Catering amid COVID-19: How a family-owned business is making it work

When COVID-19 hit, the catering industry shuddered to a halt. Weddings were postponed, corporate lunches became a thing of the past, and events of all types entered a state of limbo. Many caterers were forced to reassess their operations—and find new ways to keep their businesses afloat.

This narrative rings true for Gretchen Talbert and Lisa Mason, sisters and co-owners of 3 Girls Catering. With more than 14 years of catering excellence under their belt, the sisters are facing a new challenge this year—navigating the aftermath of COVID-19.

Gretchen and Lisa adjust to their new normal

In January, 3 Girls Catering was gearing up for a busy and profitable 2020. However, by March, the sisters faced a new reality.

“We were having our best business year ever, and then COVID hit and every single event canceled,” Gretchen says. “We were in a panic—we didn’t know what to do.”

The coronavirus outbreak devastated the catering industry. This affected many business owners across the United States. This industry alone includes around 12,000 individuals and companies that bring in an annual revenue of more than $11 billion.

As events and gatherings were cancelled, the sisters scrambled to acclimate to their new business landscape. Gretchen and Lisa were forced to make hard decisions, particularly when it came to staffing.

“We love our employees—we consider them family,” says Gretchen. “So the thought of our family not having any income… it’s been so stressful. We laid off 28 employees, including our servers.”

Unfortunately, this struggle is not unique; 22 million jobs were lost in a two-month span at the beginning of the pandemic.

The sisters set to work to find ways to help their team members, many of whom were unable to access unemployment funds quickly. “At the beginning, a lot of our employees had a really hard time getting unemployment—they weren’t getting paychecks at all,” says Gretchen. “So we were trying to help feed them or find something for them to do so they would have some money coming in.”

To avoid complete business closure and bring back as many employees as possible, Gretchen and Lisa needed access to cash flow, fast.

QuickBooks helps organize the PPP process

To help deal with their financial challenges, the sisters applied for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

“We applied right away—we just kept watching our bank account get smaller and smaller, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do? We can’t go out of business.’”

3 Girls Catering was racing against the clock to keep their doors open. Fortunately, QuickBooks streamlined the application process.

“We had to jump through quite a few hoops to apply for a PPP loan, but QuickBooks made that a lot easier because everything was super organized,” says Gretchen. “We were able to just send off reports as needed, so we got approval on that right away.”

The sisters aren’t alone in their quest for government funding; business owners in all industries are still scrambling to access sorely-needed capital. As of the August 8, 2020 deadline, the SBA had approved more than 5.2 million PPP loans, with funds totaling over $525 billion.

After qualifying and receiving their loan, Gretchen and Lisa welcomed back some of their team.

How a family catering business adjusted to coronavirus.

“[The PPP loan] helped carry us for quite a while, until we were able to start getting some steady income coming back in again,” says Gretchen. “We were able to bring back some of our kitchen people, while other employees had found other jobs, thankfully.”

3 Girls Catering looks to the future

Gaining access to capital helped the sisters avoid shutting down their business, but 75% of PPP loans must go directly to payroll. While helpful, such a loan couldn’t fix everything.

To further complicate matters, 3 Girls Catering’s normal revenue sources are now completely changed. “We had to get creative really fast and change our business model completely,” says Gretchen.

Because traditionally-catered events are still in a state of flux, the sisters are experimenting with new catering avenues. “We started doing online family meal deliveries and pickup,” says Gretchen. “And we recently started doing some school lunches for private schools.” Corporate catering needs are making a comeback, as well; some organizations are requesting catered deliveries for employees to enjoy during Zoom meetings.

The sisters are also shifting their processes to meet the new demand for distanced catering in private homes. “A lot of people have events in their house where we’ll just come in and set everything up and leave,” Gretchen explains. “And then we’ll just pick up the equipment the next day, the chafing dishes and things, and we’ll let them kind of do their own thing with it.”

Changing their business model has also helped 3 Girls Catering connect with local customers in new ways, building community camaraderie.

“At first, I think a lot of people ordered just to be supportive of us, and then they realized how much it helped them as well,” Gretchen says. “They’ve found it’s great for their family and it’s healthy—it’s really beneficial for all of us.”

Gretchen remains positive, but she’s realistic about the hurdles the company has yet to face. Although PPP funds helped bridge the gap when business dried up, money remains tight for 3 Girls Catering. Even with a supplemental small business loan, the sisters are still seeking new ways to bring in money.

“We’re still losing money every month,” Gretchen explains. “We’re just doing everything we can to find new revenue, hoping that eventually COVID restrictions will be eased enough that people start booking weddings again.”

To drum up new business, Gretchen and Lisa are also focusing on long-term strategies. 3 Girls Catering is revamping their website, increasing their online visibility, and making it easier for new and returning customers to find their services.

“Through the site, I’m hoping that we are able to get a lot more new clients who are looking for things like family meals and delivery and pickup,” explains Gretchen.

Through innovation and resiliency, 3 Girls Catering and other small businesses are forging new ways to offer their services during these unprecedented times.

Recommended for you

Mail icon
Get the latest to your inbox
No Thanks

Get the latest to your inbox

Relevant resources to help start, run, and grow your business.

By clicking “Submit,” you agree to permit Intuit to contact you regarding QuickBooks and have read and acknowledge our Privacy Statement.

Thanks for subscribing.

Fresh business resources are headed your way!

Looking for something else?


From big jobs to small tasks, we've got your business covered.

Firm of the Future

Topical articles and news from top pros and Intuit product experts.

QuickBooks Support

Get help with QuickBooks. Find articles, video tutorials, and more.