From Latte to Latency

It is impossible to imagine an event without catering, but it is a very real scenario that we may need to face in a post-COVID world.

Our natural inclination to stressful situations is to revert to known behaviours, but the global pandemic had an immediate impact on our traditional event planning cycles and normal operating environments. It engendered in us all prolonged anxiety of what the future may look like. Perhaps however these challenges will ignite a creative belief that disruption can spark constructive change, and from that change growth and innovation can spring. 

" The nuclear option is never the first choice in any scenario but has the potential to release a brand-new world of opportunities. "

At the very least we need to reconsider our food and beverage (F&B) strategy and forge a new catering relationship. 

As we begin our countdown to recovery we cannot yet say when large scale in-person meetings will resume and can only hypothesis how we should devise our catering needs. This post-COVID/social distancing environment may necessitate moving our catering needs into our risk management planning.  

The nuclear option is never the first choice in any scenario but has the potential to release a brand-new world of opportunities.  

Let us be honest and admit that inflated catering budgets have long been a millstone around our necks, draining our budget and hampering our desire to create more meaningful and legitimate networking opportunities. Like sheep, we herd our attendees into pre-scheduled timelimited slots in overcrowded exhibition halls under the guise of “networking” only to spend those 30 mins waiting in line for a cup of average catering coffee. Fake footfall for exhibitors whom I also suspect yearn for much more quality traffic rather than just a disposal area for empty cups and plates. 

Let’s give our sponsors and exhibitors the opportunity to get creative in generating more intimate and engaging networking experiences with prescheduled coffee mornings and supper chats. Most of us are familiar with the meet the expert round table lunch session so let’s give our exhibitors the freedom to design their own lunchtime formats. 

Hybrid has been crying out for our attention for a few years now, alas catering has always been our favourite son. Hybrid is the new normal as we all keep hearing, but you do not hear so much about the elephant in the room – that’s right – hybrid events come at a cost, whether your webcasting or live streaming, your event IT/AV budget is going to significantly increase much more than many realise. Catering budgets may need to be sacrificed for the greater good. 

The good that will come out of it ifreeing our attendees to avail themselves of the veritable cornucopia of local restaurants, bars and supermarkets and thus playing a crucial role in rejuvenating battered local economies.  

The future of event catering may come in the guise of Uberisation allowing delegates to be able to aggregate transactions directly with local catering providers via mobile app. 

No more food waste, more choice and freedom for our participants, allowing us to design our programs more effectively without the shackles of the 30 min mid-morning/mid-afternoon coffee break or the onesizefitsall buffet or that overpriced and overrated lunch bag.  

Increased engagement with the local community can only better our sustainability objectives too and increasing desire for more social and economic equity.   

2020 has proved the importance of agility in our capacity to evolve in order to maintain the viability of our industry. As we begin our journey of recovery in a post-COVID world we can be sure of one constant and that is change. So, farewell my old 30 min coffee break friend  you served well and will be missed in every nook of our globe. In those melancholy moments, I will look back at our photographs and remember you, but our relationship had to evolve to create this much needed new beginning. 

By Robert John Nesbitt, CMP, Senior Project Manager

The article was originally written for M&IT Magazine.

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