Guidance for Event Caterers
Updated on 24th March 2020
As we face challenging times across the world and specifically in the Event Catering Industry, I feel it's important that we help our fellow caterers and share the knowledge we have so it can hopefully help you too. we'll keep this page updated with new information as it arises.
There are a number of steps we can take to protect our businesses and also think about the wider industry and the future in these times.
An analogy I like to use when thinking about the interruption to business we are all experiencing is thinking of a plane (Our businesses) experiencing trouble mid-flight. Our first instinct if we panic (And experience Fight or Flight) may be to close our eyes and hope for the best or to jump from the plane and parachute safely to the ground… but hold on, take a breath and realise we may be able to adjust and recover.
When in trouble a plane will usually respond by reducing altitude. In our businesses, this means reducing our exposure and immediate financial commitments where practical and possible and buckle-up for a bumpy ride. The most important factor to business survivability is Cash Flow, and not profit. The fortunate thing about this situation is that governments are already aware of the impact and this is not something unique to you or your business.
Costs you should consider reducing:
If you use a system like Xero, now is a great time to download a report listing your outgoings. Alternatively, print off your last 3 months of bank statements and go through highlighting them as pause/cancel. Think about your own salary or drawings from your business account (This means doing the same as above with your personal outgoings too) Any subscriptions that aren’t essential whilst not trading must go.
It’s important to remember that some costs will be payable anyway even if Worst case scenario no further business happen this year, such as accountancy fees. You’ll still need your next tax return filed on time, and in fact, it’s times like these it’s good to have a supportive accountant on board with you. So, I would suggest keeping this in place.
Ok, we may have cancelled our actual vacation plans (for now), but Banks and Mortgage companies are being very flexible at this time and if you explain you’re situation, they’ll likely be able to help. It may be an uncomfortable thing to do if you’ve never missed a payment or asked for help before. Prepare for a long wait and ensure they confirm that there’ll be “no impact on your credit file”, and agree a date to call back in 3 months, should you need a further extension (put this in your diary). It’s worth making a note of the day/time of the call and the name of the person you spoke with, as calls are recorded, this provides a record for you.
If you have a Small Business Loan; from speaking with HSBC Business this week, they are currently reviewing and re-writing their Small Business Loan Terms to try and accommodate payment holidays. If you have a SBL, speak directly with your relationship manager at your bank, they may not have something in place just yet, but reach-out so they know your situation and you are prepared.
Whether or not you have ‘Business Interruption’ insurance is not so relevant right now, the majority of insurers do not list Coronavirus COVID-19 as a ‘Notifiable Disease’ which means it’s not currently covered. However, this may change and whilst the government agree next steps, I would recommend having business interruption insurance in place if possible, you can still put this in place now and what’s more you’ll now be covered for other things that may interrupt business in the future that we don’t currently foresee. Note, that if Coronavirus become 'notifiable', cover for Coronavirus may only be offered to companies who had the appropriate cover in place ahead of time and before the outbreak. We’re in unchartered waters here, so it will be interesting to see what transpires.
Event Fees Already Paid
Make a list of the events you have paid for and list the fees next to them so you can see your exposure. It's also a good idea to check the cancellation terms. It’s important we work together with events on this rather than making it a ‘them and us’ situation, events and concession management co’s are suffering too. It’s important not to tarnish relationships, events will have a lot of internal admin to deal with and processes to follow. This is where we can think about the longer term and the wider industry.
Once you're at a 'lower altitude', it's time to level-out for steady flight. It's a great time to think about any perishable stock you may have that can go out of date, you could either sell this on Gumtree or help your local community or Food Bank / other institution that is still operating. Sometimes when things go wrong, giving back is a great place to start as it’s easy to forget others in these types of situations.
Plan ahead – be prepared for the worst and the best ahead. Make a cash flow plan if you don’t already have one in place. We use LivePlan (£15 per month), it’s an automated cash-flow planning system which uses past Xero data to predict future cash flow. You can simply replicate this using a spreadsheet and listing your expenses month by month. We have an Excel template, if you’d like a template, free of charge, please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org Remember right now is all about Cash Flow, not profit.
Prepare to increase altitude
The events Industry will make a comeback, right now no one knows if this will be weeks months or years. The fact many events have cancelled now until 2021 shows the severity of the situation. Plan for the worst-case scenario… no events until 2021, and a best-case scenario… events back on in Summer 2020. Being ready for both will give your business the flexibility and best chance short and long-term.
Booking new events.
Whilst we are still receiving offers for events, this can cause some mixed-emotions on what to do right now. We have taken quite a firm stance on the terms we will agree to book any new events going forward at this time. This is a very hard thing to do, but our priority right now is making it through to 2021 and not exposing ourselves to any unnecessary risk (and stress) which could jeopardise our business.
This will be different for everyone and determined by your position and appetite for risk, but it’s important not to make rash decisions based on ‘Fear of missing out’ or feeling pressure to book. Remember many events are in survival mode right now too, just like us. Some events may offer favourable ‘pay after the event’ terms, but if this is not a % only basis, remember to factor in the possibility of less attendance and the ratio of attendees to caterers not being as favourable. This really depends on the event and how the events are managing changes in the industry. Remember to work with events, we're a great industry only made possible by all the players working together, but only book when you feel confident the risk and reward are fairly shared in these uncertain times.
Increase your altitude (Getting back to business)
When we see the light at the end of the 'Coronavirus-tunnel' you’ll be back out trading at events and looking after your customers. Remember the landscape of events will likely have changed, we may be busier with 'pent up' demand or we may be quieter with more people nervous of busy events or have experienced changes in their personal finances. This is also a great opportunity to look for ways to innovate and adjust your business model. If you are VAT registered and your income falls below the VAT threshold, it may be advantageous to de-register, speak with your accountant about this.
As tough times can unfortunately spell the end for some businesses, it can equally create opportunities for other businesses to flourish. These times can teach us how to be more prepared and how to run an even slicker operation. It's also important to not look at what we feel we've 'lost' from this, in reality, the things we refer to as being 'lost', we never had in the first place, such as future revenue. They were our expectations, but things outside our visible horizon changed with little or no warning. It's important to remember this so we can be realistic about what the actual impact of this is and move forward from challenges without resentment or regret.
Finally, we’d love to hear from you and help you grow your business in a profitable and sustainable way in the near future.
If you have any advice for your fellow caterers you'd like us to include here, please drop us a line
Links and references
Please contact us for any of the following free of charge:
Cash Flow Excel Template
Mobile Catering insurer offering Business Interruption cover
Catering Industry Specialist Accountants
Training & Support
Greg Gabriel, Director, The Mixing Jug Ltd