Let's Eat

Getting the party started

Freedom day has been and gone. It’s legal to party like it’s 2019 — but are we?


Professional caterer with white glove serve finger dessert foods during a cocktail wedding parties or events catering.

I asked some of our kosher caterers how we are celebrating since the rules changed and whether we are maxing out our newly rediscovered liberty.

For those suppliers I contacted, the party has definitely started. “It’s really busy — people are trying to get events in that they had to cancel. We could be taking double the number of bookings. I’m loving it — I’m like a woman released” says a delighted Celia Clyne.

Ben Tenenblat has also seen a sharp rise in bookings: “I had nine events in the diary for the week the rules changed, booked by people assuming parties would be back to normal.”

Dor Barak of Dvash says their phones are ringing off the hook: “We’ve had hundreds of enquiries over the last couple of months.” But it’s taking longer to deal with each potential client. “Events are not as straightforward. The conversion time — from an initial enquiry to booking — is taking longer as there is a lot to decide on and a lot of fear around still.”

While bar- and batmitzvahs are still mostly on a smaller scale, the weddings being scheduled are not modest affairs. Couples are celebrating with parties of well over 100 — even 200 guests. “I’ve had bookings for 300 plus” says Teneblat. Clyne and Barak report slightly smaller numbers this summer — wedding of 150 to 200 guests rather than 300 to 350, but expect figures to be back to pre-pandemic party levels by the autumn.

They’re all trying to squeeze in the last minute weddings alongside long-standing function bookings. Clyne has had several calls from anxious couples wanting to pull together a reception on short notice. “We were due to have a busy year anyway — people hadn’t cancelled, they had kept pushing back their dates. There are couples who’ve moved their big day five times already, by which time they’re pretty stressed and upset.”

Changing travel regulations have caused some issues. “I took a call from a bride last week trying to rearrange her wedding on two weeks’ notice, after their plan to get married in Israel had to be cancelled. They wanted to keep their date,” explains Clyne.

Tenenblat says he is fully booked until the end of the year with big events, both private and charity fundraisers and says the attitude from hosts has been very much one of ‘now or never’. “We need to get on with it and live with this, but while we have the other restrictions in place, like the isolation rules there will still be a massive knock-on effect” he says.

Despite the confidence from hosts, all three have seen a nervousness from invitees: “Guests are still hesitant to get into a ballroom, so numbers can drop close to an event. Where they may have plans to go away or for children to go to summer camp, people don’t want to be in a position where they get pinged or catch the virus.” With quarantine rules for their return home, and a potential UK travel ban pending, guests from Israel are less keen to come to the UK.

Outdoor events are less affected because of the greater ventilation. “We had a wedding this week with an outdoor chupah and reception and then dinner inside, and several guests only felt happy to attend the first part,” reports Clyne.

One issue common to all the caterers is the feeling that the dropping of all restrictions has not been easy. “It’s very hard to police what people are doing at a wedding. Regulation has been left with us now nothing is legally required. We’ll be keeping our staff in masks — to reassure them and our guests. We can’t afford not to take it seriously, ”says Tenenblat, who is rostering his staff in bubbles as he cannot afford to lose the whole team if some are pinged or catch the virus.

Clyne and Barak are taking similar precautions. “Our staff will wear masks, use PPE and sanitise everything. We will also be asking staff to do lateral flow tests before every event. If any of us get Covid that would be disastrous, so we are working in bubbles as far as we can,” says Barak.

Smaller caterers without the luxury of delegation are living in fear of an enforced isolation. “I was really enjoying my catering but now I’m scared that I won’t be able to do my work” says Fabienne Viner-Luzzato, who has been fully booked for weeks with smaller parties. “In the last three weeks I’ve been approached by three people whose caterers cancelled because they had to isolate.”

When she teaches a small group she asks them to do lateral flow tests before attending. Many hosts are also politely suggesting their guests take a lateral flow test on the day of the event.

For party throwers, any day goes. “We have a Monday wedding in September. It was the only day they could get the venue” says Barak, who adds that midweek parties are easier for them as they don’t have to prepare around Shabbat.

Viner-Luzzato agrees: “People are celebrating while they can. If they have a birthday early in the week they aren’t waiting until the weekend to celebrate, they’ll do it on the day!”

Buffets are back on the menu — albeit behind perspex screens — but bowls of nuts and olives are less likely to make an appearance. Not everyone is ready for self service, and Clyne reports some clients prefer sit down meals to a buffet, but says there is no norm.

“It’s not about what you can and cannot do, but about using your sensibilities and judgment and deciding what you feel comfortable doing” says Barak.

“I’ve come to realise that people want some degree of normality and our job as caterers is to make them feel as if there are no restrictions. Once people see that they can have events and not everyone will get Covid then there will be a frenzy.”


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