The holiday season is generally the busiest time of year for my catering business, thanks to corporate holiday parties and other year-end gatherings and celebrations. But with so many events cancelled or postponed to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, I’ve had to reposition my business.
Large in-person events will always be my bread and butter, but my main goal right now is to keep my 17 remaining workers employed and generate income during this challenging time.
I “pivoted” pretty much right after the pandemic started. Like most businesses in the events industry, my company was devastated by the social-distancing advisories and mass cancellations of events that started back in March. I had $300,000 in events booked ahead for March—most that ended up being canceled. I gave refunds to those who canceled, but I was also left with hundreds of pounds of uncooked meat that I’d purchased for those events.
I quickly uncovered an opportunity: So many grocery stores were running low on the basics—and people were stuck at home, yet still craving restaurant-quality dinners—that I was able to sell off the meat. I created videos that I promoted on social media and ended up selling $35,000 worth of food over the first month.
Given this early success, I evolved this concept and by early April was selling home-delivered and takeout meals and marketing them through Facebook and Instagram. Using Facebook ad-targeting tools, for example, I’m able to create sponsored posts that serve our ads only to people in our area who fit whatever demographic we’re trying to reach. I’ve discovered that social media and video are a great way to stay connected and generate new customers during this difficult time.
Thanks to this social marketing, I sold 220 boxed brunch kits replete with a do-it-yourself mimosa and fresh-cut flowers for Mother’s Day. We also created meals for Father’s Day and Rosh Hashanah and on many other special occasions in recent months.
The kits have been successful enough that I decided to do the same for Thanksgiving —offering a full turkey meal delivered to customers’ homes starting at $29 per person, with add-ons available. One local company bought boxed Thanksgiving lunches for 120 employees who work in a call center.
This pivot has allowed me to keep many of my workers employed. My cooks still had meals to prepare, and bartenders were redeployed as delivery drivers.
Beyond selling boxed meals, I’ve also sought ways to continue to serve companies and organizations that want to host events. We’ve catered several microevents—small gatherings, such as engagement parties or business lunches with 10 or 20 guests. But more organizations are now planning large virtual events over video that we can provide home-delivered meals and beverages for.
In mid-December, we’re partnering with the local police foundation to host a fundraising event over Zoom, in which a jazz band will be performing in a local park while viewers at home eat brunch provided by us. In November, we catered another similar online live charity fundraiser event. We’ve been looking to partner with outdoor event spaces in our area, as we see opportunities to co-host more of these types of online events in coming months.
Looking to a new year
I’m hopeful that this pandemic will end in the first half of 2021 and that my business will soon enough return to normal. I believe people will be clamoring for social interaction and in-person events once this is all done.
That said, I’m thankful that I took quick steps to adapt my business to the realities of the events industry this year. It’s taught me the importance of staying flexible and thinking outside the box.Print this article