When lock down was announced, hospitality was cancelled overnight. As the event business ground to a halt, catering companies had to change tack to survive. Known for his creative culinary approach Jimmy Garcia’s business ingenuity was put to the test like never before.
Adapting his business to stay afloat, Jimmy Garcia in the space of a fortnight, changed the company’s menu to make deliverable hampers, barbecue and fondue sets to keep people entertained at home.
In addition Jimmy has been able to support the wider community by setting up a partnership with Age UK Wandsworth to prepare and deliver meals to the elderly and vulnerable in south London where his business is based. By reaching out his corporate clients that are still thriving (Google, Virgin Media and Facebook) Jimmy asked everyone to donate £3 to cover the cost of each meal, enabling him to deliver 861 meals a day and ensure a regular supply each week.
During this challenging and busy time Jimmy found time to speak to us about how he changed tack and what he thinks the future holds.
When lock down was announced, hospitality was cancelled overnight. It’s been a heartbreaking time for the industry. What was your initial reaction?
We were actually on events up until Saturday 14th March, and on the 15th I was at a friend’s wedding, and then we woke up to a Monday morning of all of our events being cancelled, so we sent all of our team to work from home and quickly began hatching our plan.
Very quickly you formed a partnership with Age UK Wandsworth to prepare and deliver meals to the elderly and vulnerable. How did you move your business so quickly?
We quickly tried to channel our anxiety and energy as a group to focus on what we COULD do, rather than what we couldn’t and so by the Wednesday I was working with the council to procure thousands of items for their emergency packages as their supply chains had just fallen apart. It was through the council that I then managed to make contact with Age UK, and get our campaign up and running.
You initially started your company by opening a pop-up restaurant in your front room. As you now return to delivering food back to the front door, how can you bring your experience to help enhance dining at home?
We’ve always aimed to keep the fun in food and entertaining by providing an offering that can not only be shared, but also using the best seasonal ingredients available to produce food and drink that makes you smile. A proud and welcoming host is just as important as the food….except the good food makes the hosting a whole lot easier!
We’ll soon be announcing some popup evenings in one of our old, original venues this summer, and are set to announce our pizza party concept for groups of 6, with social distancing measures in place at roof east this summer, so we’ll continue to popup until we can do events again.
Your hampers, barbecue and fondue sets have been regularly selling out, how have you kept your brand known?
We’ve aimed to stay positive in our outlook and keep providing a service for our clients no matter what the environment, and I think people have really bought in to that, and appreciated what we’ve tried to do. We’ve also had some fab endorsements from celebs along the way, which is always fun.
Alongside your popups you were running hundreds of events a year all over the world. What were you looking forward to this year?
Oofff! Well we’ve still got a couple of international events towards the end of the year that haven’t disappeared yet, so fingers crossed, but we were due to be catering at Cannes Film Festival and Lions this summer alongside two new venue openings, but the venues will still be here when all this is over, and so will we, so until then…!
How do you think the events industry will adapt once events are allowed to return?
We’re a versatile bunch, and we’re already all adapting I think.
What measures do catering companies need to put in place to enable clients to feel confident to host events again?
We need to assure clients and colleagues that we are creating a safe event. We have a range of creative ways to execute social distancing catering, to keep the magic of the event whilst keeping guests safe
Shared platters, grazing stations and dessert stations are looking unlikely for a while. How do you think food will need to be presented to still be visually engaging?
We’ve got to get creative to make the guest experience as elevated as possible….whether it’s individually, beautifully presented food or on conveyor belts or even hanging in trees … we caterers love a good plating challenge and this is one big challenge!
With hybrid events likely to be a fixture for at least the next year how can food play a part in making events engaging?
We’ve been doing loads of this as we’ve been delivering nationwide event boxes for the past three months It turns a Zoom call into an experience. People engage with each other and the contents of their box, and there’s nothing more exciting right now than a parcel delivery!
Lots of couples have had to postpone their day, how have you been working with your wedding clients to help them through this time?
We are working with all our clients to move their dates without any financial impact, and for new clients, we are offering favourable contract terms to provide full assurance that we’re here to plan with them with very little financial commitment.
We’ve also been doing some ‘not wedding’ boxes! Delivering ‘his and hers’ cocktails to them and some of their guests.
You’ve put on large events catering for 2000 guests, how do you make smaller intimate events just as special?
We let the food and drink do the talking at intimate events. It’s down to the needs of the client really. We read the environment and crowd and suit our service to suit. From discrete boardroom dinners to raucous family reunions, the art of intimate hosting is adapting to the environment.
What do we need from the Government to help get the events business back on its feet?
Some guidance. If we can have restaurants open with strangers sitting near each other, why can’t we have venues open?
Going forward, have you had any thoughts on how you will regrow and diversify your business?
I think we are on the correct path. We’re offering event boxes to enhance the virtual event and gifting need out there, and will be opening some of our popup operations in the coming months, as well as continuing to offer our clients the necessary assurances to book events with us in the future.
We’ve always prided ourselves on our diversity, with our public popup offering working alongside our catering arm, and in the short term it looks like we might be popping up more a bit more often for a variety of catering solutions.
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