Caterers hoping for stronger holiday season

Ready to serve

The holiday season is usually one of the busiest times of the year for the catering industry, but last year, the coronavirus pandemic created havoc for those businesses.

“Last year at this time was when COVID was spiking and the phones stopped ringing. Our December was taken off the books,” said Doug Simon, owner of The Casino at Lakemont Park. “It will be interesting to see how the phones ring” this year, he added.

Fortunately, business appears to be picking up.

“Things have rebounded pretty significantly, especially in the last two months,” Simon said. “We are still not back to the same volume of business overall that we saw pre-pandemic, but on most weekends we are catering multiple events.”

Simon said a lot of events throughout both September and October were off premises as people were still a “bit hesitant to have large indoor catered events.”

He estimates The Casino is operating at 65% to 70% of pre-COVID-19 catering volume.

“Everybody seems to be looking ahead,” said Victoria Mirenda, general manager of The Casino and Snappy Chef Catering.

“We are back to normal levels as long as we are not under restrictions,” Mirenda said. “It is really early,” she said, noting when Thanksgiving gets closer and people realize Christmas is just around the corner, she expects business to pick up.

“Everybody is so busy figuring out what they need, there is still time, it is early, but we expect to do well,” Mirenda said.

Holland Brothers Meats, Duncansville, is also doing more business and expects to add events.

“As I look at the calendar now, the number is down, but a lot of people wait until the last minute,” said owner Brock Holland. “Come mid-November, my calendar may blow up.”

Holland notices that companies want to give back to their employees this year.

“We’ve noticed people getting gift cards from us and gift boxes for their employees,” he said. “They can do that better than a large catered lunch. We’ve seen an increase in gift boxes for sure.”

Area diners seem to favor buffet dinners, business owners said.

“Customers typically dictate the style of service they prefer and with more and more people vaccinated, it’s making it much easier to accommodate large groups and buffet services,” Simon said.

“Our community definitely prefers buffet style versus sit down style service, so we accommodate that by offering to place servers behind buffets if your guests prefer. That way, fewer people are handling service utensils,” he said.

“We still do the traditional buffet, we have sanitizers at both ends of the lines, we take certain precautions, but for the most part people are sitting down together,” Holland said.

Mirenda said the buffet is an option for many company holiday parties. Depending on the size of the company, tables can be placed further apart to provide for more social distancing.

Local caterers have the ability to accommodate parties of a few hundred guests or groups as small as 12.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, come companies remain hesitant about holding a holiday gathering.

Holland, who caters to a lot of large businesses, said there have already been some cancellations.

“A lot of businesses are not returning,” Simon admitted. “We have some smaller groups that used to come, but we have not even heard from them. Some of the larger ones were postponed until next year hoping things will be better.”

In the meantime, area businesses or residents who want to book a gathering or party have time.

“Whether for small or larger events, our staff is ready to accommodate our guests’ needs here at The Casino or at any off premise location,” Simon said, noting that one option that appeals to those still skeptical of dining out would be to host a more intimate gathering at home and at a business.

“One of my favorite things to do is come into people’s homes and cook a multi-course dinner,” Simon said. “That could be a big opportunity for us this holiday season.”

This year is a good time to do things differently, caterers said.

“Last year, we stepped out of the box and did drive-by lunches and dinners,” Mirenda said. ‘That was neat.”

“Businesses should look for alternative plans, don’t just focus on a large catered meal,” Holland said. “Be creative … all businesses are having to adapt. We are scrambling and doing what we can.”

Meanwhile, meals will be available for Thanksgiving Day.

Altoona Grand Hotel plans to host its annual Thanksgiving Day dinner. Last year, the hotel stepped back from its traditional all-you-can-eat buffet and took reservations on the hour. This year’s dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is by reservation only.

“Our menu will be similar to years past with the traditional offerings. We are hoping to see an increased amount of 300 to 400, as Thanksgiving was always our busiest holiday,” General Manager Lindsay Danella said. “It will be an all-you-can-eat buffet. We are hoping to see a great crowd and very excited to see it in the ballroom.”

“We will have takeout for Thanksgiving where people can pick up their food on Wednesday,” Mirenda said. “We will also offer takeout for New Years.”

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.


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