Caterers Adapt to Canceled and Reduced Weddings

As the pandemic continues, caterers in the Flathead adjust to smaller crowds and different events while hoping for a more promising season next year

By Maggie Dresser
Flathead Valley Community College culinary students present wedding cakes that they made during the spring semester on June 21, 2018 in Kalispell. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Back in the spring when stay-at-home mandates were implemented across the country and traveling came to a halt, Knucklhed BBQ owner Ryan Garnache started getting phone calls from clients canceling or rescheduling their weddings, which they had planned months before.

While Garnache has managed to keep somewhat busy this summer with the weddings that didn’t cancel and other events with his food truck, he says the attendance has dropped significantly from typical weddings of 150 people to around 50, cutting revenue in half.

With the reduction in large events, which typically bring in more money, Garnache has instead been getting a lot of last minute bookings for smaller events, like businesses throwing work events or retirement parties.

“You might start a light week and by the end of the week, you’ve had a full week,” Garnache said.

Garnache also has had to change the way he operates at weddings. Instead of a buffet, he uses the food truck at many of the weddings as a way to keep people separated and to avoid contamination in buffet lines.

When he does have a buffet, he has about six servers on the line when he would normally have one or two.

At Gina MacNeil Catering for All Occasions, MacNeil, too, is experiencing a drop in guests at her client’s weddings. However, she’s also receiving a lot of last-minute calls from people who want her to cater events like birthday parties at their houses.

“A month and a half ago (business) kicked back in,” MacNeil said, “I’m turning down business because the phone is ringing off the hook.”

In Bigfork, The Simple Chef Catering owner Anna McCabe wasn’t receiving any inquiries about catering services until Montana’s economy started reopening, and was too, getting last minute calls for smaller events.

“As soon as we went into Phase 2, the flood gates opened and I’ve been getting inquires ever since,” McCabe said.

While McCabe is staying busy now, she’s been getting a lot of business from tourists who don’t want to go out to restaurants and instead are having McCabe cater at their Airbnb’s, instead of the big weddings she usually works throughout the summer.

“You make a lot more money if you cater for 200 people as opposed to 20,” she said.

But the slow spring allowed McCabe to work on another aspect of her business that she’s started building. She recently started Farm to Fork, which has a plant-based menu specializing in local ingredients that she’s selling at the local farmers markets and Max’s Market in Bigfork.

While McCabe was already planning on starting her separate food service business, the pandemic expedited the process.

“I’m happy the business is moving forward faster than I had planned,” she said. “It’s something that I am truly passionate about.”

While some catering companies are shifting their operations without losing significant revenue Cuisine Machine and Last Chair Kitchen and Bar owner Tim Good says he’s down about 80 to 90% at his catering business this summer.

“(COVID’s) pretty much killed it,” Good said.

He says the limited wedding attendees this summer hasn’t been lucrative for his business and since he no longer takes his food truck to vend at events like farmers markets, he’s instead cutting his losses.

“I’ve gone camping a lot more,” Good said. “We’re just sort of sucking it up and taking it for what it is. Normally I work so much in the summer, it’s nice to not have to work as hard.”

But Good is already looking ahead to next summer, when rescheduled weddings from this season will collide with next season.

“It’s decimated the wedding industry,” Good said. “Next year, a lot of weddings have been rescheduled and now (everybody’s) getting engaged. It’s going to put the whole wedding business back two years.”

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