Though the last few months have tossed the future and all we planned for it to the brink of uncertainty, one thing is for certain: we’re all in this together. It was this feeling of solidarity that ran steadfast through the discussion in our latest Thriver Roundtable, What’s Next for Corporate Catering?

The discussion was hosted by Thriver’ Partners Manager Lee Levine-Poch. Panelists and Thriver caterers Tony Pethakas, owner and operator of Toronto-based Greek restaurant Mezes, and Diana Moss, co-owner of New York-based bakery Mini Melanie, shared insights on how they continue to take on knowledge on how to better serve not just customers who have recently returned to the workplace or are still working from home, but also their employees. Both Pethakas and Moss spoke about how they are doing small but mighty things today in their catering capacity that serve to ground their businesses in an unstable climate and to keep it going well into the future, whatever that may look like. Laura Gammell, Thriver’ Customer Support Manager, joined the panel to provide valuable insight from our customer’s perspective.. 

Here were our key takeaways.

Creating an environment with an increased focus on health and safety

With its kitchen in Brooklyn and retail shop in Manhattan, Mini Melanie felt the impact of COVID-19 early on in the pandemic. This upheaval necessitated a quick response, which, to be effective, needed to be informed and responsible.    

“The first thing we did and what we continue to do is educate ourselves on all the literature and the CDC guidelines,” Moss said. It was important to make sure Mini Melanie complied to the guidelines “for the health and safety of our staff,” she said. In other words, learning about how best to proceed from authorized professionals allowed both Moss and Pethakas to create guidelines that would inform and fuel action well into the future. Pethakas said Mezes has pivoted to expanding their menu options to accommodate customers’ needs around health and safety. As such, the restaurant is providing individually-packaged meals to provide customers with the peace of mind that their meal has not been tampered with and will be safe and healthy. This, Pethakas said, is so that the customer feels satisfied and comfortable.  

Likewise, Gammell said Thriver has created carefully-curated content based on health officials’ recommendations (including videos and tutorials), to educate and help catering partners. Get it touch if you’d like to get these materials! Thriver is also providing information to our office clients on how to prepare when welcoming employees back to the office. And, as part of the increased measures on health and safety, partners are now offering contactless deliveries and paying close attention to custom delivery instructions set by the client. 

Pivot to adhere to the clients’ needs and prepare for client’s return to office

While learning does need to take place to allow appropriate and responsible change, work still has to be done to maintain past goals in regards to serving clients and customers. For example, we at Thriver are still wholeheartedly working to create a happy company culture for all. However, these foundational goals need to be serviced in a new way now, and so it’s important to change in accordance with the times. 

Moss says that Mini Melanie has rebranded certain of their past products, for example renaming a product “Happy Birthday from Afar,” to speak to the socially-distanced experiences of customers. 

Likewise, Thriver has put an increased focus on Group Ordering, which will deliver individually packaged and labeled meals to you and your team. This measure, in addition to custom food racks for in-office employees, is in favour of increasing the safety measures of the food program. Also a part of this pivot is our incorporation of care packages and virtual experiences, to treat the team remotely.       

Create thoughtful experiences to offer a new normal to employees and customers 

Both panelists and Gammell agreed that pivoting to meet customers and employees’ needs works to bring back a feeling of normal, of life before covid. “Normally you’d have a happy hour the last Friday of every month in the office, but instead having the team still celebrate with a gift and recognition from their employer goes a long way,” Moss said. Levine-Poch said that now is the time to get creative, to change a model or product if necessary but also improve on what was already there.   

“We don’t want to miss out on the life celebrations that are happening despite covid,” Moss said. “We’ve been trying to find ways to connect with our customers and fulfill their requests for these events that are now happening in a different capacity, often over Zoom. A lot of what we’re doing is creating custom items that we can send to [customers’] friends and family to still celebrate the engagement, or the birth, or the promotion — whatever it may be, just working with our customers to understand what their needs are and finding a way to deliver what they’re looking for.” 

Likewise, Pethakas says Mezes is providing kits through Thriver, such as barbeque meal kits and cocktail kits, which teams can enjoy together but remotely. He said that the restaurant is also adding personalized notes to each meal to show their customers that they are still as important to Mezes as they ever were. “In essence, we are letting the customer be our focus for whatever they need during this time,” Pethakas said. “We want to be here for them for whatever it may be.” Gammell echoes this sentiment, having noticed how much customers appreciate the small things that might not seem like much. 

Keep up your employees’ morale by appreciating the small things

Times are undeniably tough right now, for everyone. And as the world goes through this change and upheaval, it’s important to focus on whatever good there is, and to remind those around us to do the same. “I feel fortunate to be able to log-on in the morning and speak to people,” Gammell said. “We’re all working together toward the next step, I feel excited about that.”

When it comes to Mezes, “one day at a time” is the motto that Pethakas and his team have adopted. “Just focus on what we do best, let’s keep our customers happy, be thankful that we are healthy and safe,” he said. Mezes had to shrink its workforce, but as time went on, the restaurant was able to bring more and more of its employees back, and Pethakas emphasizes that the restaurant hopes to bring back all its 40 employees in the future. This goal works to keep up his and his staff’s morale. “We want to be kind to each other,” he said. “We’re all going through this together.” 

“Some days are good, some days not as good,” Moss added. Mini Melanie is grateful to still be in business, and works to give its employees as many hours as possible to support them and their families through this strange time. To keep up morale, Mini Melanie uses the downtime to train or to make investments in the business that might otherwise not have been made. Moss said she and her team are using the time as best as they can, keeping in mind that it won’t always be like this. 

Win-win-win solution 

“At the end of the day, it’s important for us all to get out of this time together,” Levine-Poch said. To this end, you should work on doing what is best and feasible for your business. “We completely understand that our clients’ businesses may not be thriving as much as before, so it’s very likely that their budgets have lowered, which is why we suggest adding new simpler menu items that require less labour, to adhere to various price points ,” Levine-Poch said. 

Look for ways that will lead to the best outcome for you and your customers. This could mean revamping or updating your menu to accommodate for budgetary constraints through individually-packaged offerings, or partnering up with neighbouring businesses in the way that Mezes is. Pethakas says that Mezes is collaborating with nearby businesses, and incorporating their products into its menu, in an effort to cross-promote. 

The goal, at the end of the day, is to make it through this time as best as we can. A huge thank you to our panelists, they provided so much insight and useful advice. It was a great discussion and we look forward to many more ahead of us! Sign up to get an invite to the upcoming Thriver Roundtable here