Not every office is filled with workers again after the pandemic forced businesses to allow remote work, but the holiday office party is back, according to local caterers, who are doing at least as much business this holiday season as they were before the pandemic.
In some cases, business is even better than before.
Caterers said that plenty of events were on the books for the 2021 holiday season. But last December’s spike in COVID cases due to the Omicron and Delta variants put a last-minute crimp in many celebrations.
Not so this year. Between weddings, social gatherings and office parties, the latter of which begin in earnest this weekend, caterers are swamped.
“We’ve never done more business than we’re doing now,” said Dean Pigeon, owner of Pigeon Caterers, which has 10 events alone scheduled for Friday night. “I’ve been in business 30 years and have never seen anything like it.”
It’s a good problem to have and it’s a far cry from where caterers were two years ago, when their very future was in question. But it’s not easy.
While customers are back, workers are still hard to find. So are all sorts of goods — everything from seafood to cheese to napkins and plastic serving trays — due to ongoing supply chain issues.
“You place an order and you’re never quite sure if you’re going to get it and, if you do, whether it will be short,” said Jessie Dejoie, owner of Elizabeth Anderson Catering. “Sometimes you only get half as much as you need. You learn to make do.”
Cheese boards, sandwich trays
Caterers said they aren’t complaining. While their business has been on the upswing all year, this marks the first holiday season since 2019 that parties and, particularly, corporate events, have been back in force.
Law firms and universities are placing a steady stream of orders, according to Julie Lamkin, general manager of Southern Hospitality Catering.
“We’re also seeing the return of larger events,” Lampkin said last week. “We did a party for 400 last weekend and another for about 350.”
Smaller businesses are also celebrating the season, said Katie Beth McIntyre, general manager of gourmet market Larder in Metairie. Popular items are sandwich trays and cheese boards.
“We’re expecting it to get even busier as Christmas approaches,” she said.
Shortages and supply chain issues
Filling the influx in orders, however, is tricky for a couple of reasons. For one, the employee shortage that has confounded virtually every employment sector across the country, has been hard on caterers, who say they’re pulling double duty preparing orders and staffing events.
“Everybody has to do everything now,” said Patti Constantin, who owns Designs in Catering. “I have a good team, but it gets to a point where it is really difficult for them because not everyone wants to work 80 hours a week, which is what it takes to get everything done.”
Supply chain issues, both domestically and abroad, also continue to pose challenges — not only because items are harder to come by but because the imbalance between supply and demand has sent prices skyrocketing.
Anderson estimates costs are up about 50% on average. McIntyre said some items cost double what they did a year ago.
Shipping costs are also way up, according to Constantin. She recently had to shell out nearly $70 in shipping to purchase a $153 five-pound wheel of cheese.
“I used to be able to buy it locally but I can’t find it here anymore, so I had to order it,” she said. “That gives you an idea of what we’re dealing with.”
Caterers said they’re passing some of the costs on to their customers while also shrinking their margins. It’s a balance they’re trying to strike in various ways.
“I’ve stopped accepting credit cards because their fees have gone up so much, I didn’t want to pass any additional costs on,” Anderson said.