Communicating with laid-off staff, preserving cash and a need for some certainty about the future were cited by two leading caterers as the principal challenges facing their businesses during the Covid 19 crisis.
Noel Mahony, chief executive of UK caterer BaxterStorey and Kenneth Carroll, director of Carroll Catering were speaking to Micheline Corr at this week’s ‘The Firm Optimist’ discussion.
Noel Mahony said that it is very difficult to get a clear picture of where the catering sector will be early in 2021 and this makes business planning very challenging. Kenneth Carroll agreed and said that caterers will have to try to anticipate changing dining patterns with the possibility that more people will prefer to eat in their homes.
Safety of staff and customers will be at the top of caterers’ agendas. ‘It will not be possible for staff in our client sites to carry uncovered food to a table or their work desks’, Noel Mahony said. ‘Baxter Storey had operated a successful project aimed at reducing its use of plastic packaging, but packaging is likely to be a very important element in its business in the foreseeable future’.
Both caterers praised the Irish Government reaction to the pandemic. ‘In Ireland there was an early reaction, clear guidance and a measured approach’, he said, describing the equivalent response in the UK as ‘starting on the back foot and playing catch-up’.
However, he said that the catering sector in the UK had united to produce positive proposals to the Government.
BaxterStorey holds many large corporate catering contracts in London and throughout the UK and Noel Mahony said that the company is projecting a 40% return to work by client’s employees by November next. ‘However, many companies may be questioning their need for large office buildings as more staff continue to work from home. We are looking at several possible responses including the delivery of meals to the homes of workers’, he said.
Looking at the situation in Ireland, Kenneth Carroll said that there is some movement in client sites reopening’.
Noel Mahony said that caterers have long experience of dealing with dramatic change in their business and he is confident that solutions will also be found to the challenges posed by Covid 19. ‘There is a good possibility that the sector in the UK and Ireland will get back to the volumes of business it experienced prior to the pandemic’, he said.