How to turn a struggling catering team to a functioning elite unit

How to cope with the COVID-19 financial crisis and emerge even stronger.

Bank Hapoalim (photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Bank Hapoalim
(photo credit: AVIV GOTTLIEB)
Avi Ben Hamo

I Changed My Business Permit to a Restaurant
“We opened our magnificent event complex in 2008, which stretches over three acres and includes a large venue with space for 1,000 guests and a smaller venue with space for 500. What sets us apart is our exceptional menu and the small on-site guesthouse with six suites, for the bride and groom and their families after the event, which includes an indulgent breakfast for the morning after. I originally joined on a temporary basis because my father-in-law is a co-owner of the business, but then the plans changed and instead of being a stop-gap solution for a month, I’ve been the CEO for the past 13 years.
During the first lockdown, I sat at home and considered our options. As only restaurants were allowed to stay open, I changed our business permit and registered as a restaurant, which gave us some breathing space. As a later step, I decided to adopt the idea of restaurant-style service for venues. Often elderly guests have to leave before the main courses are served because it runs late. So we renovated our kitchen and turned it into an open kitchen that still works like that today. Now, every guest that comes can order everything they want directly from the menu, irrespective of what’s happening at the wedding.
Since the end of the third lockdown, our diary has filled up for the coming months, including clients who deferred their weddings for almost two years because they were set on getting married here.  On the other hand, the recent wave of attacks from Gaza brought with it more cancellations and deferrals. Like everyone in this sector, we’re struggling to bring back workers who are currently furloughed, partly because some of them found work in other sectors. We used to employ 150 waiters, now we’re left with ten of them. The rest are all new workers who we need to teach and be patient with, as well as to pay for their mistakes. When we reopened after Lag BaOmer, it was like opening a new venue with a team that doesn’t know each other.”
The writer is the CEO of the Troya event complex. Bnei Darom Center, Ashdod. Tel: 1-800-800-870
Shlomi Weizmann

Rewarding Vital Workers
“I set up the catering business ten years ago, and later a friend of mine from reserves’ duty, Ehud Entman, joined me. He is a professional chef, so first he worked for me as a salaried employee and then later I added him as a partner. I don’t have a culinary background, but hospitality is in my blood. On our napkins is written ‘people make the food’, because we are people persons. It’s very important for us to understand and take into account our clients’ needs. Our clients include private individuals as well as companies and businesses, and we are able to cater for events with up to 5,000 people.
Before COVID-19, our sector was at its peak, with larger events than ever, especially in the high-tech sector—and then we entered the first lockdown like a runaway train going from 200kmh to a complete standstill all at once. It was chaos, because at first we thought it would end within two or three weeks. When we came out of the first lockdown—we endured a difficult crisis. We made a few adjustments over the period that in hindsight enabled us to survive; streamlining the system and leaving us with only the most important staff. For the first time, we started doing food deliveries to private customers as well as employees of companies who had begun to work from home. We also started a collaboration with the ‘Eden’ venue in Kibbutz Nir Eliyahu as their operational kitchen.
“Since the end of the third lockdown, work has been off the charts—a wedding every day. The problem is in the staff—there’s no people to recruit even though wages have spiked, because people who have been furloughed don’t want to come back to work. It’s also a shame that we recently had the rocket fire from Gaza that led to a number of cancellations. COVID-19 taught me the importance of running a streamlined system that is able to do everything like an elite unit. Today I have a better handle on the business, on the extent of the work and the staff required, and I reward the workers that I really can’t replace and even pay them more.”
The writer is the co-owner of “Endive Catering”, Erez 12, Sdei Hemed.

Tel: 052-4605305.
Naor Narkis
Gaining Exposure in Wedding Groups on Facebook
“The decision-making process in the events’ sector today is heavily influenced by the relevant online communities. There is a string of Facebook communities dedicated to engaged couples of almost every kind. Having a digital presence in these groups can greatly expand the number of relevant people who are exposed to different concepts and services in the hospitality, catering and events’ sector. At the same time, the leaders of these groups will not permit any and every business owner to come into their groups and publish price lists and marketing materials. Such a step may even result in your expulsion from the group, so you have to be smart about it.
“First of all, identify the relevant groups (a quick search on Facebook using the keywords ‘brides’ or ‘weddings’ will provide countless results). Then prepare a list of your most satisfied customers and ask them to post pictures from the event afterwards, and even to write their personal story that describes how much you helped them on their special day. You should of course take care to be subtle and to do this at intervals, not all at once, so that it doesn’t look like an obvious marketing ploy. Such a step will provide your business with positive exposure to new audiences at almost no cost.”
The writer is an expert in networking and managing Facebook groups and a lecturer at the Bank Hapoalim Center for Financial Growth
Moshe Eliyahu
The Importance of Adjusting to the New Normal
“The impact of COVID-19 on the economy is by now well-established, especially among independent businesses, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the hospitality and event sectors. Owners of businesses that were able to survive and overcome the situation were the ones that knew how to manage their businesses effectively even before the pandemic struck: keeping a close eye on operations, implementing effective hiring policies, reducing unnecessary expenses to a minimum, ensuring effective cash flow management, and setting aside reserves for a rainy day.
“At the same time, these businesses reacted quickly to the change in circumstances: transitioning to deliveries and pick-up from restaurants, and introducing a carefully-considered shift in the product range to meet the needs of the moment, for example by offering pre-packaged meals for families for weekends while ensuring the highest levels of hygiene, and of course moving into digital spaces and integrating that aspect of the business more effectively in terms of online sales of food (and other) products.  There is no doubt that we have all learned and taken to heart lessons from the crisis that befell us in 2020, and some of the tools that helped businesses to cope during COVID-19 have also served them during the latest round of fighting in the south, and may serve them again in the future.”
The writer is the manager of the Yavne branch of Bank Hapoalim