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What Happens to All the Catered Food From Canceled Events?

If it’s not made yet, no problem. If it’s already prepared? It’s gotta go somewhere, right?

Coronavirus is upon us, and life just got boring (and terrifying) in a hurry. Since people are being ordered to stay home across the country, with bars being forced to close and large gatherings prohibited, there are no parties, weddings or events of any kind. So what the hell happens to all the food that was supposed to be served at the weddings and other events that just got canceled? How big of a hit are these caterers taking? And who’s stuck paying for it all? We spoke to local caterers so we can serve up some answers.

Okay, so where’s all that food ending up?

Fortunately for the caterers we spoke to, there were only a few last-minute wedding and corporate-event cancellations in which the food was already being prepared. A spokesperson for The Wild Thyme Company explained that for a 450-person corporate function last Friday, they were getting ready to load food on the truck when the event was canceled. But in cases like this, they work with a food wholesaler that helps caterers and restaurants package up unused food — then they donate it to organizations that need it, so it ended up feeding some very hungry people. 

A spokesperson for Waters Catering says they had two last-minute corporate cancellations. In both cases, they offered to donate the food to local homeless shelters, but the clients decided to simply offer it to their staff. 

What about the food that’s on hand, but not yet cooked?

The companies we spoke with have side businesses in selling prepared food to walk-up customers, or via meal-delivery services with the food they already have in house. “There’s no food going to waste,” one person assures. Other businesses are just giving the food to their own workers.

Waters’ spokesperson says this sideline doesn’t always pay the bills — that’s what the weddings and events are for! — but it’s something. And customers really appreciate the ability to get a lovely organic asparagus soup for takeout in times like this.

So who pays for the food that isn’t made for the event that’s not happening?

Every caterer has a different kind of contract, and the ones we spoke to didn’t want to get into specifics. But generally, the client is still on the hook. “Some caterers are just keeping it all,” one caterer explains. And if they haven’t paid in full yet (only the deposit), then the caterer will keep their deposit — which makes sense, as weddings will generally get pushed back to a later date rather than canceled altogether. But hey, a contract’s a contract, and most caterers intend to get paid in full, although the spokesperson for Wild Thyme says they’re working with customers to do the best they can. “We’re trying to be as understanding as possible while recouping our costs,” they tell me.

How bad is it for caterers and the whole industry?

Terrible! The spokesperson for Waters was talking to an old colleague recently, who went to work in food services for a hotel — everyone there is getting laid off this week (meanwhile, they know of others who went on to work for Whole Foods and Amazon, where they’re working constantly and getting bonuses in what must feel like an alternate reality). Fellow catering companies they spoke to are even closing their doors down for now until things get better. Overall, this has been devastating to the entire hospitality industry, and the whole wedding network: deejays, florists, fondue-fountain proprietors, everyone. 

Has anything ever hit this industry like this coronavirus?

They made comparisons to both the recession and to 9/11 — the kinds of seismic events where business plummeted overnight. The hardest part is the uncertainty, both for caterers and clients. Should people cancel their wedding scheduled for June? What about the one in May? How long will this last?

But at least the second half of the year will be busy: all the rescheduled events will be slotted in alongside the events that are already scheduled near the end of 2020.

At least, that’s assuming the coronavirus is gone by then. Nobody knows anything at this point. That’s one of the most stressful parts about this for everyone — whether you’re working from home, whether your kids are at home now, whether you’re getting married or whether your business is to prepare and serve all the food for those very weddings, the end could be in sight, or it could be nowhere close.