What a year we have experienced… The event industry is beset by problems - access to venues (both in terms of times and physical constraints); tight budgets; the need to transport staff (and the costs that this incurs); and so on - and it was good to get a note the other day from Tim Morton of Morton's Fork in Canterbury, Kent, who seems to share our agony. It was also good to learn that my hastily scribbled thoughts are not entirely in vain.
However, this year has witnessed more calamities in one season than I can recall. The foot-and-mouth outbreak has been largely sidelined in the mainstream press and yet the tourism industry needs much nurturing to regain previous levels of business.
We have seen a decline of at least £100,000 that is directly attributable to repeat business simply not materialising owing to companies avoiding country pursuits and family fun days. While this has had an effect on this year's turnover, we have kept staffing flexible and other variable costs in line with our ongoing business, thereby ensuring the profit element.
The hope is that the ravages of foot-and-mouth have been beaten - my personal fear is that it may recur through the winter - and that this element is back into the mix of bookings for next year. The reality is likely to be a slow return to previous levels, and my concern is that clients may see the savings in their budgets this year and decide to live with that saving in future years. Less hospitality, less spend for us.
Recent developments in the USA have done little to raise the spirits, and we have experienced cancelled events and postponed functions since the attacks on 11 September.
However, all is not doom and gloom. My belief is that in a shrinking market it is those that are adaptable that will be able to capitalise as the market regains its strength in years to come.
A recurring theme in meetings with clients this year has been their desire to move away from the larger, company-owned caterers and deal with an owner-managed operation, with all the accountability that comes with it. The clarion call, therefore, has to be: if you are responsible for booking a caterer, please talk to the likes of Tim Morton or ourselves first.
ROBERT ALVAREZ is proprietor of Phoenix Hospitality event caterers in Towcester, Northamptonshire Next diary from Robert Alvarez: 8 November