Thanks to lockdown, Suzan Allan, owner of Croxfords Catering based in Upper Heyford, was heading for a bleak 2020 summer season with little or no chance of keeping her wedding bookings.
“As a bespoke wedding caterer specialising in large society weddings for 250 or more guests, our entire business for 2020 has been annihilated since lockdown began,” she admits.
However, every cloud has a silver lining. Firstly, all 2020’s weddings have been postponed until next year, and, like chameleons on a tartan rug, Croxfords quickly evolved, developed and stepped up to the mark with some alternative and relevant catering options.
One of Croxfords’ biggest success stories is its ‘Guilty Secret’ drop and go menu service. This is accompanied by a set of instructions for finishing and serving the meal as necessary, linen napkins, a small posy of flowers, canapes to begin and finally petit fours, with perhaps five courses in between.
“This is not mid-week supper but rather a very special occasion meal. And it’s proved so popular, especially with younger couples wanting to make, say, an anniversary or birthday just that little bit special whilst in isolation,” Suzan explains.
Initially this was for between four and six diners, but recent weeks have seen this escalate to slightly larger home or family gatherings. “We are now happily booked through the summer with small but perfect soirees, where attention to detail is paramount,” Suzan adds.
As well as providing food for numerous celebrations and private meals in isolation, Croxfords have also been dropping off freezer-fills of handmade meals and goodies (in your own dish if required) which can then be served with aplomb, guests none the wiser.
Another lucrative outlet has been its edible gift service. Suzan said: “We have been delivering delicacies to the great and the good around the county, where perhaps someone has been under the weather or just struggling. A lasagne or Greek Pie delivered to your doorstep is a welcome gift we’ve found.”
Even so, 2020 was looking pretty awful back in March, and just trying to imagine what hospitality would look like in the months ahead was, and still is, a frightening scenario. But it seems in this case that being small but perfectly formed is an advantage.
So was Suzan worried at first? “We operate Croxfords from a large domestic kitchen which places us in a very niche position in terms of being able to continue to supply our discreet little black book of clientele,” she says.
“Neither do we have any large overheads in terms of rent/rates, and our core staff who have been with us since we started 19 years ago, are all temporary and come back to us at the start of every summer. This alone means in cash-flow terms we are able to ride out this storm and be ready for what lies on the other side.”
Known for their society weddings, Croxfords do not advertise, as all their work comes through word of mouth or recommendation.
It was this reputation that saw them awarded a very high profile wedding in June 2018 when Hetty Chidwick (now Lintell) the Luxury Editor of Country Life Magazine married at Farthinghoe, Oxfordshire. The Croxfords reputation spread quickly after the wedding thanks to Hetty’s praise.
And with this summer’s brides and grooms in mind, who let’s face it, are devastated that their special day has been unprecedentedly postponed, Croxfords has been drawing the names of one lucky couple out of a hat each month and providing them with a complimentary picnic version of their wedding day meal, which has gone down a storm.
As for the future, does Suzan think that large gatherings of more than the current 30 people quota will be possible this year? “I have major doubts especially with the second wave of Covid-19 predicted for October 2020,” she said.
“What I do know is that economic survival will be for the fittest only and Croxfords will still be here. As they say in Italy “Fare la scarpetta”.