When other businesses shut down during the COVID-19 lockdown, for the catering industry on the other hand, it blossomed despite economic devastation. Chinedu Eze reports that the recent one-day workshop held in Lagos showcased the prospect of the sector and provided an opportunity for more women to join the business.
The global economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to the slump of many industries- from manufacturing, air transport, tourism and others with attendant loss of jobs. But while many sectors of the economy were devastated by the pandemic, especially during the lockdown in 2020, the catering industry blossomed and became a multi-billion naira sector.
This was the verdict of caterers who converged recently on Lagos to sensitise young women to join the business instead of waiting for jobs that are scarce to come by.
Industry players said the catering sector is essential and during the lockdown, it was exempted from the suspension of its services because it provided food for people and in collaboration with the courier service sub-sector, the catering industry saved lives during the pandemic by supplying foods to homes of those in dire need who could not prepare their own foods.
Speaking during the summit tagged 'Spend the Day with Successful Business Women in Catering and Events,' organised by Nonos Catering Mentoring Initiative (NCMI) programme, the Managing Director, Nonos Catering and founder, Abumere Uto said COVID-19 forced caterers to diversify and change the way they provide services.
Uto acknowledged that events are not being held as they used to be, so caterers now provide food to people's homes.
Speakers at the summit talked about how they made so much money from supplying food to people's homes during the lockdown because food is an essential service. That way, they made more profits and they were being empowered.
"There is something we call 'Food in bowls' to feed families. Catering and events industry is huge. I am a caterer, so I can only talk about the food industry and I know that everybody eats and people party. We are encouraging more women to become entrepreneurs and go into the food business.
"There are no parties now and we understand that the government is trying to control the spread of COVID-19 but you can supply food to people's houses, you can cook in the comfort of your homes. We are teaching women to make profit from what they do. If COVID-19 is making people lose their jobs, caterers do not have to lose money or your jobs. We provide a lot of jobs and we want the government to recognise that," Uto explained.
She hinted that through the mentoring initiative, caterers and event planners collaborate and network with other women who are doing the same things they are doing in order to help them grow their business and give them profitability and feasibility.
Also speaking at the event, CEO, Malas Foods, Morenike Okupe reiterated that COVID-19 has altered the way caterers do things but assured that the market is still huge.
"We all have to be COVID-19 compliant. We now take hygiene very seriously and it gives us a better opportunity to satisfy our clients at this time. The industry is large and going by data, we contribute quite a lot. The industry spans across different areas from employing waiters, to ushers, to event coordinators, bouncers amongst others. The industry is wide and the workforce is a lot.
"Cost of things going up eats into your profit, increases overhead and infrastructure but we have to find a way of coping and doing things better, so that we can reduce our overhead," she said.
The CEO of Malas Foods also said that with the advent of social media, so many mentoring talks and experiences people share, everyone is improving themselves in what they hear or what they do and people are getting more confident.
The entrepreneurs relieved their experiences during the workshop and admitted they were overwhelmed by the demand for their services during the COVID-19 lockdown that it was difficult for some of them to cope. But they also made money. They generated huge revenues that prompted some of them to upgrade the business facilities, employ more hands and incorporate other hospitality services.
The panelists shared these experiences with participants and tips on how caterers and event planners can grow their businesses.
The annual event was meant to encourage new entrants into the business who are encumbered by challenges, which the successful caterers convinced them were surmountable. They said what anyone who wished to join the business needed was determination and how to satisfy her customers.
Speaking at the gathering, the CEO, Cruise Events, Mrs. Oreoluwa Adeleke, said the number one thing for her on the road to success has been passion in addition to grace of God.
She stressed that passion about the job would bring out the best in you and condemned the idea of people not being focused to bring out the creativity in them but going about to copy other professionals' styles.
Adeleke who exited bank job for event planning, said that Cruz Event goes as far as hiring vendors based on passion; not those that are just after money but passionate about what they want to deliver.
She said, "You can't succeed in business copycatting; know who you are and who God has called you to be. You can't make it running another man's race.
"If you have passion you ensure your job is good and exciting. Put God first in everything you're to do. Do this because of the passion you have; God first and then passion. When it's passion it will be easy, never look at another man's race.
"I don't want to look at what you've done but what I can do. I don't care what any other person does but I focus on myself and on God."
Mind Your Lane
On her part, CEO, Nwandos Signature Events, Mrs. Pamela Nwonu, said venturing into business should not be based on the fact that one has money to invest or your neighbour is into that business.
She stressed that there is need to first of all research on the business, noting that the same is applicable in the catering and events world.
Nwonu added that having a mentor is necessary while being passionate about what you are doing is key. According to her, it is imperative to learn the nitty-gritty of the job not depending fully on employed hands.
"Don't just dabble into business because your neighbour is doing it. Even the name you want to use for the business should be researched so you don't start changing name tomorrow.
"You should be able to know what you're doing, know it, don't say you'll employ people. Know how to do what you are going into. If it is cooking, learn how to prepare various menus. Do your business plan and have a blueprint you are working with," she said.
Nwonu stressed on the aspect of marketing, saying that as the owner of the business you should be the best marketer of yourself, pointing out however, that getting a job always is not where the success lies.
Continuing, she advised the upcoming caterers and event planners not to feel bad or unsuccessful when they do not secure a contract.
She advised the women entrepreneurs not to compete with those that have legacies and background that have already established them.
"Market and sell your business yourself; you are the first sales person. Don't always expect that getting a job makes you successful and don't feel bad when you don't get a job. Also know that you can't do all jobs, find what you like and do it. Be a crazy marketer of yourself.
"Then know that you can't compete with people that are more or less made. Be on your lane and maintain your lane always; know what works for you and people will like you for it. Your name is very important," she added.
Also speaking, CEO, Foodrush Catering, Opeyemi Rukayat, who started her outfit in 2016 stressed on excellent customer service, good taste and planning to do better, majors in building a successful catering and event planning business.
She urged the businesswomen to be consistent and maintain quality all the time in order to achieve success and name in the industry.
Earlier in her welcome speech, Uto said she started this initiative because she had always done lots of training for women in the Catering and Event Industry and that gave birth to NIMC.
"I have always been training women; oftentimes, women call me to ask me very basic questions like people packing plates and spoons to their catering outfit and for a whole day no job comes their way.
"When I started Nonos I had such experiences, so I knew I had to bridge that gap between the upcoming ones and the successful women in the Industry, by having a gathering where people that are how I was then will be here today to meet with successful women. So, NIMC is that platform to empower women; this initiative is not about today but continuous mentoring. It is about networking and collaborating.
That is the whole idea of this initiative and when you know you have that backing of a group you will get challenged to go all out to look for and get jobs," she added.