Private events industry taking huge hits amid pandemic

Posted at 5:36 PM, Aug 04, 2020

Crowded dance floors, drinks flowing into early morning hours and large company outings are a thing of the past for most businesses involved in private event planning, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and rules set down by leaders trying to stem the spread of the virus.

Since Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued an order halting alcohol sales in bars at 10 p.m., country clubs and event planning companies have continued to grapple with an ever-changing landscape affecting their businesses. Restrictions on bars and restaurants still apply to these industries, despite the differences in operation.

"We are encouraging people to think about, you know, brunch weddings," said Maggie Raffel, co-owner of Raffel's Catering.

Now, any events held look very different: tables are spaced apart, chairs and place settings are spaced six feet from one another and many weddings have opted to convert into "micro weddings" for couples willing to tie the knot in a much smaller setting.

Maggie and her sister, Nicki, have been forced to get creative to circumvent restrictions in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic, but with event cancellations and restrictions on large gatherings aplenty, the sisters said their sales have fallen 85% to 90% since the pandemic began, and they've been forced to lay off dozens of employees.

"It was never something we thought, that catering would ever not be a valid business," said Nicki. "It's always -- people have always gotten together in large groups to have food."

In the past week, city leaders said country club staff and event companies are calling in with questions, like what types of events are permitted and how many people can attend. The Cincinnati Law Department said private event halls can hold weddings and funerals of up to 300 people, but other events like golf parties or anniversaries cannot have more than 10 people in attendance.

Companies hosting events must follow sanitary, mask and social distancing rules as well.

To stay afloat, the Raffel sisters are now selling individual meals to people who just don't want to cook, or catering office parties by bringing meals to employees' homes.

"If you stay in the rut that you're in, you're doomed," said Maggie. "You're not going to make it out."

They said, despite the uncertainty, the forced innovation they've undergone to expand services is a bright spot, because the business will come out stronger.