MANILA -- Like many in the food industry, The Plaza Catering was severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
From catering to hundreds even thousands in events for the last 50-plus years, The Plaza is undergoing a necessary pivot, making use of its existing technology and products, while creating a streamlined approach that prioritizes employee and customer safety.
With the longest quarantine still in full swing, established catering companies like The Plaza are counting on customer support of their retail business amid a noisy internet marketplace that is mostly filled with new and often unregistered food businesses.
While one cannot find fault at people trying to make a living in these hard times, there is truly a lot more at stake for registered companies like The Plaza.
As one of the most enduring brands in catering in the Philippines, we talked to Karla Marina Reyes, the chief operations officer of The Plaza Catering, to gain some insight on the catering industry, as well as learn about the company’s pandemic plans.
Q: How has the quarantine affected The Plaza and its operations?
Reyes: The Plaza had to shut down operations for more than two months. It was a management call to prioritize safety of our clients and our employees, as well.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the changes in your operations?
Reyes: Our employees who are on active duty are either housed by the company, are provided transportation by our company shuttles, have their own private transportation, or live within the vicinity of our commissary… Aside from that, the general sanitation guidelines are [now] in place as well: change of clothes before entering the premises, temperature check, daily health survey, alcohol spray, disinfection mat, and access to alcohol and/or hand soap.
Q: Does The Plaza still do catering?
Reyes: We have shifted our focus to pushing the retail side of the business. We currently only have two branches open out of six (Petron Dasmarinas in Makati and Petron La Vista in Katipunan). But have also strengthened our digital marketing for visibility to be directed to our online shop. We were lucky that the online shop has been ready since October last year so it was easy for us to adjust to the system.
Q: What’s your current product line that’s available in the open stores and online?
Reyes: The current product line consists of: the premium products The Plaza Premium Ham, sauces, the Hamwich kit; the frozen convenience food line, which we have been doing since the early '90s, which are ready to cook or frozen prepared items like the Chicken Ala Kiev, Angus Tapa, Tocio, Chicken Lollipop, Burgers, Creamcheese Burgers, etc; aND the Boil-in-Bag, which are frozen, cooked meals that are ready at a moment’s notice, you just have to drop frozen vacuum bags in boiling water and it’s ready in 12-15 minutes like Kare-Kare, Boiled Angus Corned Beef, Molo Soup, Callos Madrilena, Beef Caldereta, Beef Mechado, Lengua Estofada, and Arroz Caldo.
We also have food-to-go or party trays of whole Chicken Relleno, Spaghetti Bolognese, Fresh Lumpiang Ubod, Paella Valenciana, Pastel de Lengua, Prawns Thermidore, etc.
Q: Are there still catering events?
Reyes: We are still catering but mostly individually packed food/meals, with reduced manpower and all observing the health, safety and sanitation guidelines.
Q: What are your plans moving forward?
Reyes: Right now, it's all about growing the retail side of the business in terms of marketing, sales and product line. The more we sell, the faster we can start bringing employees back to work… The culture of The Plaza is family. If I'm a third-generation restaurateur, we also have second- and third-generation chefs, bakers and employees.
Q: As one of the most established brands/companies in the business, how do you see the industry adapting moving forward?
Reyes: Due to safety constraints, parties won't be as lavish as before. For sure the headcount will be brought down to a bare minimum. There will always be something to celebrate.