As you may have already guessed, my name is Ren and I have been successfully trading with my catering company, Ren's Kitchen, for 12 years now. The best part about my job has always been the personal bonds me and my team create with our clients, including our wedding couples. We pride ourselves on being with them from start to finish, overseeing the whole planning process for the catering on their special day. By the eagerly anticipated wedding day, we have normally become friends for the long term!
The aim was never to grow my business exponentially and lose any of the personal touches with my clients I work so hard to build, so we always close our books for the year at 100 weddings per year. Having trained as a chef in London’s fine dining scene, I love being able to not only be the front of house but also to play a part behind the scenes by helping coordinate getting the job done by getting stuck in. As much as I sometimes miss the life of a restaurant chef, I love the fact that in my industry, we can create memories that our couples will keep forever.
For this reason, I am obviously used to high pressure. The option for failure is just non-existent on event day and this is an ethos I have passed along to the whole team at Ren’s Kitchen with a ‘Whatever it takes’ or ‘Not on my watch’ motto.
Managing customer expectations
Everyone by now knows the seriousness of the Coronavirus outbreak, but when it first arose, our priority was to manage expectations for our couples. It was the first time ever Ren’s Kitchen had had to warn them that there was a small possibility that we may not be able to get the exact ingredients for their wedding menu. It was also the first time we had to say that we were not able to 100% guarantee that the agreed staff members would be present on the day after the government's guidance around self-isolation.
We had no idea that a few mere days later, we would be having to contact every single one of our wedding couples that were due to hold their special day in the summer of 2020 to inform them that they would have to put their entire wedding day on hold. This has been the most heart-breaking part of the whole process and I would say way above the potentially disastrous ramifications for my catering business.
Financially we know it’s going to be a really tough challenge. At Ren’s Kitchen, year on year our business is so seasonal so we tend to spend all our cash reserves in the winter months, confident of another successful fully booked wedding season the following summer. As you can imagine, now we have found out (without a degree of certainty on when it will end) that we will have no cashflow coming in for the next three months minimum, this is a bit of a kicker!
Many opinions around the grants currently being offered centre around ‘what’s the point in a government backed loan with unspecific terms that still has to be paid back in 6 months’? The minute the crisis is over is when many businesses will realise all they have done is get into yet more debt. I started my business with a credit card and £8,000 in savings, swearing blind that win or lose, I would not get into debt. If things went wrong I wanted the option to be able to walk away clean and with my integrity intact, knowing I had paid my debtors. It is this belief in business integrity that makes this option unimaginable, however I would also not be able to live with myself if I let any of my wedding couples down. I have no doubt that Ren’s Kitchen is not the only business facing such difficult decisions financially.
Working together and using your relationships
Luckily, we have built up great relations with all of our wedding venues, regular photographers, bands, DJ's etc and it is by working together as a team that we are going to get through this difficult period, both for ourselves, and our clients. We are able to all come together, compare diaries, share contacts and resources, and in nearly all cases we are proud to say that we have been able to pretty much re-organise a wedding for a later ‘safer’ date!
What we’ve discovered from doing this is that people tend to be reassured and calmed once new date’s have been agreed and set. It’s a horrible choice having to weigh up your own personal hopes and dreams against the potential safety of family and friends. My advice for anyone in this situation planning a wedding or event this summer is to find a date to reschedule, get it moved, and just lean into it!
Helping the community
As the outbreak worsened day by day, the team at Ren’s Kitchen came into work and had to rethink our strategy and future after new government announcements and guidelines the night before. We found our café becoming a real focal point for the local workforce and community to come together, and even after we were forced to become exclusively a take-away, we felt we were providing a really valuable service. My staff went to a local retirement home daily in Sussex to drop off meals. We also started supplying and delivering hard to get essentials like toilet rolls and dried goods which we sold on a not-for-profit basis.
On Monday 23rd March, we finally decided to close the café and kitchen. It was no longer safe for me to ask my staff to risk their health by coming to work. It was awful having to close the doors, and as a business owner, stepping into the unknown again after all these years of successful trading. However, I have to say in my opinion that the government has been great, and with their help. We have been able to retain all of our amazing staff who enable Ren’s Kitchen to do what it does on a daily basis and I am forever grateful and thankful for. My events team has been busy working from home, and we are in daily contact, ready and waiting in anticipation until we can pick up where we left off and start doing what we love once more.
The plan for Ren’s Kitchen is to get through the next few months as a business and team without going to the wall. I can imagine that there must be a lot of restaurants, cafes and pubs that must be weighing up whether it’s worth carrying on.
I wish all of my fellow caterers my best wishes. God knows there are easier ways to make a living even in fair weather.
If anyone would like to get in touch and share ideas in this period, please contact me at my contact page.