The catering sector has been gravely hit by the pandemic. As a service built around get-togethers and events, and with social distancing being strictly enforced, caterers simply can’t operate.
“When the lockdown started, we knew we wouldn’t be able to survive,” says Mark Quiray who manages Julio’s Catering, a decade-old family business. “All events have been canceled, and our BPO (business process outsourcing) client companies are down to skeleton workforces. We lost all of them. It is the first time in years that we have closed down our commissary. We also floated most of our manpower, from the kitchen to the cashiers, as well as the management team.”
Even a legacy company like The Plaza wasn’t spared from the pandemic. It has overcome many challenges in over 50 years of operations, but never experienced anything as devastating as the new coronavirus disease.
“All our events for the rest of the year have either asked for refunds, or been postponed to next year,” says Karla Reyes, The Plaza’s chief operations officer. “This trumps incidents like the political unrest in the 1980s. It will take a while for businesses to recover. Some may not even be able to.”
But like many food and beverage players, Julio’s and The Plaza had the flexibility to adapt to the times.
Party trays for family
Late last year, Quiray was already working with a chef to improve Julio’s menu. They were set to launch it around the same time as the lockdown. Instead, the company decided to introduce the new dishes for takeout under a new brand called Calle Nakpil.
Julio’s refreshed roster includes roasted items such as Spanish porchetta and Pinoy lechon belly with hibe salted egg fried rice, fish and chips, white lasagna, its signature pork sisig, chicken inasal and palabok special.
“We thought of focusing on party trays for six to eight, enough for a family, because we know that nobody will hold big parties or celebrations,” he says. “We’re doing our best to rehire our staff but we’re also controlling our budget so we can get through the pandemic.”
So far, things have been looking up for Julio’s with repeat orders. Quiray does the deliveries himself.
“We can’t sell food you can easily find on YouTube and cook at home,” he says. “It’s really about being adaptive and resilient.”
The Plaza is pushing the retail side. It has reopened only two of its six branches, but with its online shop set up since October, it’s beefing up digital marketing.
The Plaza’s website offers frozen convenience food, which it has been selling since the early ’90s: ready-to-cook goods like chicken a la Kiev and chicken lollipops; a boil-in-bag range, precooked dishes that can be reheated in hot water; food-to-go like a whole chicken relleno and seafood pomodoro pasta, as well as bestsellers like Angus corned beef and premium baked ham.
These caterers realize their biggest challenge now is how to stand out in the online marketplace.
“Everyone is selling on digital platforms,” Reyes says. “Those who spend the most time online are the younger, tech-savvy generation who also tend to be finicky, especially with those who are not familiar with our brand. But I’d like to think that we’ve maintained our reputation for quality products and services.” —CONTRIBUTED
Calle Nakpil by Julio’s, tel. 86891899, 0917-1451234; The Plaza Catering, tel. 77290001, 77290002, 88908446