Local caterers are preparing for a major dent in business this fall after LSU banned all on-campus tailgating for the 2020 football season.
Emerging from two rocky quarters impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, some caterers were holding out hope for strong tailgating revenues, which tend to dominate a catering company’s fourth quarter, and were stunned this morning by LSU’s announcement.
“I pretty much just cursed into the wind whenever I read that,” says Lisa Boudreaux-Lecoq, who owns The Gilded Artichoke. “We were all counting on tailgate season to bring us out of the red, but now it looks like the fourth quarter is going to be a wash.”
Lecoq, who doubles as president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s greater Baton Rouge chapter, says the LRA’s corporate office has been busy answering phone calls from members wanting to recoup federal dollars from coronavirus relief programs, which she encourages restaurateurs and caterers to review amid today’s bombshell.
Steep declines in sales and revenues are anticipated across the board. Catering Kegs owner Donald Olinde, who typically generates some $5,500 in gross sales of kegs to tailgaters each home game, plans to miss out on five times that amount during LSU’s 2020 season, which features five home games. He already lost an estimated $15,000 in gross sales on the canceled St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“There’s nothing we can really do,” Olinde says.
However, for others, the news comes as little surprise. Don Bergeron, owner of Bergeron’s City Market Fine Foods & Catering, had already canceled most of his large events originally scheduled for football season because of COVID-19 restrictions and has been planning to promote a new “catering to-go” business model for fans watching the Tigers play from their homes.
“While we’ve lost a lot of business with on-site catering, we’ve picked up in takeout,” says Bergeron, who’s marketing more food trays and smaller tailgate packages than usual for the at-home fans. “We’ve got to get back to normal somehow.”
Recognizing the need to pivot, Gourmet Girls has prepared a football party watch menu geared toward smaller groups of 10 to 15 people, says owner Kathy Mangham, who actually expects an uptick in sales with most fans forced to stay at home, since her boutique catering business didn’t rely much on tailgating before the pandemic anyway.
Stephen Hightower, who owns both City Pork Catering and City Slice near LSU, is also preparing to roll out catering options for people tailgating at home, which he’s been working on for the past month-and-a-half. Still, he expects City Slice in particular to take a big hit, noting how much the pizza restaurant relies on sales from the seven to eight Saturdays a year when LSU plays in Tiger Stadium.
“It’s devastating,” Hightower says. “The hits just keep coming.”