COVID CONVERSATIONS: SEBASTIEN

A conversation with Sebastien Tips from Coeur Catering

A solid reference that can tell us more on how things are going in catering and events is Sebastiaan Tips, better known as Seb, co-owner of Coeur Catering. With years of experience and tons of past events, the man knows what he’s talking about. Working in a sector that’s also been hit pretty hard by the current measures, we thought it would be interesting to pick his brain on a couple of subjects.

How do you experience the corona crisis on a professional level?

“It sounds like such a cliché, but we are going to make a virtue of necessity.”

Did you already have an emergency plan ready for similar matters? If not, is it something you will consider in the future?

“We’re a fairly young company in full growth: every bit that we can put aside is reinvested in the company, so we don’t immediately have a financial buffer to fall back on. However, as soon as it’s possible, we will definitely build up that buffer.”

What impact does the corona crises have on your sector?

“A huge loss of revenue, which comes in three waves: 1) instant loss due to the cancellation of more than half of the already confirmed events before March 13, because there was a lot of panic and above all a lot of uncertainty. 2) Then there is the period of mandatory closure – which we are in right now. And finally, 3) there will be consequences in the medium and long term: of course not only our sector has been affected, budgets for both private and B2B events will be revised and sometimes that will lead to cancellation of events until way passed autumn. This Corona crisis is hitting hard in almost all sectors. So hard, that we will sweat it out much longer than the 2008 banking crisis.”

How do you deal with it at Coeur Catering?

“On one hand, we tried to minimize our fixed costs as much as possible. Like most things in our industry, personnel costs are a significant part of our cost structure. Putting our employees, for whom we have a serious responsibility, on compulsory economic unemployment was a tough decision because we know that they fall back on 70% of their wages in a sector where the highest bets are not already being paid which can have enormous personal consequences . But it was the only right decision we could make to resume the same responsibility as an employer after all.”

Are there things you are trying to do that were previously completely out of the question? Or ideas that were suddenly gaining momentum?

“Because we have grown enormously lately, we were running almost 24/7 in our production workshop. With nothing to do for the first time since long, we can reorganize our kitchen and warehouse from scratch to work more efficiently once we get back to work. That had been on the program for a while, but we never found the time. We are also taking flight digitally and we are introducing a new planning tool for our employees and a general digital organization of our business administration. We were a bit stuck in old systems that were no longer adapted to the size of our business. Now we finally have the time to implement this.”

Are there learnings that you can share? Things that will take you to the next crisis or something you learn now that will make the company stronger in the future?

“It’s like in life: never take anything for granted. Just try to keep your head cool, dare to make adjustments by pivoting and make 180-degree turns if necessary. You can achieve a great deal with an open mind and a flexible attitude. That is an attitude that we do not only have towards our customers in the preparation and execution of an event. That is in the DNA of our business and our employees. It’s incredible to see how creative and flexible everyone has been the last weeks to make the most out of every switch or last-minute change.”

Are there any current adjustments that you think will stick in your sector? If yes which one?

“As a catering business, we already strictly adhered to all hygiene regulations that everyone now pays even more attention to. In the months to come, we will have to make sure that it’s more visible and we are able to prove it. Next to that I hope that a few things will stick, if only these two for ourselves: meeting via ZOOM instead of driving from Ghent to Antwerp, and incorporating local products into our dishes – even more than we already do.”

How do you think people will change their behavior in your industry in a post-corona era?

“I hope that the distance we’re now enjoying from each other does not lead to a new habit. I am curious to see it evolve. I do love how quickly we embraced that as a community. And it is precisely our sector that is the pre-eminent sector in which we bring people together and closer together. It will take some getting used to. But there too I think it will become business as usual over time.”

What are the next steps for you?

“We are now looking forward to summer and autumn and how we can initially keep our team of permanent employees on board. We are now with more than 30 employees. We will shrink significantly in sales figures but our challenge is to keep everyone on board. Fortunately, we will start in the autumn with two new things: the operation of the STAMCafé and the exclusive catering of Music Center De Bijloke in Ghent. With this project will make up for part of the loss. In addition, we also operate Gaston and Red Loft as well as two B & B’s. Everyone on our team now has a reasonably defined set of tasks. We are going to approach this differently: the people in the kitchen will jump in to do some of the dishes and the colleagues from the office will be called in to the venue for as long as necessary.”

Something you will be more responsive to in the coming months?

“As it looks now, the big events will not be able to continue or at least not as we are used to. There will also be less (or no) travel abroad this summer. If the catering industry can once again receive guests, we will be ready for it: our rooftop Restaurant & Bar Gaston, open in July and August, is already being made summer-proof and you can also petanque or enjoy a cocktail there with a view of Ghent. At our other Red Loft location we will also present this summer with an intimate culinary concept where we can receive guests in the garden or the living room. And we are now looking at the possibilities of setting up a beautiful summer tent in the beautiful garden of the Bijloke at the music center and STAM, so that guests can enjoy a snack and a drink in the most hidden pearl of Ghent. The Belgian remains a Burgundian and will come out again as soon as possible. If the offer is limited by certain restrictions, we can answer it this way.”

> Stay in the loop. Check out Coeur Catering’s website here.