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Amid ban on large gatherings, catering business dries up

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SMITHFIELD — With a statewide ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, Johnstonians are canceling or postponing a host of events, everything from weddings to high school reunions.

Understandably, caterers are feeling the pinch.

“The catering has almost been obsolete,” said Dalton Stocks, an owner of Golden Corral in Smithfield, one of the county’s largest caterers. “Most of the events we had were either crowds of 50 or more or were schools. In that aspect, they canceled on us.”

Like other Johnston eateries, White Swan Bar-B-Q & Fried Chicken in Smithfield lost a chunk of business after Gov. Roy Cooper closed bars and restaurants to dine-in customers. But that might not be the worst of it, said owner Linwood Parker.
“Quite honestly, the part that has been hurt the worst is the catering business,” he said.

Parker said customers had canceled contracts for wedding receptions, political campaign events and other large gatherings. “What we’re seeing is people calling and saying, ‘Look, we can’t have an event right now, so we’re postponing it, and we’ll get back to you,’ ” he said.

Without doing the exact math, Parker figured the lost sales from canceled catering contracts at $30,000 to $60,000. April and May are among his busiest catering months, he said.

Like White Swan, nearby Holt Lake Bar-B-Que & Seafood has seen its catering business dry up, said owner Terry Barefoot. In the past week alone, “we had to cancel catering jobs for groups of 300, 350 and 75 people,” he said.

The upcoming month is just as bad, Barefoot said. “Every catering job we had scheduled for the next 30 days has been canceled, and we have some wedding parties scheduled for May and June that we will probably have to cancel as well,” he said.

His restaurant could cater events with 50 or fewer people, Barefoot said, but with small parties, it’s hard for the revenue to cover the expenses.

“We have no idea how long this is it is going to last,” Barefoot said. “The government said they are going to help the restaurants, but they have not said how. And I do not know how they are going to determine which ones qualify.”

Parker said he was trying to remain positive. “I think long term it will even itself out, provided this is over with in the next couple of months, month and a half,” he said. “At this point, we’re just trying to make sure we hold our staff together ... and be ready when we get to the other side.”

“I personally want to thank all of my customers,” Parker added. “I appreciate them understanding that they can’t dine in. We all got to make sacrifices. This is a historical moment.”

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