Is This the End of F&B as We Know It?

F&B

OK, imagine you’re at an event again. Kind of a nice thought, no? Experts say it will probably be a smaller gathering until a proven COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, and you’ll be distancing and perhaps wearing a mask. But what’s that noise?

Your stomach is growling. You’re hungry.

So, is your host going to feed you or not? If so, how? Or is it time to whip out your smartphone and order from DoorDash? To glean how the F&B world is planning for the resumption of events, we called on Mary Cline, regional director of catering sales for Wolfgang Puck Catering (WPC), in Atlanta. WPC operates in 11 major U.S. cities.

She begins on a hopeful note. “There will still be reasons to celebrate,” she says, brightly. What things will be different? They will span menu planning, preparation and service. In the short term, WPC expects a catering focus on “prepackaged, high-quality foods and meal kits,” she says, which hosts can have delivered or get at curbside to minimize the touch points. Menu choices will be pared down, just as they probably are now at your favorite local restaurant doing takeout or delivery only.

Back at the catering kitchen, Cline says, “We’re ready with kitchen floor decals for distancing, additional hand washing and face masks. And we’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to be even more safe?’”

Once we’re past the re-entry stage, feeding attendees will once again become less like a picnic and more like a banquet. Many have speculated that the buffet and food stations will be lost in favor of plated meals only—brought from the kitchen by masked and gloved servers to round tables meant for six or eight at half capacity. Or maybe by robots? Cline has other ideas. “Many moons ago,” she says, “we always had an attendant serving. So now we do that again, with an acrylic barrier between the food and guest. In other words, it becomes a serviced buffet. Or you’ve got a chef cooking right in front of you, behind a screen. And at food stations, an attendant could invite a limited number of distanced guests at a time.”

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Ah, but what about the sine qua non of elegant gatherings—the passed hors d’oeuvres? “That can be done, too” she asserts. She envisions items on individual plates handed to you by a gloved server.

“I’m interested to see what creative ideas come out of this in the industry. Events people are really ingenious,” Cline says.

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