Caterers face collapse after new Covid-19 rules

‘It’s terrible but inevitable that some people go under’


Kosher caterers have said they face collapse after the government’s latest restrictions on gatherings.

The new 15-person cap on wedding receptions was described as a “real killer for the industry” by Eat Me Events and Catering co-owner Benjy Levey, whose turnover has fallen by 95 per cent during the pandemic, while Ben Tenenblat called it a “massive hit” which made it “inevitable” that caterers go under.

Many caterers are already struggling to survive the impact of the pandemic but there was hope that an easing in regulations might save them from collapse. However, new rules designed to halt the spread of surging cases, which rose in the UK by 4,926 on Tuesday, are thought certain to have the opposite effect.

Mr Levey warned that the new restrictions would mean “no events” for at least six months. After restrictions were loosened in July amid hopes the pandemic was under control, the Borehamwood-based catering company received a number of bookings for driveway parties and gatherings of 30 guests.

But, he said, “the latest round basically means we’re not going to be able to do anything aside from home deliveries.”

Mr Levey added that he has already had several cancellations since the announcement: “We have had a few weddings planned for the next few weeks which they’ve now decided not to go ahead with because the latest restrictions mean it’s literally only the nearest and dearest who can be there rather than extended nearest and dearest plus a couple of friends.”

Prosper Bitton, director of the north west London bakery and caterer Crème de la Crème, said his business was on the point of collapse. “I have maybe another two months to hold my breath. After that I have to take a decision on whether I’m closing down,” said Mr Bitton, who has not received a single catering order since February.

“I’m not the only one,” he said. “There are a lot of people who will have to consider shutting down.”

The catering side of his business is down by 98 per cent, he told the JC, while the patisserie has recorded a 70 per cent drop. But for businesses like Mr Bitton’s which cater for events of up to 200 people, the difference between gatherings of 15 and 30 guests is not hugely significant. “I’m not really interested in doing such a small catering.” he said. “All the precautions and the measures you have to take — you tell me if it’s worth it.” 

Meanwhile, Natalie Salama-Levy, managing director of 1070 Kitchen, is “very worried” about the potential impact of the renewed advice to work from home. The company, which supplies kosher food to companies, offices and airports, was “badly affected right from the beginning,” she said. Business is currently down by 75 per cent and most consumers “are still at home, not working from an office and not travelling,” she added.

“We weren’t expecting any big rush and it is the last quarter of the year but this is definitely a set back. It’s very depressing really.” 

Despite a “slight” uptick during the Jewish new year, the future of the business is a growing concern, she said, adding they have several projects in the pipeline to “pivot the situation”.

Ben Tenenblat, managing director of Ben Tenenblat Ltd, said his “heart sank” when news broke of the new restrictions. His company had been “thriving” before the pandemic but was now facing real difficulties. “We were doing the smaller events, weddings for 30 people, bar and batmitzvahs just for 30, and that was enough of a struggle as it is,” he said - adding that a handful of bookings have already been postponed or put on hold since the tightened restrictions. 

“It would be terrible if people had to go under” through no fault of their own. “But it’s inevitable.”

Mr Tenenblat warned the catering industry was “not being looked after at all” and said he hoped to see some financial help given to businesses in the sector. “With the furlough scheme coming to an end in October we’re hoping that they might extend that to industries that aren’t able to actually work at the moment,” he said.

In a message to catering and event businesses, he said: “We will unite. We’re in this together and we should all head to some sort of normality very soon.”

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