private dining, or hiring a chef for a private party, is becoming increasingly popular. We talk about the dynamic development of this segment with Agnieszka Gorska, CEO of Ulala Chef.
The interview appeared in the August 2021 issue of HorecaTrends.pl magazine, with Agnieszka Gorska interviewed by Anna Wrona.
Anna Wrona, horecatrends.pl: How did the private dining market and your company Ulala Chef develop during the pandemic?
Agnieszka Gorska, CEO of Ulala Chef: We made good use of the opportunity brought to us by the pandemic. That’s how I can sum it up today, although in the first lockdown (2020) we were devastated and terrified of what would happen to us.
Our company previously had two sources of revenue: private dining for individual clients and handling customized culinary events for business clients. The latter source practically completely shut down for us in pandemonium and to this day has not returned to its proper scale.
However, we were very determined to fight for survival. We listened with great attention to the needs of the market and looked for opportunities to rebound from the crisis. As soon as we noticed that the private dining segment started to grow rapidly in our company after the first removal of the restrictions, we followed suit and focused heavily on it.
The number of private dining receptions at our customers’ homes has grown steadily in each quarter from June 2020 to today. We estimate that we will close 2021 with a more than 3-fold increase in revenues and profits from this segment compared to our best results before the pandemic.
Where is the source of such a result? I, for one, believe that 3 factors have contributed to it. First: the strong focus of our strategy is on the private dining segment. Second: favorable restaurant closings. After all, the need to celebrate important moments did not disappear despite the restrictions – customers held parties at home, much smaller and more intimate due to the pandemic, but they held them nonetheless.
Third: the opening of the market and customers to look for alternatives “in this new world.” Just as many of us ordered restaurant food delivery for the first time during the pandemic, customers with an affluent wallet became more open to the new-to-them service of hiring a chef for a private dinner at home. Breakthrough events can leapfrog the market picture. For us, exactly this new picture is very positive.
AW: What were the most interesting orders you had?
AG: Some of the most interesting for us are always engagement dinners. Often it is a complete surprise for the bride-to-be, who is delighted by the idea her fiancé has realized with our help. A lot of emotions accompany these evenings. And we can support the client not only with an exceptional menu served live by a chef, but also build the decorations – furniture, table, flowers, and candles. We are a quiet and discreet ally of the future bride and groom. I remember such a recent party held in a newly built, empty house, on a still raw concrete floor. It was a beautiful space to arrange a private dream dinner.
AW: Is private dining going to grow? Who will utilize these services most frequently?
AG: I think in Poland it certainly will. Society is getting richer. In addition, we are educating ourselves gastronomically, we are traveling, and we are opening our horizons also in the culinary area.
We will be favored, in my opinion, additionally by another trend created by the pandemic – remote working and homeschooling children have taught us that it is no longer necessary to live in big cities.
Affluent clients and highly paid professionals are moving out of the cities to homes near the city or to other regions of Poland away from major centers. This trend will further stimulate demand for high-quality private dining services – people will want a top restaurant experience but in the comfort of their homes away from the city.
AW: What about dining establishments? How did the catering business cope with the lockdown? Did it manage to make up for the losses over the vacations?
AG: I can only judge it from the perspective of a restaurant customer. Certainly, during the vacations, we wanted to satisfy our restaurant hunger. I myself have been in restaurants more often in recent months than ever before. I hope that this period has allowed the restaurant industry to bounce back a bit, not only financially, but also improved morale and the belief that if you’ve managed to survive to this point, it means that the business fundamentals are strong.
I also hope that we are not facing another wave of restrictions. I am an outspoken opponent of them, even if they help in part in my business – Ulala Chef. I do not believe in the effectiveness of lockdown as a long-term and recurring solution. In this regard, I support the strategy of, for example, the Israeli government – the third dose of vaccine, taking care of collective immunity, rather than a lockdown that degrades economic and social life.
For the food service industry in Poland today, on the other hand, the biggest challenge is the labor market. A huge shortage is evident.