings, and other big gatherings have been canceled across the board with no clear indication for when these events will return in a regular fashion. With the shift towards virtual meetings and creative alternatives to in-person events, it looks like many companies may continue to hold their events online, even long after the effects and restrictions of the pandemic have eased.
This means that to stay viable, the catering industry has had to make a lot of critical adjustments to its business model and the services it can provide to customers. The industry has also needed to make many adjustments to its health and safety protocols to ensure that employees and customers all stay healthy and safe. This blog looks at the state of the catering industry now, about one year into the pandemic, and what "the new normal" will look like going forward.
The use of ordering platforms has gone way up. Gone are the days of in-person ordering. Customers don’t want to put themselves at unnecessary risk of disease exposure by going into an establishment and placing an order in person. Online ordering platforms allow for customers to order and pay online and then pick up their order at a safe, designated area or pay for delivery. No cash needed! It can also help stagger pick-up times so that customers don’t congregate in the pick-up area and violate social distancing rules. These online platforms make it easy for everyone, and they are likely to be the new standard practice going forward.
The use of online ordering platforms helps enable small or individual orders with a higher level of order customization than was previously available from catering companies. This shift enables catering companies to operate more as a restaurant would. This new model helps catering companies diversify their offerings and reach a new market of customers, so maintaining some type of small order system, such as FoodStorm, is likely a winning formula for catering companies going forward.
When most people think of catering, they think of buffets with large, open trays of food served with shared utensils. To avoid the risk of cross-contamination of the food from people sharing the same buffet, many catering businesses are shifting their services towards single serve, pre-packaged to-go food. Many companies were able to take advantage of the pre-packaged items they already served, while others have expanded their offerings to include more to-go items. Everyone loves convenience (and safety) so these to-go items will likely be popular for a long time to come.
With many restaurants and cafeterias closed, essential workers like healthcare professionals and first responders need more support than ever to help them feed themselves and their families. Many catering companies have moved to fill this need and now supply individual take-home meals and heat-and-serve meal kits for essential workers. While the pressure on essential workers will hopefully lessen when the pandemic eventually comes to an end, catering companies may wish to keep some sort of program available for this invaluable group of people.
Since many people prefer to have their food delivered rather than needing to worry about going out and potentially coming in contact with other people, some catering companies are shifting their employees over to fill increased demand for delivery work and providing lunch delivery programs. Taking advantage of the increased demand for grocery delivery, some companies have expanded their delivery offerings to include grocery items and alcohol after applying for a liquor license.
With self-serve buffets deemed unsafe curing the current pandemic and new social distancing and sanitation requirements in place, serving stations and line configurations will need to be reimagined and redesigned to accommodate health standards. These new requirements might eventually lessen, but the design of prep stations, serving stations, and other catering infrastructure will likely be changed forever.
While business-to-customer catering is in a steep decline, business-to-business catering is still a solid piece of the market. As regular social catering has declined, the opportunities for charitable business catering has dramatically increased. The catering industry is naturally poised to provide meal services to charitable causes like essential workers, retirement homes, and homeless shelters, so charitable business catering is on the rise.
While it seems like almost everything is different now, some things are expected to stay the same or return to normal in the future.
While there have been many changes in the industry and some things remain uncertain, it is very unlikely that the catering industry will disappear as a whole. Things might be done a little differently, but people will always need food. The catering industry is doing well to adapt as best as possible to the current situation and will come out the other side. When it is safe to do so, people will need catering for their events once again.
After a recession or major crisis, society often tends to be conservative with spending money for some time while the economy recovers. People have been hurt badly during the pandemic. And while we may all want to jump back out there and go to restaurants and host parties and other gatherings, people probably won’t return to their old social habits all at once. However, that doesn’t mean that social catering will never return to normal. Over time, when it is safe to do so, many people will begin having social events again and social catering will come back in force.
While it may seem like everything is changing in the catering industry, many of the changes are positive. The industry has proved that it can be flexible and resilient, as many companies have successfully adapted their business model and services. Improvements like the increased use of online ordering systems and industry specific business management systems can help bring catering into the modern era and will only make the industry more robust and adaptable to any other challenges it may face in the future.
FoodStorm Catering Software can help bring your operations online, positioning your catering business to capitalize on the current delivery and online ordering boom. From a branded e-commerce website to backend reporting, and quoting and proposals to production and delivery logs, FoodStorm can automate your processes and generate more sales.