When you look back it’s been an unbelievable nine months of hell for everyone in the hospitality industry.

But boy we should be proud. So far, we have survived and adapted and shown what we are made of.

The pandemic started impacting us with initial rumblings pre-March. We then had to plan for the impact that month, which eventually turned into what we are all doing now.

So, by March 23rd it all shut down – something I believe none of us envisaged and certainly never really experienced before.

At best, we thought it would be a matter of a few months and even in wildest dreams we didn’t see it being the whole year and into next.

Being prepared

As contract caterers, I feel we were better prepared than most for this – we are used to adapting, turning on a sixpence and going with the rolls and demand of others. That’s what we do as contractors with last minute demands or challenges – never really questioning but just getting on with it.

We stayed in the now – what needs to be done today. We planned for the going in and coming out, we adapted to fluctuating demands and circumstances. Bless our fantastic teams; they just got on with it, and just made it happen.

Through the disruption, the pace of change has exponentially increased and some things have leaped ahead – such as introduction of technology or demise of cash, but others I’m sure will fade away and an odd few may stay.

Hygiene safety is the new ambience.

Will the hand sanitiser stay on every table? I doubt it, but our need for feeling safe within cleanliness boundaries will be a hygiene factor now for any visit.

Personally, I also hope the separation of tables does remain as I prefer less intimacy of tables and it improves the experience.

One clear point is that clients look for a more proactive input from the caterers on how to adapt, what’s happening in the wider hospitality market, sharing best practise.

Clients in this world of instability are looking for the caterer to create the stability and indeed to have that plan B at the ready – or as this year has proven, more like an alphabet full of them.

The next normal in hospitality

We are probably never going back to the office as we know it – but we know we are a social animal so it will return. Our challenge is to make things desirable so that people want to go back to their offices.

Catering and hospitality still have a place and it is the perfect reason to come to the office. It can facilitate collaboration and indeed is best suited to support a more agile workforce.

In terms of contracts: any budgeting, planning, delivery we had in mind have gone out of the window. The norm is no longer and the art of forecasting has become like a slot machine of chance with government, client and caterer trying to hit the jackpot.

Clients do not want to take risks so at this time have not been looking to tender. For a start, what can they tender for when workforce movement is difficult to predict?

It may mean that clients who are looking to tender may look to factors other than price, and perhaps more on delivery of partnership.

A partnership with a client that has been based on collaboration will always be different to one based on price alone.

The pandemic period has been largely about showing compassion and care in business. This has been a major driver of company behaviour. Price and commerciality has played second fiddle.

What’s next?

However, come next year, the battle will begin and no doubt costs will be highlighted. There are those that have won because of Covid and those that have lost. How that will be reflected, only time will tell.

This article first appeared in Contract Catering Magazine and the full article can be read here

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My earliest food memories are of my mum’s baking; coconut pyramid cakes were my favourite.

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