[Takeaways] Lessons from the Pros Roundtable: How to overcome tough times in the industry

See the full recording here

Since the first case of Coronavirus was confirmed in the US last month, caterers around the country have been affected in countless ways. This morning, we sat down with three industry veterans who have been through similar challenges before. 

  • Greg Casella, Founder of Catered Too!
  • Lisa Richards, CEO of Picnic People and CowGirlQ Catering
  • Joseph Veneman, Founder of Staffmate 

They shared their experience running a catering business during 9/11 and the market crash of 2008, and offered some great advice for getting through the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of information was covered, so feel free to watch the full recording. Our key takeaways are shared below.   

Make tough decisions sooner

In circumstances like these, making decisions about the future of your business is tough. However, being able to react quickly can make all the difference. For Greg, it took 5 years to fully recover his business after 9/11. In 2008, he was able to take his previous learnings, react sooner, and recover his business in half the time.

So how do you assess your business? Lisa’s advice is to take a critical look at your operations and understand where your breaking point is. If you have the ability to take out loans or make cuts, do it, but she recommends not mortgaging your home or putting yourself in dire straits as a business owner.

Although making the decision whether or not (and when) to lay off your staff is incredibly difficult, it can be key to succeeding in the long run. In 2008, Lisa held onto her staff for almost a year, but then suddenly had to make cuts deep and wide for her business to remain afloat. While it may hurt now, making cuts where you need to can help ensure that your team has a job to return to when this is all over.  

Creating a Plan

All panelists offered practical advice on how to update your business plan.

  • Preserve your cash. Plan for a conservative scenario (e.g. For Lisa, she’s forecasting $0 revenue in Q2, 40% of existing business in Q3/Q4).
  • Staff is usually your biggest expense. Decide between furloughs vs. layoffs. Furlough is a pause, still eligible for health insurance. Furlough the employees you want back.
  • Negotiate payment terms with your vendors. Lisa shared when she talked to each of her vendors, they worked with her on payments. Joseph has an invoicing relief fund at Staffmate that has helped customers through disasters and economic downturns.
  • Clear, authentic, and constant communication is key. This includes those employees that you furlough. Lisa does small raffles weekly and shares updates on the business to keep her staff engaged. 
  • Lock-in your business. Waive deposits and offer incentives so that you’ll be first on their mind when they’re ready to book their next event. 
  • Review your legal terms. Look at Force Majeure clauses in agreements and talk to your legal adviser about how it can protect you.

Have additional ideas or resources? Share in the comment box below so others can benefit from it. Thank you!

Making the most of your time now

Whether you decided to close business for the next few weeks or bring in revenue, here’s what some are doing to make the most of the situation.

Rent out your kitchen to other groups: Unlike restaurants, you may not be in the position to start a delivery service. But you can rent your kitchen to others. You’ll be surprised who needs help! Lisa said in 2008, a couple of companies, including Kashi, the cereal company, needed space and staff. Just remember to proactively screen the staff for the Coronavirus. 

Create meal kits: Caterers are built to cook in volume.  Consider building out plans to feed families for multiple meals at a time or creating a curb-side menu.

  • Crave Catering is offering ‘take and bake’ curbside pick up. Their menu is listed right on their website and all profits go towards supporting their chefs and service staff.
  • HeirloomLA has meal plans with a 4-day shelf life, so people can buy meals in bulk.

Whatever you choose to sell during this time, make sure that your customers know about it. Joseph recommends posting regularly on social media and asking them to spread the word. And your website shouldn’t be promoting events -- it should be promoting what you’re selling now. Here’s a resource with free marketing templates. 

Donate meals to relief organizations and start a fund to support it: You have skills and resources that are needed elsewhere.

Looking Ahead

All of our speakers agreed that once you’ve worked out your plan, it’s time to improve your business. Taking the time to streamline your processes will  make you more efficient when things start to pick back up.

This includes:

  • Talking and building relationships with your clients
  • Finally completing internal projects like a deep clean of your inventory
  • Demoing and implementing new software tools or equipment
  • Learning a new skill or business segment

Lisa shared she had a brainstorm session with her sales team on how this will impact the business and they left the meeting feeling jazzed about the new opportunities. 

How will this change the hospitality industry? 

Given how much and how quickly things have changed, it’s hard to predict what will happen. But our speakers are optimistic caterers will pull through -- it's human nature to connect. Here are some of their predictions on how the industry will change:

  • Weddings and social events will start sooner than corporate events
  • The type of corporate events could change from big gatherings to multiple smaller ones
  • Caterers will rely more on temp staffing, so they can stay flexible while rebounding
  • Contracts and payments can change, with more vendors requiring payment upfront

Conclusion and resources

What’s clear is that now is the time to collaborate with your competitors vs. stand alone and that’s where your local associations can help.

Here are their resources and others 

And lastly, here’s how you can get in contact with the speakers.

Have additional ideas or resources? Share in the comment box below so others can benefit from it. Thank you!