The catering/hospitality industry in the UK contributes £120 BILLION a year – more than the automotive, pharmaceutical and aeronautics industries combined.
Some businesses have managed to “flip” their catering facility during the Covid-19 lockdown, transferring from on-site dining to takeaway, whereas others have closed their doors in line with Government regulations, and may never open them again.
As the industry fumbles its way out of lockdown, trying to cope with the ever-shifting rules and regulations of social distancing, consumers will have a very different, less social experience from anything previously enjoyed, yet prices don’t look like shifting downwards.
And what about the planet? To ensure contagion avoidance, caterers have opted for even more one-use, throwaway polystyrene and plastic crockery and cutlery delivery options. Suddenly sustainability seems to have tumbled down the agenda, in a desperate struggle for commercial survival. Already we are seeing discarded gloves and masks appearing on our pavements, parks and beaches. If everyone in the UK disposed of a facemask daily for a year, it would result in 66,000 tonnes of additional plastic waste alone.
Some food and beverage brands have taken practical action to try to save local pubs and eateries. Budweiser Brewing Group launched a “Save Pub Life” initiative to support on trade outlets. Punters purchase a £20 voucher in anticipation of their local pub re-opening, and Bud double it to £40 worth of spend on food and drink.
For Kit & Caboodle, re-opening event premises such as its popular Mad Hatter’s Gin and Tea Party in Notting Hill which had to be closed down for lockdown has proved to be impossible. Such smaller premises offer an intimate experiential event opportunity but they are too small to operate economically under social distancing regulations. Even with the chance to open up previously unavailable pavement areas in order to host a reasonable number of clients, the numbers just don’t add up. Neither would the noise restrictions and nuisance caused to nearby residents.
So, as an events agency – how do we handle the development of food and beverage at an event? Very often, our hands are tied by the venue itself. They will often have “preferred suppliers” – let’s not mention “kickback” – and we are forced to work with those caterers. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t and yet, as event managers, we get the blame if the jellies melt or the steaks are tough.
Where we have free rein, we have a number of preferred suppliers ourselves – no kickback – just ultimate trust and confidence in their ability to step up to the plate (no pun intended) to produce an extraordinary dining or drinking experience that matches our vision, and that of our client. These include: Moving Venue, Bread and Honey, Bread and Flowers, Cellar Society, Kings Kitchen, Cura Dining and Blistering Barbeques, amongst others.
Sometimes we even get carried away with our own creativity. For example, our recent project for The Mad Hatter’s Gin Tea Party was so far out as an experience that we sought to match it with quirky ‘culinary contentments’. So we presented our Wonderland explorers with an extraordinary inhalable Victoria Sponge and then a crazy meringue experience that had to be broken up with a hammer. By that time, they were all “very merry”- to put it mildly – as a result of the gin cocktails mainly – and so they really needed something more substantial to soak up the alcohol. In the end, we turned to simple tea-party sandwiches and cakes at a fraction of the price, and we had happy punters. A learning curve for us, for sure.
Now, as we move into virtual event experiences to overcome the restrictions of lockdown and social distancing, we’ve been sending out hampers in partnership with catering and beverage companies, so that individuals can enjoy the experience of first class eating and drinking from the comfort of their own home, whilst partying with colleagues a million miles away.
It’s a brave new world, and a long way from Aldous Huxley’s prophetic world where everything we consume is synthetic “Take a carotine sandwich, a slice of vitamin A pate, a glass of champagne-surrogate”. All food in the prophetic world seems to be enhanced, vitaminized, with almost no natural ingredients. A world where food is a control instrument, and as long as people are wired to achieve sensory pleasure, they can be fooled into believing that what they are consuming is good for them. Thank goodness this is not the world we live in today although we are faced with different challenges in delivering sensory pleasures through food.
Whichever way you look at it, the events and hospitality industries continue to grow and develop relations whilst being faced with challenges in new ways to serve food and drink. How creative, and how practical the outcome of these relations will turn out to be, post-Covid 19 is anybody’s guess. Will we return to the old ways, or will we embrace new ways? While the future may not always be glorious, we hope it will be edible.
Has lockdown made you change your shopping and eating habits radically? Here at Kit & Caboodle, one of our directors has become a successful home baker. Another has become a confirmed pescatarian. We know from our clients in the alcohol industry that there has been a move towards not just drinking more wine at home, but for drinking better quality alcohol in general! Online events continue to grow stronger and we celebrated Pina Colada day with one of our clients and hosted a virtual cocktail making masterclass in Ibiza for 50 people - Guests might not have been poolside but they certainly got the taste of summer and some chilled Ibiza beats! For them, for us, and perhaps for you - personal catering, eating and drinking habits have undergone a fundamental shift.
But nowhere more so than for the homeless and the hungry. We’d like to end with a shout out to someone in the growing and catering industry who is working tirelessly for others.
A BBC Radio London posting on Facebook (BBCradiolondon/videos/579668122747394) flags up the incredible story of Sunny Karagozlu, founder of Edible London, who started as an unpaid volunteer, catering pre-Covid 19 for around 200 homeless people a week. Based at Alexandra Palace, they have scaled up during lockdown to feed 50,000 homeless and vulnerable people per week with vegetarian and vegan food/meal packs. Edible London volunteers grow organic vegetables and also re-distribute the surplus from supermarket partners like LIDL and M&S. Not only do they save 20 tons of food a week from going into landfill, they also make use of the wooden pallets that the deliveries come in on, to build planters to grow more vegetables. Volunteer carpenters work alongside 350 volunteers to sort out the food and, importantly, to organise waste. Old, spoiled vegetables get put into a central compost area and are redistributed to growers across the north London boroughs. Plastic wrapping and cartons are turned into “eco-bricks'' and put to use. “As well as feeding the hungry by tackling food poverty ethically we are also building communities … the dots we are connecting are nothing short of a miracle,” says Sunny.
Richard Branson says - “Life is all about turning points. Some people don’t embrace them, because they fear change – but over more than 40 years in business, I’ve learned to see shifts in success and forks in the road as huge opportunities. Turning points, while they often come from moments of darkness, can steer us in the direction of great light… or lightbulb moments”