Like many industries, catering has faced many challenges and disruptions since early 2020. From restrictions on the number of attendees to eliminating stand-up receptions and indoor dining, hosting events looks far different now than it did in 2019. But we’ve consistently seen that when organizations do host events, attendees feel even more engaged and grateful to have a reason to gather together.
Our business serves clients in 13 states across the US, and each location has brought with it its own unique challenges. With more hospitable weather, organizations in southern states continue to host events outdoors, but in colder climates, the ability to host events year-round requires some creativity and ingenuity.
Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned by safely catering fun, memorable events for our clients, as well as some tips for hosting your own events any time of year.
Staffing challenges? Support local!
It can be difficult to find enough staff to successfully host a catered event, but there are plenty of creative solutions to help. To help mitigate a lack of catering staff for an outdoor event, like a “welcome back” picnic or “thank you” event, consider partnering with local food trucks to provide guests with a wide variety of delicious foods. Not only is this a great way to engage with the community you’re serving, it was also a wonderful way to support other local businesses.
Give attendees space.
We’ve focused on creating beautiful spaces within our clients’ budgets, employing highly-motivated staff, and serving food and beverages that exceed expectations. But for indoor events, providing adequate space is key to a positive experience. For seated dinners, for example, spreading out tables and chairs can be an effective way to safely space out individuals. In general, renting large event spaces for smaller groups is an effective way to ensure safe spacing, and most areas have unique, high-capacity event spaces to choose from.
Get creative in colder climates.
It’s easy to say, “Host an event outdoors!” when you’re in a warm climate, but around our HQ in Michigan, the cold and snow can make hosting a catered event outside a bit trickier. Midway through 2020, one of our clients put forth an initiative to build an outdoor fire pit for their students to gather around and socialize when the weather grew colder. Others have rented tents with two open sides, using a variety of space heaters, bonfires, fans, etc. to cool or warm the space as needed.
Science actually backs up the innate love humans have for gathering around a heat source, like a bonfire. A University of Alabama study showed that watching a fire actually lowered people’s blood pressure, averaging about a 5% decrease for participants in the study. Anthropologist Christopher Lynn described sitting by and watching a fire as an enrapturing experience for all five senses.
All that to say: hosting an outdoor event during cold weather, while it may not have always been the norm, has the potential to turn into an interesting and engaging experience for attendees. You might be surprised to find out just how much people enjoy it.
Make it special and memorable.
Whether you host your event indoors or out, there are plenty of ways to create a memorable event experience for your guests. Giant yard games, like Jenga or cornhole, are always a hit. Set up an open-air photo booth. Bring in live entertainment like a live band or a DJ. Hire a local comedian or magician to come do a set. Hire a caricature artist to immortalize your guests, or host a silent auction. If your event is in the evening, bringing in a talented, showy mixologist could provide both entertainment and fantastic beverages for attendees.
When in doubt, go virtual.
Even if you decide to host an event in the digital space, there are plenty of ways to make your event impactful and personal. You might consider preparing a thoughtful box of locally-inspired treats, shipped to your guests to enjoy during your next virtual annual meeting, online training or alumni event. Popping on a sticker that says, “Don’t open until the Alumni Gala!” or, “Only open during the annual meeting!” can help create a special connection between all event attendees.
Don’t give up on hosting events!
Although catered gatherings may look different than in the past, these things are still true: there is still immense joy in gathering with other people, and the challenges faced in hosting events have made everyone involved appreciate them so much more. The events may be smaller and fewer in number, but that only serves to make each event so much more precious and meaningful to the attendees, the hosts, and even the caterers.
If you’d like to learn more about Creative Dining catered events, be sure to reach out to us.