The last few months have been busy for Jade Berger from Social Catering Co.

The chef and business owner, who runs bespoke catering events with a sweet spot of 50-80 people, has been inundated with enquiries, ranging from Christmas parties and baby showers to production shoots.

“Before Christmas and January, it was the busiest I’ve ever been without me really having to try,” Berger tells Fine Food Australia.

“I’m one cog in the wheel [but] production companies and other businesses need catering for all the things they are doing.”

It was a different story for parts of 2020 however.

Berger says that when production companies stopped or saw a reduction in numbers on set, it effectively culled about 50 per cent of her business. As a result, she started making private meals.

“I’d write up a menu each week, offer three options and people would get back to me [for delivery]. That plus JobKeeper helped to pay my bills, and it kept me vaguely sane,” she said.

“I’m not doing that now, as it was a huge amount of work and not really profitable, [but] thankfully, I have lovely people in my life who supported me and kept my head above water.

“Now that it’s busier, everyone is making up for lost time.”

Tea Party Co also weathered a lengthy period of uncertainty across 2020.

Denise Kunter’s boutique High Tea catering business makes everything from macarons and potted desserts to savouries including pies and sausage rolls.

“I didn’t see a future in the little boxes and stuff like that, as I knew it would be a temporary thing, so I learned to back off and rest [during the first lockdown],” she says.

“When the second lockdown was about to happen [and] events shut down again, we gave refunds to clients, but surprisingly many wanted to hold onto dates and are taking them up now. They are celebrating belated birthdays, bridal showers and so on.

“People are very hopeful, and really positively minded.”

Kunter made a few changes to her business model at various points, including buying meals for a couple of events which enabled her to cancel orders at short notice.

She also introduced packages for 10 people – which took off and became a fixture of the business – and moved some events to parks when indoor numbers were reduced.

“We’ve gone back to making all the food,” she says.

“Having packages of 10 is a security thing for me and my customers, but I’m doing customised meals and going full throttle with no more holding back.

“[Clients] have been very understanding with last-minute changes.”

A shift in confidence

A few months following the easing of stringent restrictions, Berger says clients – in particular older groups – are happy hosting intimate, catered events at home.

She has implemented a number of COVID-Safe protocols – including individually boxed meals and the removal of shared tongs and dips for production catering – as well as a 50 per cent deposit to mitigate uncertainty and late cancellations.

“We need a deposit in order to know that they’re serious [but] it’s refundable based on a number of different factors. We’re not here to rip people off,” she says.

“[The COVID-safe changes] can be a little bit fiddly, and I have to craft my menus differently, but they are small shifts really.”

“It’s a tricky time, and we’re here to help people celebrate things – that’s my business. I’ve learned to be more resilient about change.”

Berger plans to keep growing Social Catering Coto the point where she is able to employ another staff member. She says that certain changes – like the boxed meals for film production – worked really well, and will likely be used in the future.

“When people break at once, they would help themselves from platters, but when they break at different times, it’s handy to not have to think, grab a box and go. From a hygienic perspective, people may feel more comfortable doing things the way they’re done now,” she says.

She adds that she has become more accepting of the fact that things might change at the last minute.

“Not panicking about the fact that I might lose a wedding, or whatever the function is, and accepting that it’s just the reality right now. That adaptability is a plus.”

While Kunter – who plans to introduce a cake range – says she will take on as many events as possible, as “you never know what’ll happen tomorrow.”

“Because we were so established, closing down then reopening wasn’t such a big deal,” she says.

“We had all the tools in place [and] thought things ahead from a safety perspective.

“[It’s all about] getting back up on your feet and continuing on.”

Fine Food Australia is Australia’s premier food industry event and the largest food trade show in the Southern Hemisphere. This trade-only event is in its 36th year and the next event will be held from 6 – 9 September 2021 at the International Convention Centre in Sydney.