How Craft Services Will Change: Goodbye Buffets, Hello Rising Costs

“We’re going to assume everyone is terrified…Now let’s serve food that way,” Chef Shanita Castle of Castles Catering tells TheWrap

When Hollywood returns to work, people will still need to be fed, and the industry’s caterers and craft service providers are serving up plans to safely provide meals to sets under strict new conditions.

Actors and crew members will be met with individually wrapped meals, staggered lunch breaks and deliveries as well as possibly “one-touch buffets,” all of which will come at a higher cost to caterers and productions. But what is clear is the days of hundreds of extras gathered for a serve-yourself lunch or craft service tables ripe with donuts and shared bowls of nuts are over.

“Obviously the buffet is dead, at least for the rest of the year. There’s not going to be any more family-style buffet going forward,” chef Shanita Castle of Castles Catering said. “Everyone is saying they’re ramping up on a smaller scale, so we’re just trying to figure out what that even means. From my end, I’m having to figure out the best way to serve food. They’re having to figure out the best way to shoot scenes. It’s going to be so different.”

Castle has been in the industry for 10 years with a specialization in Creole cooking and soul food and has worked with agencies, executives and other corporate entities, as well as with SAG-AFTRA, Fox Sports and on “Insecure.” She says full-service buffet options are likely not an option for the near future, and it’s going to come at a cost.

Castles Catering is estimating a packaging fee of $75 per 50 people. Sean Heyman, who runs Rise and Shine Catering, estimated that his packaging costs will rise between 10% and 20%, and that accounts for the additional cost of labor, boxes and even additional food that will be included with each individual meal.

Paige Simmons of Dine With 9 Catering, which has worked on “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Voice,” says to think of it like a wedding. If you pick a plated option versus a buffet, it’ll cost more because you have to account for the number of chicken dishes, fish dishes, vegetarian dishes — and it will all have to be packaged in warming containers and then dropped off or handed off to productions, possibly multiple times a day to accommodate staggered lunch breaks.

“It’s going to be just like ordering from a restaurant because we’re going to have to package everything for each person individually,” Simmons said.

In addition to the basics of keeping cooks and drivers in masks, gloves and sanitizing constantly, there will be no more utensil sharing, or really no sharing of anything. Simmons also adds that she’ll be assigning vans to individual employees, so it’s clear who’s coming in contact with what and when. All of these new safeguards may create additional headaches for clients, but caterers say it’s a necessity.

“Sometimes when you’re in a service industry, you just tend to do what the client wants you to do, but I have a responsibility for my company and my staff,” Castle said. “I know you want to do X, Y and Z, but here’s what we should be doing or need to be doing so that everyone’s good.”

Heyman’s Rise and Shine Catering once provided over 800 box lunches for the music video shoot for Dr. Dre and Snoop Doog’s “Still D.R.E.” and is familiar with the challenges of delivery and keeping meals either warmed or refrigerated. In recent weeks, he’s been eager to reconnect with old clients and has let them know that his company can offer individually wrapped meals and do so with their entire menu.

“It’s a new ballgame, so to just have business right now, this is us following the light,” he said. “If you are working on a shoot for 10, 12 hours or more, people will work for whatever they’ll work for, but you have to make sure you have a well-fed crew. If you don’t have a well-fed crew, if you’re not taking care of them in that regard, you’re going to have a problem.”

There’s also the issue of craft services, or the tables that provide snacks to cast and crew on set during production. While you might expect to find an assortment of donuts, appetizers, nuts or other snacks, tables might now be limited to pre-packaged, individual bags of chips or treats, and anything homemade would likewise have to be individually wrapped. And it will be up to the production to determine whether the “crafties” responsible for administering such treats would even be considered essential on set.

“It’s just going to be mayhem because people are self-serving, and we can’t allow self-serving anymore,” Simmons says of craft services. “Almost every production has it because of course people want a snack throughout the day. I think they’ll still need those people, and it will be up to the productions to decide how small their set is.”

Simmons, however, is at least exploring options to bring back full-service options to sets, either for catering or for craft services. One pricier option is to have food service out of a truck, with a chef serving meals through a window. Another option is what Simmons calls “one-touch buffets.” She compared it to a line at Chipotle, with plexiglass shields covering the food and enclosing either the server or the chef. One individual would be responsible for all the food handling and would then pass the food down a line so that neither server nor crew have to come in direct contact.

Simmons would require that productions that want this option to set up buffets outside where air can circulate, and only the caterer’s own trained team members would be allowed to set up and handle equipment, a process that previously took 20-30 minutes but will now take much longer.

“Our biggest fear is our things will be slowed,” Simmons said. “No one wants to pay for a lot of servers. That’s the one thing about productions. They’re always like, ‘Can one person do it for a hundred?’ If everyone’s self-serving, yeah sure, we can do the buffet and everyone self serves. But now the server has to do everything.”

Castle, however, says she “wouldn’t even bother” with a buffet option and would be concerned with people standing and chatting as they order meals or with food sitting out in the open air.

“There might be five people on set who are okay with that, and then there are 10 people who are like, ‘I don’t want to eat because the food is out.’ You just have a whole group of people who will not eat the food,” Castle said. “We’re going to assume everyone is terrified, everyone has had a near-death experience and everyone has lost their moms. That’s where we’re going with this. Now let’s serve food that way.”

Brian Welk

Brian Welk

Film Reporter • • Twitter: @brianwelk


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