NACE’s national president, Doug Quattrini, CPCE, explains how the association is helping members face the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis
By Sara Perez Webber
When Doug Quattrini, CPCE, assumed his yearlong post as president of the NACE National Board on Jan. 1, it’s safe to say he had no idea what he was in for.
A 13-year member of the National Association for Catering & Events (NACE), Quattrini had served as president-elect for the board’s 2018-2019 term and had previously been president of his NACE home chapter, Greater Philadelphia/South Jersey/Delaware. Based on Quattrini’s extensive experience with the association, he initially found the president position to be in line with what he expected.
“Now I can say that it’s not what I expected at all,” says Quattrini of the sea change the country has experienced since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. “Watching the industry, and our members, be so negatively impacted by the pandemic is challenging to say the least. Going through it as a caterer is hard personally, and being the president of a national hospitality association adds another layer. Many of the plans and goals I had for myself and for the association have been either put on hold or altered, and as the situation continues to unfold, we continue to adapt and adjust.”
An event producer at Sensational Host Events & Catering in North Maple Shade, N.J., Quattrini started out in the industry working part-time in the catering department at the University of Delaware while he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. While he had no plans to pursue a catering career, Quattrini found he enjoyed the part-time gig much more than the full-time retail position he landed after graduation. He switched gears, accepted a management position at the university, and ended up working for Aramark for 23 years, moving from the University of Delaware campus to a national position in higher education. He then made the jump from the corporate world to off-premise catering, now working at Sensational Host, a family-owned company that’s been in business for nearly 40 years.
“My best friends are all people that I met through catering,” says Quattrini. “I guess stress has a way of bringing people together.”
That’s especially true now, as professionals throughout the industry pivot their businesses in order to survive the social distancing requirements that have resulted in a moratorium on catered events. At NACE, says Quattrini, “our priority is to provide our members and leaders with the best resources and information possible, and to help facilitate the sharing of those resources.”
To find out more about how NACE is helping its members through this unprecedented time, Catering Magazine interviewed Quattrini in late April.
CM: What have you been hearing from NACE members about how they are weathering the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Quattrini: It’s obviously a challenging time for everyone, and our members seem to be weathering it with patience and resilience. They’re really supporting each other through virtual meetings and happy hours provided by NACE national and other NACE chapters across the country. They are also using social media to share tips on how to apply for loans and other government relief articles, and to share and post hospitality-related items and updates. It’s really inspiring to see the ways they’re staying connected while having to be apart physically. Many are also commenting that it’s nice, in a way, to be spending more time with their families, spouses, partners and, of course, pets.
CM: How has the response been to NACE’s COVID-19 Impact Survey?
Quattrini: We launched the NACE COVID Impact survey on March 17 to gauge the speed and severity of the damage the pandemic is causing, and, unfortunately, the results are confirming just what we thought—that our industry has never seen a crisis like this before. The immediate and short-term feedback we received showed that approximately 75% of respondents were already experiencing personal financial impacts through furloughs, pay reductions, schedule reductions, layoffs or outright job loss. The other 25% of respondents were expecting them to come but hadn’t seen them yet. Business revenues had at that point already seen dramatic drops. Roughly 50% of NACE members own or work for a small business with eight or fewer full-time/salaried employees, and they are being hit especially hard.
CM: What are some specific ways that NACE members have adjusted their businesses to help them weather this crisis?
Quattrini: In addition to attempting to access the government assistance that is available, business owners are having to make some very hard decisions to lower or eliminate operating costs. This includes the obvious changes that are so painful for everyone now—having to furlough or layoff staff and team members. Several are working with their vendors to work out extended payment terms as well. We are also seeing a lot of businesses find or create opportunities by pivoting—caterers offering home delivery or no-contact curbside pickup, and linen companies producing face masks are just two examples.
What is inspiring is the way the events industry is responding to the pandemic from a humanitarian viewpoint:
- Caterers are feeding health care professionals and front-line responders.
- Hotels are providing rooms for health care professionals and front-line responders.
- Convention centers are transforming into temporary hospitals.
- Tenting companies are providing tenting for drive-through testing locations and are creating additional spaces to be used as hospitals.
- Rental companies and trade show suppliers are providing pipe and drape, chairs and other items needed to build these temporary hospitals.
CM: What resources does NACE offer to its members that can help them through this time?
Quattrini: Our national board and staff have been providing a steady stream of information to help members understand the government’s emergency assistance programs, like the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, Paycheck Protection Program and more. These programs launched quickly, and guidance is still changing. Many people in the events business are contract workers, aka 1099 workers, and we’re doing what we can to keep them informed of the assistance programs that they have access to. We’ve also been providing written and video content to help people manage their businesses through this crisis and start planning now for the eventual recovery. This is a great time to work on all of those things in your business you know you need to work on but have been too busy to get to.
We are launching an Education Assistance Program that will provide expanded scholarship opportunities for people seeking their CPCE (Certified Professional in Catering and Events) certification. It is a certification program offered exclusively by NACE, and we’re doing this with the generous support of the Timothy S.Y. Lam Foundation. Regional “mega meetings” are also being launched, to bring multiple chapters together for online sessions with nationally recognized speakers. Our membership renewal grace period has been expanded to 90 days, and we’ve also revised our membership transfer policies to help members stay connected with NACE. Additional support is being provided to chapter leaders through special content and online education and activities for them; many NACE members are also missing attending chapter events and seeing their friends in person, so we’re seeing a lot of online happy hours, coffee chats and hangouts. The responses and engagement levels are telling us that people love them! We’re also doing fun things like “LOVE+UNITY”, our virtual dance party that streamed live on Instagram. It was a lot of fun.
CM: What are some steps you’ve taken at Sensational Host to keep business going?
Quattrini: We have created the “At Home” program, which allows people to order pre-prepared family meals from us. The program currently offers non-contact delivery or pickup on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week, with people either calling in their orders or placing them online. We’ve added a grocery component to the program as well. Clients that are ordering also have the option to purchase individual meals for our local “Health Heroes,” which are then delivered by us to local hospitals each week. Our clients are loving this option, as it’s an easy, safe, affordable way for them to give back to the community. Sensational Host is also providing one “Health Hero” meal for every five family meals ordered. The program is not only a source of revenue, it has allowed us to keep some employees working, and has kept us connected to our community and customers.
We’re also doing something we’re calling “Lovebirds.” Since so many of our booked couples have had to move their wedding dates (sometimes more than once), and are understandably stressed about what adjustments they might need to make to guest counts, floor plans, etc., we are providing each booked couple with a special meal. Same guidelines as our “At Home” program, with zero contact [and staff wearing masks and gloves]; they will be picking up the meals from a tent in our parking lot, where we will be placing the meals in their cars for them.
Overhead and operating costs have been lowered as much as possible, which did include furloughing most of our team so that they can collect unemployment benefits. Our vendors have been great, working with us on deferring or negotiating monthly payments. We have been in constant contact with the teams at the venues we work with, making sure we are all supporting each other and that we’re all ready for business when things start to reopen. We are currently working on marketing plans and strategies to address the “new normal,” whatever it ends up being, in terms of restrictions and guidelines.
CM: What’s your biggest piece of advice for caterers struggling during this difficult time in the industry?
Quattrini: Take a deep breath, sit down for a few minutes, and then exhale. Don’t beat yourself up over things that are way beyond your control. Then, once you’ve accepted that you can’t control everything, start making a list of things you CAN control and actions you can take. We are so used to being in control and calling the shots in business and at events; for me it’s the unknown that is most frustrating about this. Being a caterer is all about being creative and problem-solving, so I feel that in many ways, we are the best-qualified folks to get through this and emerge wiser and stronger.
For more information on NACE, visit nace.net.