North Carolina catering businesses struggling to due reduced holiday parties, weddings amid COVID-19 pandemic

The steady population growth in the Triangle has been a boon for so many years for businesses like Catering Works.

"We were on track to have our best year yet," says Jill Santalucia, who founded the business 31 years ago.

But just two months in, the pandemic, and ensuing lockdowns and capacity limits, changed their outlook.

"And our phone was ringing off the hook with canceled, canceled, canceled. It was like - 'this isn't just going to be a few weeks,'" said Santalucia.

Instead, she said business is down some months by 90 percent, noting even a relatively strong month is down 65 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

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"We've laid off 125 employees, and we've had 65 full-time in our building every day and now we're down to 25. So (it's) really sad," said Santalucia.

Instead of weddings, holiday parties, and large-scale events, Santalucia has tried to pivot and utilize her existing space.

"Right in the very beginning, we realized that we weren't going to be doing the amount of events that we normally do. We quickly redirected and started doing family meals, and we started a popcorn family, and we're doing ghost kitchens. And so we're doing everything we can to survive," Santalucia said.

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Like Santalucia, Cameron Duncan, owner of STAFF'd, noted he was on-track for his biggest year in business. The company provides servers, bartenders, and other support staff for large-scale events. Last year, Duncan explained their holiday-season success.
"It's huge. And that's corporate parties, it's holiday weddings. They just kept us afloat. We're just not seeing that now," said Duncan.

He's grateful that clients have been understanding of the changing rules and regulations.

"It's forever changing. Once we plan something, it's like you can't set anything in stone because as soon as the governor speaks, things could change on a dime. So you have to be prepared for that. I think the great thing is that everyone that I've been in contact with has shown a ton of grace for us, (and) the challenges that we face be it a small corporate party or a smaller wedding," said Duncan.

Duncan is bracing for a potential shift in spending habits moving forward.

"That may be that we might get a little bit more familiar working much smaller events versus the really big ones," said Duncan.

Both Santalucia and Duncan have been able to work smaller-scale events.

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