Friday, March 27, 2009

Caterers protest the protests against biz events

Consider this scenario: Mega Screw & Trust, a New York bank, is teetering on the brink of insolvency until feds showed up with bags of greenbacks from the Troubled Assets Relief Program. It stays open, and even decides to proceed with the big party it was planning for 20-year veterans who met their cost-cutting goals. But the press finds out and makes a stink, prompting MST to cancel the five-figure fete.

Sunshine Bank & Kitten Saver, a medium-sized competitor that stayed financially fit, witnesses the fallout and decides it’d better pull the plug on a celebration honoring the employees who came up with the best give-back programs for local charities. It alerts Joe’s Neighborhood Grill that it won’t be taking the back room next Friday. The banquet’s off.

Edmund Schmoe III, a former Mega Screw & Trust VP who now works as a banquet waiter at Joe’s, finds out he won’t be needed next Friday. His first response is letting his brothers know they can’t count on a contribution from him for the catered party they were planning for their father’s birthday. The siblings decide to cancel.

That sequence of events, or at least a segment of it, has transpired often enough to prompt a muted outcry from the National Association of Catering Executives. Treading carefully, the group yesterday released survey results that indicate 90% of the nation’s caterers and meeting planners have lost business because of the outcry over businesses holding events in the current economic climate. Almost the same percentage of respondents say the public outrage has made that climate worse.

"While I understand that in these times it is important to spend carefully, the bashing of the catering, events, meetings and travel business is not only unfair and prejudicial to our industry, it is counterproductive to economic recovery," said Greg Casella, the San Jose, Calif., caterer who serves as president of NACE.

If the situation is that bad for caterers, imagine the fallout for restaurants. Not only are they losing party and banquet business, but even routine expense account meals.

The question is, what can be done about it? As Restaurant Reality Check previously reported, the National Restaurant Association quietly pushed back last month against federal legislation that would have mandated cuts in banquets, catering and other foodservice expenses by companies receiving bailout funds. How can any group publicly call for those types of expenses to continue when so many people are struggling to afford groceries, never mind a party?

Still, NACE deserves a lot of credit for spotlighting a facet of the situation that deserves consideration. As it noted in releasing yesterday’s statement, its membership extends to 4,000 businesses, which obviously must employ a big multiple of that number. Those people are struggling to eat, too.

No comments: