Small businesses and gig economy workers struggle as ambiguity over the sector’s activity resumption continues.
Rabat – Moroccan caterers traditionally do well in summer, a season which the majority of Moroccans choose for weddings, but the COVID-19 crisis left their livelihood in a precarious position.
Unlike other sectors in Morocco, for which the government set clear guidelines to operate within the special circumstances of COVID-19, the catering business in Morocco still lacks the clarity of legal regulations.
This does not only complicate their business practices, but leaves the whole sector in a heightened state of uncertainty.
The Vice-President of Morocco’s Federation of Professional Caterers, Abdelrhni Bensaid, told Morocco World News that just before the year 2000, major cities such as Casablanca and Rabat counted between 10 and 15 caterers each, while today they host 800 and 350 professional caterers, respectively.
Bensaid could not provide a precise number due to “the absence of legislation governing the catering sector.”
What Bensaid is sure of, however, is that all Moroccan caterers and “with no exception” suffer the negative repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis.
“Coronavirus did not make a difference between small and large brands, nor between those who work in the formal and the informal, to plunge the entire catering sector into a profound slump.”
The vice-president said he cannot quantify the loss that Moroccan caterers have sustained so far. “… but I can assure you 90% of those who exercise in this activity have not performed an operation since the start of the pandemic.”
The damage of the COVID-19 pandemic manifests visibly with the situation of Moroccan wedding caterers.
The President of the National ِAssociation of Notaries (ANA), Moulay Bouchaib Fadlaoui, told 2M on August 25 about a significantly low turnout of couples trying to marry—from approximately 36,000 licenses in a standard year to 12,250 so far in 2020.
The impact of wedding cancellations
To explore the true impact of the COVID-19 crisis on these seasonal jobs, Morocco World News interviewed a wedding caterer in the province of Temara, a suburb of Rabat, about the repercussions on her business and those of her partners.
Habiba, manager of a wedding planning and catering business, told Morocco World News that the last wedding the company organized took place on March 7, before authorities intervened on March 13 and asked them to close.
The wedding planning and catering company then had to cancel all reservations it had secured for events between mid-March and July.
“Cancellations damaged our business most,” said Habiba, noting that between April and September, the company normally caters up to three weddings per day.
“While various sectors have clear guidelines of work during the COVID-19 crisis, Moroccan caterers have none, and until life goes back to normal, we have no outlook for the future, as rental and maintenance charges continue to drain our resources.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Moroccan caterers face the additional struggle of balancing their lack of income with expenses and requests for reimbursement.
“At this time, we are faced by two types of customers, those asking for when they can postpone their weddings — which we are unable to answer — and those who want to reimburse their initial deposits, after the lockdown forced them to cancel,” said Habiba.
The business does not only provide services for weddings, but also for events such as companies’ opening ceremonies, birthdays, and funerals. The diversity of their field of function adds to the diversity of related jobs that the pandemic has also impacted.
The impact on related jobs
Several other categories of professionals usually thrive during the summer wedding season, including the notaries who register and conclude marriages, hairdressers, photographers, musicians, and wait staff.
Habiba recalled that employees who are registered with the National Social Security Fund (CNSS) have benefited from stipends during the lockdown.
“Meanwhile, our partners with whom we collaborate for events, such as waiters, bakers, and chauffeurs, are the ones who are most hit by the lack of ceremonies, for most of them only work through us,” said Habiba.
“I know waiters who have not paid rent for the last three months,” she added.
On March 14, Morocco’s Ministry of Interior banned all gatherings of more than 50 people until further notice.
Two days later, on March 16, the ministry decided to close cafes and restaurants. These enterprises did not begin to resume activity until May 29, as part of Morocco’s ease of the lockdown.
However, the rules are still ambiguous for Moroccan caterers, Habiba said. She stressed that government guidelines are not clear about wedding ceremonies. There is uncertainty regarding if they can take place if they adhere to the same sanitary measures as cafes and restaurants, such as social distancing.
The manager suggested that Moroccan caterers are ready to take responsibility for the organization of their events by implementing social distancing, providing hand sanitizer for guests, and carrying out COVID-19 tests for employees.
Morocco’s Federation of Professional Caterers’ response
Morocco’s Federation of Professional Caterers and the Federation of Caterers of Morocco are the two entities defending the rights of professional Moroccan caterers, and COVID-19 has presented them with a difficult challenge.
Vice-President Bensaid told Morocco World News that both federations held several meetings with Moroccan authorities at the end of the initial lockdown with the aim to allow the sector to resume activity.
“Promises received but nothing concrete,” he lamented.
Bensaid knew when Head of the Government Saad Eddine El Othmani said, “No marriage, no funeral,” that deserting their kitchens was going to be hard on caterers.
In addition to surviving the current crisis, however, the vice-president expects Moroccan caterers will also have a hard time reviving their industry after the COVID-19 pandemic, since they did not organize events during the high wedding season.
“It is a real cataclysm and an unprecedented catastrophe. The caterer is facing a mountain of difficulties today with this crisis. Imagine seven months without making a single penny in your cash register,” Bensaid concluded.