A Real Life Look Behind the Curtain in the Private Events Industry
Updated: Mar 2
Originally Published: October 10, 2020
What is the "private events industry", and who are the people who are behind this title? The private events industry is comprised of many different sectors, including people such as photographers, DJs, party rental companies, event planners, caterers, private chefs, florists, performance artists, musicians, lighting vendors, and many, many more. We are the people that offer goods and services to our clientele for private events such as celebrations, corporate events, weddings, dinner parties, etc. Each one of us are independent pieces that when strategically put together, create memorable, fun, and tasty events for you & your guests.
March 2020, Doomsday For The Events Industry
In March of 2020, COVID-19 came to rear its ugly head here in the United States, health officers near and far issued immediate all-out bans of gatherings, both public and private to help control the spread of the virus. The private events industry immediately complied, and we instantly curtailed all new bookings and scrambled to reach out to our clients to try and save the bookings that we already had. We offered suggestions of rescheduling, taking events virtually, and tons of other methods that we could potentially help our clientele "pivot and adapt" to life as we now knew it. However, the cancellations started coming in fast and furious, as our leaders simply stated "no gatherings" and fear ran rampant. All clients heard was this "NO" and with all the noise surrounding this new virus, couldn't hear anything else. They couldn't understand that we, the professionals that hold thousands of global events daily, and have done so successfully with decades of experience, could assist them, comfort them, and reassure them by providing trusted knowledge and guidance in which to help calm their fears and let the event still happen.
Once the shelter in place mandates was issued, private event professionals phones and email boxes were immediately blowing up with post-lockdown cancellations, clients completely paralyzed with uncertainty, unwilling to even remotely look at how their events could be pivoted, adapted, rescheduled, or taken virtual in which to allow their events to still happen, in a safe manner. Within the first 72 hours of the shelter in place, our company averaged a 95% flat cancellation rate, meaning that the event was canceled entirely, not rescheduled, not postponed, not taken virtually. Some of the events that were canceled were booked two or even three years in advance, yet clients were running scared. Do we as an industry blame our clients for their fears? Absolutely NOT.
This pandemic has been, and continues to be horribly mismanaged by the "powers that be". In light of the recent repeal of the initial"relaxation" of rules here in California that happened back in October, all restaurants have been once again required to shutter services. We're no longer allowed indoor dining at a maximum capacity of 25% of occupancy, up to 100 people. The public health authorities have deemed it no longer permissible any outdoor dining whatsoever. Yet, has there been any guidelines or rules for smaller, private gatherings to allow perhaps even 10 or 12 people to finally be able to sit together at a common dining table, even outdoors, or at different socially distanced tables to share a meal together? to have a milestone birthday party, celebrate an anniversary, or even to have a private celebration of life to honor a passed loved one? No.
The vast majority of the private events industry companies are small, independent, and family-owned and operated businesses. We are the service industry people that employ tens of thousands of workers that due to the nature of our industry, must live paycheck to paycheck, gig to gig, and we often rely on our gratuities just to keep lights on, and a roof over our families head. Many of us in our industry will never know the luxury of a 401k investment account, IRA, or will ever even know the basic luxury of homeownership. We are the workers on the frontlines, that took swift and decisive action to comply and shut down our businesses to protect our staff and our beloved clients. Now, we are the forgotten ones.
We are the small business owners who risked it all to follow our dreams. To create our companies to serve our clients better and more uniquely than "the other guys". We've maxed out our credit cards, borrowed money from friends & family to just try and "maintain". Even in our small private chef/catering company, we decided that all managers and above would be voluntarily laid off, to give up our salaries, to have the ability for our hourly employees a fighting chance to still receive their paycheck, even if we didn't have any hours for them to work. We think of them as our family. In a small business, everyone works harder and longer, than large organizations, as we simply can't afford to have bloated and overpaid staff headcounts. As small business owners, we know that our companies are only as strong as the staff that we have. These people, our staff, are our most important thing to ensure ongoing success in our businesses.
The PPP Loan Fiasco
How is it that officials expect us to continue to "keep on keeping on", while programs such as the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) which provided us just a few weeks of payroll assistance loans, or the myriad of programs that were originally touted as "grants specifically for small business". There are still many whose PPP loans have not been fully forgiven by the SBA, there's still ongoing red tape, rule changes, and paperwork hurdles to get through.
The vast majority of the billions of dollars worth of funds that were earmarked for legitimate small businesses were in fact stolen by large corporations whose employee counts equaled numbers in the high hundreds or even thousands. How in good conscience can the leaders of these so-called "companies" call themselves "small businesses" when their quarterly payroll report exceeds 7 or even 8 digits?
Yet the rest of us, truly legitimate small businesses, with employee headcount numbers in the single or low double digits, are left to try and make ends meet, and do the right thing to pay our staff some semblance of a wage on which for them to live and pay their bills, while we have had little to no ability to earn any money at all, while we comply with these on-going requirements to open, modify, close, re-open, remodify, and then close yet again?
When will our voices be heard?
The private events industry continues to wait and wonder when we will be able to finally get a break, and go back to doing the things we love to do best, our jobs! We need our leaders to understand that we are private event professionals, we know how to pivot and adapt better than anyone for our clientele. We trust and respect science, and are absolutely ready and willing to work together with officials to help develop roadmaps to help return our economy to a better sense of "normal", in which people can once again come together, SAFELY and COMFORTABLY.
The experts in our industry indicate that it will be at least another year or perhaps two, after widespread vaccination before we will see any sort of significant, lasting modifications to the restrictions, which will allow us to once again resume operations at any sort of normal scale. Large lobbyist organizations that have millions, if not billions of dollars behind them, were able to push to get places like restaurants, office buildings, personal care salons, gyms, etc., reopened with modifications, only to be forced to shutter yet again, over and over the cycle has repeated. We as private events industry small business owners, don't have that kind of money to be able to pay high power lobbyists, we're too focused on trying to figure out how we're going to pay this months payroll, liability insurance bill, auto insurance bill for our delivery vehicles that have been force idled for nearly a year now, or worse, the loan payments that we as owners, signed as a personal guarantor to get the funds necessary to purchase our buildings, equipment, and tools, necessary to be able to do our jobs.
Many of us in the private events industry continues to spend countless sleepless nights trying to figure out how we can pivot and adapt our product and service offerings, how to continue to reduce our expenses, and sell off business and personal property just to try and get closer to making ends meet. We've had to offer extremely scaled-back versions, or even reinvent the wheel totally with new products and services, in a desperate attempt to just be able to "tread enough water for another few days" on the promise that maybe next week we can re-open, but that next week still has yet to come.
The spring and summer months allowed a small amount of hope to shine through, as the vast majority of public health orders have permitted small gatherings of just a handful of people, who were required to be socially distanced and events to be held 100% outdoors. For those clients, we stepped up, and together, we delivered them experiences far greater than they could have ever imagined. Then in late fall, disaster struck once again, and we were forced to once again shutter services, as the rules once again changed. But still, our cries for our voices to be heard by our legislators, leaders, and public health officials still continue to be ignored, nearly a year later.
While a staggering number of private event small businesses nationwide, many who have been in business for decades, employing generations of family members, have been forced to lay off or dismiss their staff populous entirely, file for bankruptcy protection from creditors who can't seem to understand we just can't pay the bills right now, had their buildings foreclosed on, delivery vehicle fleets repossessed, or worse, been forced to close their doors entirely, shattering their lifelong dreams of business ownership independence.
There have been a much smaller number of us that are still managing to hold on, we've created incredibly memorable events for you by transforming your backyards, patios, or even driveways into a gorgeously appointed hospitality oasis. Rain or shine, mosquitos, drippy humidity, or crippling wildfire smoke, your private event professionals have done our absolute best to help you enjoy some degree of normalcy, as we approach the end of our tenth month of this pandemic. We absolutely want that normalcy just as much for ourselves, as we do for you, our clientele.
Now that the winter weather is here, many of us small businesses have been forced to close due to continued stay at home orders, or public health orders preventing us from offering services, we are once again faced with the inevitable question of "Now What?". If we are lucky enough to be in an area that people are allowed to gather, many public health departments also will not allow a tent with 4 sidewalls, thusly negating the ability for people to stay comfortably warm, and out of the harsh winter weather elements like wind and rain.
So what's next for us? The cold, wind and the rainy season is here, but how are the private events professionals supposed to continue on when we aren't getting any support, financial or otherwise from our elected officials? We're all deeply worried that fewer and fewer of our potential clientele are going to be willing to hold their micro-gatherings outdoors, and what few events that we have maybe permitted to hold safely, will continue to dwindle or disappear entirely. The ability to hold micro-events outdoors for the last few weeks of the summer had given us a shred of hope that we might be able to keep going, and do what we all do best in the private events industry, pivot and adapt for our clients and give them the best possible event.
But the real question becomes, what is going to happen to that couple who wanted to enjoy a beautifully catered meal, for their what was once a 300 person wedding? How are we supposed to help make their special day spectacular for them when now they are forced to slash their guest lists to 10 or 20 people at maximum, and in some areas, not permitted to have their celebration whatsoever?
As a private event small business owner, I’m already the accounting person, the salesperson, the marketing person, the executive chef, and quite often the dishwasher, but now I’m having to be a healthcare worker, doing temperature checks for every client and staffer. I'm now a social worker collecting and securing information for contact tracing because I have a moral obligation to protect my clients and staff. Maybe these are new skills I can add to my resume, right after “problem-solving on a dime” “insane attention to detail,” and “upbeat go-getter." if the day ever comes that I have to throw in the towel and return to working for someone else, instead of living my dreams as a business owner.
As private event professionals, the masks we wear to help keep everyone safe, also are keeping our customers from seeing our true faces. Instead, we’re biting our lips until sore and bloodied, gritting our teeth until TMJ pain ensues, to tackle the next "new set of challenges" with more grace and dignity than can ever be mustered before. We are a small business, we are the private events industry, and we hope that whoever reads this, understands how important your patronage of our companies means to us and our families.
We've been there for you to help you celebrate during the highest times of your lives, and now we humbly ask you to do whatever you can to support us in our lowest of low times. Please consider any possibility of utilizing any member or multiple members of our industries services as often as you can until we can re-open fully. Order some catering for yourself, or as a gift from your favorite local caterer, schedule a winter or spring photography shoot, order some fancy tables & chairs, china, or glassware from your local party rentals company, hire a DJ to play music for you & your neighbors for a few hours during a "social distancing happy hour", send a floral arrangement to a friend or loved one, consult with a trusted event planner on how you can have a safe, enjoyable, and fun event if permitted by your local health department. Your frequent utilization of our businesses right now might make the difference between us staying in business and keeping on, or shattering the dreams we've all worked our entire lives to create.
Thank you for reading & sharing this, for your patronage...
-The Employees & Owners of Private Event Small Businesses Worldwide
About the Author:
Certified Master Chef Sean Andrade is the executive chef/owner of AWG Private Chefs, named the #1 Private Chef company in California. Chef Sean has worked in the restaurant and hospitality industries worldwide for more than 25 years. His company AWG Private Chefs offers highly custom tailored, bespoke private chef dining experiences, and private event catering in over 30 countries around the globe.