Home catering in the new normal? It can be done. Happy Ongpauco Tiu shows us how. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, put the world on pause and the food industry has been greatly affected—not only restaurateurs, but caterers and private dining chefs as well.

Employing over 200, restaurateur Happy Ongpauco-Tiu was among those perplexed on what to do next when restaurants were forced to close. You might recognize her name from restaurants such as Hawaiian BBQ or Pamana Restaurant.

But this is one girl who has proven that she knows how to not only survive but thrive. She prayed, and with strength and wisdom from her 20 years experience as a chef and restaurateur, she decided to innovate.

Today she is the first to execute “contactless catering.”

Reliable restaurateur

Before I explain that, let me share with you Happy’s strengths.

First, she is a fabulous cook. I met her 16 years ago, when I had just started writing for Inquirer and she had just rehashed the menu at a modern Japanese resto-bar named Ebisu.

To this day, my memory is still vivid with the taste of what I ate, especially her clever use of aioli. If I recall right, she was also working back then on an affordable but yummy concept called World Topps.

This was before she gave birth to other successful concepts such as Hawaiian BBQ in Boracay and Pamana in Tagaytay.

Second, she is a reliable restaurateur with impressive attention to detail. You feel this in her restaurants: from the well-thought-out interiors to the consistent service.

Third is that she has impeccable taste. This quality of hers became even more noticeable when she ventured into bespoke catering which she called “Private Dining by Happy Concept Group.” She created elegant tablescapes to compliment her customized menus.

Contactless catering

However, this private dining concept was put on hold when the lockdown was imposed. Happy had to come up with ways to continue her businesses and, among other motivations, support her over 200 employees.

Ever resilient and creative, she came up with the idea of contactless catering.

How does this work? When you book Private Dining by Happy Concept, she will work with you on a theme, menu and budget.

Once that is finalized, they will bring over the food. But on top of that, they will also bring over the tablescape and buffet accessories. So the plates, utensils, placemats, table runners, floral arrangements, centerpiece will be provided by the company.

Then they will also send a video as well as photos on how to arrange the buffet and tablescape so you can replicate Happy’s elegant dining style.

This is for the option that is totally “contactless.”

Another option is for the client to allow her staff into their home only to set up the tablescape and then they will leave after all preparations are done. Happy’s staff, of course, will come in full personal protective equipment (PPE) gear and with sanitizers.

She also offers a third option, which she calls “complete service.” Her team arrives in full gear, i.e., PPE, mask, shield, a COVID-19 testing on the spot for her staff if required, and then the staff stay for the dinner.

These are all available even for just a dinner for two, as long as you give her advance notice of three days.

If you want to completely escape from your home, but are still afraid to venture out into a restaurant, she has also reopened her private dining spaces—houses in Makati and Greenhills, which you can book as well.

I asked her how she ensures that all her things are virus-free. They have a UV light gadget that is either used by her staff upon arrival or lent to the client for the dinner so that they can disinfect all items as they are delivered to them. Her staff are also tested for COVID-19 every two weeks.

If you prefer to cook yourself, you can also bring some “Happy” into your home by purchasing items from her new tableware line. She now sells these via Instagram (see @my_happyhomeph).

She shares, “I’ve always loved beautiful tablewares and accessories. I have a lifestyle store in all my Pamana branches that sell these but because we are closed, I thought of selling via Instagram. To make it more special, aside from just selling the plates individually, I started curating sets. I mix and match different tableware to make it more special for the clients. [I’m] so grateful it’s well accepted as each sale gives jobs to my staff!”

If there’s one good thing that has come out of this pandemic, it is that entrepreneurs were forced to think out of the box and so even new ways of entertaining have been created.

I confess I miss the old normal, or dining out without the fear of a virus lurking around, but I am grateful for all these new options and innovations for the “new normal.”

Private Dining by Happy Concept Group. For more info, visit privatedining.com.ph. To book, call 0917-8990467 or 0917-8990456. Follow them on Instagram @privatediningbyhappyconcept.

More from the author at margauxsalcedo.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Instagram.

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