The outbreak of the COVID- 19 in the country in 2020, brought with it unimaginable sufferings and agonies. But it also caused many Nigerians to begin thinking outside the box, birthing new ideas and businesses. The period also birthed the Association of Professional Food Service Providers of Nigeria (APFSPN). The association on February 1 had its first induction ceremony, with the theme: ‘A New Dawn of Competence and Quality for Food Professionals.’ It was a gathering of over 300 registered members, including women and men and still counting.
The induction ceremony, which was held at Ikeja, was an opportunity for the members to reminisce and recollect their struggles and victories. The administrator of MMB Catering Services, Ms. Mubo Adegoke, giving a brief background story of the association, said: “In 2020 COVID-19 came, hitting us hard. Our industry was badly hit and we didn’t know where to run to and who to run to. We were lost and didn’t know what to do. We then found a safe space for ourselves.
Before now, we didn’t have an association. We found ourselves scattered and people wanted to reach out to us, but it was impossible. “When our constituency was asked for, we didn’t have. Yes, caterers didn’t have a constituency. Many of us then came together to form a WhatsApp group. People fell in love with it. It took us months to gather together and our slogan became, ‘Together We Can.’ “We had our first Town’s Hall Meeting.
We are all foundation members of this association and we have a National Working Committee (NWC) in place. This induction is made possible by the NWC.” The Chairperson, Board of Trustees (BOT), Mrs. Morenike Okupe, said it was high time people began to recognise their sector and for the sector to become prominent. She explained that the association was not formed for them to compete among themselves, but for them to complement one another, taking the other to a higher level. She added: “We came together to have seamless catering services.
It has got to the stage where the world has one, otherwise called ‘global village.’ We founded the association together and together we can achieve and succeed. We’re now in the limelight and we need to have integrity. If you don’t have integrity, then you shouldn’t be a caterer. If you have issues, which make people not trust you, then you shouldn’t be in the catering business.
You all need to remember that we are all vendors, including you waiters. “You shouldn’t be sitting to eat at an event where you are the caterer. Most importantly, you shouldn’t be giving your client’s food, which he or she had paid for as ‘gift’ to people, especially not when their party is still ongoing. We should also learn to be humble. Humility is important and when you get to events, be civil, including your waiters. The association is birthing a lot of good things. We must all become competent and make a mark in this industry. We should make ourselves relevant and cultivate the habit of investing in ourselves and businesses.”
The Chairperson APFSPN, Mrs. Monioluwa Osho, said that the creation of the association was long overdue, and that there was no better time than now to have it. She urged all members to strive to make the association and industry proud. The Vice-Chairperson, APFSPN, Mrs. Bolade Adebayo, said that the purpose of the induction among other things was to bring the members together and for them to identify with themselves. “It is also for us to have a voice in Nigeria and speak with one voice, to encourage members and provide quality services in safety standards.
It is also to protect the interest of our members. It will also give us links to the government and businesses in Nigeria. It will also help us to play vital roles in advising members on how to provide services, encourage members to provide excellent services, and render financial assistance to members,” said Adebayo. Some of the members recalled challenges inherent in catering services. One of them, Mrs. Okunowo, said that she started catering services in 1983 and by 1990; there were just a handful of them. She remembered that some clients deliberately refused to accord them the respect due to them.
She narrated: “We’ve come a long way. My sad experience was when I got a contract at Ibadan to handle catering for an engagement party and on the wedding day, to handle reception. The guests for engagement and receptions were placed at 500 respectively and this was happening in 1997. “I was given two cows and I didn’t complain, but when I got to the engagement, I counted 1000 chairs for guests. I had to do more cooking.
My gas and everything, which I had budgeted for 500 people, finished. After the engagement, there was a week’s interval before the wedding and reception, so I wrote to the client after the engagement, explaining and insisting that if they wanted me to handle the reception, they had to pay me extra or they should give the contract for the reception catering to someone else. “We are professionals and people should look and treat us the way they look at their doctors and lawyers. However, a lot of things have changed; before there was competition, but today, there’s an association.” Most of the caterers agreed that they always faced challenges of clients booking a certain number of plates of food, and then inviting more guests than what they had booked.
A particular caterer said: “There was a time we were serving at a client’s event and one of the guests caused a commotion, saying that he was a titled chief and should be served in a certain way. He was angry that we didn’t serve him the way a titled chief should be served.”
The Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture who attended the launch, Mrs. Abisola Olusanya, represented by Mrs. Omodunbi Toyin, said: “This industry involves processing, beginning with the raw materials to fine-tune before it gets to the final stage. That’s how food preparation is; the industry is to keep customers happy at all occasions, no matter the harassment.
The inductees should keep the flag flying and remember that integrity is the watchword. I want to appeal to the association, that it should continue to provide good food for clients. “We identify with the industry because agriculture is the backbone of the economy of the nation. Agriculture provides employment and other services. As an association, providing food for clients, you’re providing employment as well. If there’s no food anywhere, there wouldn’t be any activity anywhere, so we have to do whatever we do very well.”