Since it has become apparent that the impacts of COVID-19 are here to stay, many catering companies across the world are having to adapt to stay afloat. Naturally, the most challenging aspect of the pandemic for catering companies is the fact that events are much more restricted due to social distancing measures.

With most state and local authorities remaining strong in their stance on social distancing guidelines, catering companies need to work out how to deliver their services safely. 

It has long been reported that the spread of COVID-19 occurs more quickly indoors than outdoors, so taking gatherings outside is a sensible solution. Since the virus spreads mostly through airborne droplets, being outdoors means that the droplets have more of a chance to become diffused in the fresh air.

However, gatherings being held outdoors does not automatically eliminate the risk of COVID-19 spreading between guests. Catering companies are still having to take a whole host of measures in order to provide a sanitary environment for socially distanced outdoor gatherings.

How Catering Businesses Can Operate During COVID-19 – General CDC Guidance

Back in July, the CDC offered up some guidance on how events and gatherings should be managed during the pandemic. These are still a great reference point for catering companies looking to kick-start their businesses again. 

General overview:

  • Reducing the length of time of close contact between guests at a gathering is key to minimizing the risk of COVID-19 spread. 
  • Naturally, the higher the level of community transmission in a particular area, the higher the risk of spread. Catering companies should avoid hosting gatherings in areas with exponentially increasing COVID-19 case rates.
  • If a gathering must be held in an area with high community transmission, attempt to keep the number of guests as low as possible. 

How catering companies can manage the risk of COVID-19 transmission during gatherings:

  • Lower risk: Small outdoor gatherings during which people from different households remain socially distanced (6 feet apart) and wear masks to reduce the chance of transmission. These guests do not touch common objects and ideally come from the same community or town.
  • Higher risk: Medium-sized outdoor gatherings during which guests remain 6 feet apart. Some guests come from other areas of the country.
  • Highest risk: Large gatherings, possibly held indoors, where it is not easy for guests to remain socially distanced. Many guests are from outside the local area, maybe from areas with higher community transmission of COVID-19.

Recommended actions for catering companies to perform:

  • Wear face masks. Masks are designed to protect those around you from exposure to the virus. If you are planning on holding an outdoor gathering, ensure that staff and guests are encouraged to bring and wear masks.
  • Remain socially distanced. This is key if you are holding an outdoor gathering. Ensure that chairs are appropriately spaced apart and there are no communal areas where remaining 6 feet apart would be challenging.
  • Introduce signs. Complement the previous two points by bringing signs to your gatherings which encourage the use of face masks and observance of social distancing.
  • Vigorous handwashing. If you are serving guests at an outdoor gathering, ensure that all staff engage in handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds on a regular basis. If COVID-19 is present, this will help to reduce the spread.
  • Disinfect common surfaces. If your gathering includes common touchpoints like door handles, bar surfaces or restrooms, ensure that these get properly cleaned and disinfected frequently. Consider limiting the use of water fountains and similar surfaces that could easily become contaminated during an event.
  • Avoid shared cutlery or utensils. Today, providing cutlery or silverware to be used by multiple people from different households is not advised. At any outdoor gathering, make sure every guest has their own personal utensils, plates, glasses and other essentials. If implements need to be shared, disinfect them between uses.

Specific Ideas For Catering Companies During COVID-19

Your catering business is likely to be reliant on making the most of every opportunity during COVID-19. Here are some tips to help you get creative while keeping things sanitary.

Introduce pickup or meal prep options for your most popular meals. Instead of sitting on your ingredients and waiting for greater in-person demand, make the most of the current situation by offering your usual services with a pickup or meal prep option. You can deliver raw ingredients to people to put together themselves for their gathering.

Build out an online presence. If you can’t be there in person, your regular customers would appreciate having a reliable online portal with which they can place orders. 

Hold flexible events. Not everybody is going to be immediately comfortable attending outdoor gatherings in the age of COVID-19. It might make sense for your business to offer catering for a socially distanced gathering, while extending the chance to have boxes of food/wine mailed to guests who do not wish to attend in person.

Limit contact by serving food straight from the grill. Instead of making platters to sit in the middle of a table, consider allowing guests to form a socially distanced queue before being served your food straight from the grill or oven. This limits the chance that food could become contaminated through droplets.

Catering companies have taken a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial months of lockdown without any public gatherings stretched many companies to the limit. 

However, now that gatherings are beginning to take place under strict guidelines, catering companies can begin to take advantage of a slightly different market in a responsible and sanitary way. 


This article was written in collaboration with Jack Vale, a writer for AdvanceOnline, an online health and safety training provider.

WE’D LOVE FOR YOU TO SHARE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR WEBSITE BUT PLEASE INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING COMPLETE INFORMATION: Event Producer Strategist, Entrepreneur, Speaker, and Coach, Annette Naif, CEO & Creative Director of Naif Productions

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About Naif Productions:

Naif Productions is a strategic event planning, design and production firm specializing in corporate, live coaching sales events, social, non-profit, and weddings. Based in New York City, we produce events worldwide from Fortune 500 clients and coaches to families and charities. Naif Productions specializes in helping clients attain their goals, realize return on investment, and achieve the most unique, creative experiences.

About Annette Naif:

Since 1986 Annette Naif has been designing and producing custom events, helping clients create their unique style that translates into a memorable and profitable experience. Annette spent 17 years producing events in the motion picture industry where she helped coordinate numerous productions for film and episodic television programs. Since then Annette’s been running her own event production company, coaching other event planners, teaching an event operations and production course at NYU, and now is the CEO & Creative Director of Naif Productions.

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