Caterers hope for a stronger holiday season | News, Sports, Jobs

The holiday season is typically one of the busiest times of the year for the restaurant industry, but last year the coronavirus pandemic took its toll on these businesses.

“Last year around this time was when COVID was on the rise and the phones stopped ringing. Our December was taken from the books ”, said Doug Simon, owner of the Lakemont Park Casino. “It will be interesting to see how the phones sound” this year, he added.

Fortunately, business seems to be picking up.

“Things have rebounded quite significantly, especially over the past two months,” Simon said. “We still haven’t returned to the same overall volume of activity that we saw before the pandemic, but most weekends we have multiple events.”

Simon said many events in September and October took place away from the premises as people were always a “A little hesitant to organize large events with catered inside.”

He estimates that the casino is operating at 65% to 70% of the pre-COVID-19 catering volume.

“Everyone seems to be looking to the future” said Victoria Mirenda, Managing Director of The Casino and Snappy Chef Catering.

“We have returned to normal levels as long as we are not subject to restrictions”, said Mirenda. “It’s really early” she says, noting that when Thanksgiving draws near and people realize Christmas is just around the corner, she expects business to pick up.

“Everyone is so busy figuring out what they need, there is still time, it is early, but we expect to do well”, said Mirenda.

Holland Brothers Meats, Duncansville, is also doing more business and planning to add events.

“When I look at the calendar now, the number is going down, but a lot of people are waiting until the last minute,” said owner Brock Holland. “Come mid-November, my schedule may explode.”

Holland notes that companies want to give back to their employees this year.

“We noticed that people received gift cards from us and gift boxes for their employees” he said. “They can do it better than a big catered lunch. We have seen an increase in gift boxes for sure.

Diners in the area seem to favor buffet dinners, the business owners said.

“Customers generally dictate which style of service they prefer and with more and more people getting vaccinated it is much easier to accommodate large groups and buffet services.” Simon said.

“Our community definitely prefers the buffet style over seated service, so we accommodate that by offering to place servers behind the buffets if your guests prefer. In this way, fewer people handle the serving utensils ”, he said.

“We still do the traditional buffet, we have disinfectants at both ends of the lines, we take certain precautions, but for the most part people are seated together”, Holland said.

Mirenda said the buffet is an option for many corporate parties. Depending on the size of the business, the tables may be moved away from each other to allow for greater social distancing.

Local caterers have the capacity to host parties of a few hundred guests or groups as small as 12.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, some businesses remain hesitant to hold a holiday rally.

Holland, which caters to many large companies, said there had already been cancellations.

“A lot of companies don’t come back” Simon admitted. “We have smaller groups that came before, but we haven’t even heard from them. Some of the bigger ones have been postponed until next year, hoping things will get better. “

In the meantime, businesses in the area or residents who wish to book a gathering or party have time.

“Whether for small or larger events, our staff are ready to meet the needs of our customers here at the Casino or in any location off-site.” Simon said, noting that one option that would appeal to those who are still skeptical about dining out would be to have a more intimate meeting at home and at a business.

“One of my favorite things to do is walk into people’s homes and cook a multi-course dinner,” Simon said. “It could be a great opportunity for us this holiday season. “

This year is a good time to do things differently, caterers said.

“Last year we went off the beaten track and organized lunches and dinners in the car”, said Mirenda. ” It was nice. “

“Businesses should look for alternative plans, not just focus on a big catered meal,” Holland said. “Be creative… all businesses have to adapt. We go out of our way and do what we can. “

During this time, meals will be available for Thanksgiving Day.

The Altoona Grand Hotel is planning to host its annual Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, the hotel took a step back from its traditional all-you-can-eat buffet and made reservations on time. This year’s dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and will be by reservation only.

“Our menu will be similar to past years with traditional offers. We hope to see an increase from 300 to 400, because Thanksgiving has always been our busiest holiday ”, said CEO Lindsay Danella. “It will be an all-you-can-eat buffet. We hope to see a great crowd and very excited to see him in the ballroom. “

“We will have take-out for Thanksgiving where people can collect their food on Wednesday,” said Mirenda. “We will also be offering take-out for New Years.”

Mirror staff writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.

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