At one point or another, every foodie has thought about starting his or her own catering business. While some people view this as work, others see starting a catering business as an opportunity to create the dining and entertainment experiences clients are willing to pay for. Delectable dishes and tempting profits make it so starting a catering business is something that’s appealing to many entrepreneurs.
With the growth that the food-service industry has been observing recently, these types of businesses are trendy and only getting trendier as well. Success is something that is on every entrepreneur’s mind and throughout this article, you’ll learn what to know prior to starting your catering business as well as the steps that come with these ventures.
Is Catering The Right Business For You?
Before starting a catering business, you’ll want to make sure that you’re the ideal type of entrepreneur to get into this line of work. Looking at the most successful caterers around results in an understanding that they possess a multitude of major characteristics. Some of the most important qualities you should have include creativity, consistency, and the desire to stay organized. Your creativity is going to come in handy when it comes time to prepare how you’re going to satisfy your customers. With this said, you’ll need to enjoy working in an environment that never stays the same.
Every day is different and while there is plenty of routine preparation, serving, and cleaning, your workspaces will change as will the people you work with. A lot of people hold a disdain for this aspect of catering but as a catering entrepreneur, you’ll need to love it. The lack of control can be intimidating to some, but you’ll need to be capable of taking control of situations that seem as though you’re lacking the power you need to smoothen out the rough seas of catering. You’ll need to be personable as well, developing long-term relationships with your clients. There is no business more personal than food.
Are You Financially Capable?
Funding is also something you’ll need to understand prior to starting your catering business. While catering is rather flexible in comparison to other food-service startups, you’ll still need some initial funds to get set up. A commercial location is a must but you can start out with the necessities and build up your equipment inventory over time as needed. You might even get lucky and find that there is a commercial kitchen for rent in your area. This could be the best way to get started as it will come at a lower cost than purchasing all of the equipment yourself.
There have even been cases in which catering businesses rent out school cafeterias when school is out. While there are plenty of tools you’ll need when starting out, you’ll be relieved to find that it’s also possible to rent a lot of the higher cost equipment, such as a champagne fountain to be used at a wedding reception. The food cost is not something you’ll need to worry about too much because most of the time, you’ll already know how many people you’re supposed to feed at the event you’re catering.
So if you’re considering doing off-premises catering, know that you’ll be taking the food you cook to your customers. The alternative is bringing a catering department to work at the space you’ll be cooking on the premises. As a caterer, you can specialize in a specific type of food as well. Some caterers specialize in foods including desserts and breakfast pastries while others decide to specialize in the services they provide. These can include specialized props, costumes that can be included for theme parties, wedding coordination, and floral arrangements. With this in mind, you can decide on specializing in something specific that will allow your catering business to stand apart from the others.
If you do decide to focus on being an off-premises caterer, you’ll have a couple of primary markets you’ll appeal to. In essence, you’ll want to market your catering business to these types of customers because they’re where you’re going to find work. Cultural organizations are major users of off-premises caterers so it’s best to get involved with them as soon as possible. These are the museums, opera houses, symphonies, and various other community and cultural organizations. They’re known for having some exquisite careered events that will provide you with business creating light appetizers to beautiful formal dinners. These events could result in you serving thousands of people in one night!
Social events are also major users of off-premises caterers. Every year there are millions upon millions of dollars being spent on wedding receptions and a lot of that money is being spent on the food. What’s a beautiful wedding without a reception full of the incredible food that all of the guests will be talking about for years to come? There are plenty of other social events you can focus on servicing as well, including but certainly not limited to anniversary dinners, graduation parties, birthday parties, and bar mitzvahs.
Acquiring Corporate Clients
You’ll also find that acquiring corporate clients can result in big money going in your pocket as an off-premise caterer. These people need food for breakfast and lunch meetings meaning they’re going to call a catering service to have everything ready for them. This can be as simple as you preparing a platter, or platters, of food and delivering them to the office that the client is working at. You might even be contacted to create something a bit more complex and told to bring it to an area other than the office. This can truly vary but the variety of jobs you’ll have as an off-premise caterer can mean you’re making a comfortable living!
There are other markets and specialties you can get involved in as well. Some people have certain dietary restrictions. For example, vegetarian catering is on the rise as more people are choosing to eat primarily plant-based diets. You also might find an increase in people requesting the food be gluten-free. Some catering companies will focus their attention on specific types of catering as well, such as afternoon teas or picnics. Food prepping is also becoming rather popular, especially for those who find themselves involved in a dual-career couple.
With a lack of time for cooking, some couples will actually hire a caterer to either go to their home and cook for them or bring the food after cooking it at your facility ready for serving. You can even offer prepared meals for an entire week that the client can keep refrigerated and heat up as soon as they are ready to eat. There are many markets within this field and you’ll find that you simply need to focus on one or perhaps a couple of them to see what works as you’re starting out. So the first thing you’ll actually have to do is find yourself a niche.
Finding a Niche
Finding a niche isn’t so difficult if you’re good at finding markets that your competition is overlooking or you feel you can dominate. While you’re likely starting out as a small caterer without a huge capacity, you can still cater some of the bigger events such as engagement parties, bachelorette parties, baby showers, and wedding showers. You should look into what your competition offers and try to do something better. Improve upon what’s working and you’ll find that there are some niches you can go after. You can even focus your menu on what the market niche you’re going after likes.
Make sure to constantly consider the niche you are focusing on. This means that when you’re pricing the food, you’ll need to stay competitive while maintaining a profit margin. The pricing will always be difficult and it really depends on the area you live in. For example, someone ordering a fish dinner in Omaha, Nebraska will not be willing to spend as much as someone ordering a fish dinner in Manhattan, New York. Take the amount of time that it takes to prepare the meals as well as the cost of the ingredients you’re using when pricing the meals out as well. To lower your costs, you’ll also want to establish working relationships with vendors. This can result in cheaper food as well as less expensive linens, glassware, utensils, and china you’ll likely be expected to bring.
Creating a Business Plan
Prior to opening the doors for business, you’re going to have to establish your catering business. Creating a business plan that showcases the expenses for a minimum of the initial three to six months will help a lot. You’ll also have to get all of the necessary licenses to operate in your area. A business license is also a necessity and you’ll need to purchase this from the state and perhaps even the city and county you’re living in. You’ll have the county or state health department come out to give your kitchen an inspection. This is done to ensure that it meets all of the health codes as well as safety expectations.
With this being said, a lot of residential kitchens do not meet these standards so as previously stated, you’ll have to find a commercial kitchen to use. You should expect that you’ll either have to upgrade or search for a kitchen that has passed its inspection already. You’ll likely need to have a food handler’s license as well and if you contact your local Chamber of Commerce of Small Business Development Center, you’ll be able to find out which licensing you’ll need to operate.
Your Catering Menu
Once you handle the business specifics, you’ll need to create a menu based on your target market. This is how you’ll know what tools you’re going to need to prepare your food. Having a multitude of foods on your menu is good, but you’ll want to have different items that meet different tastes. Specializing in a certain type of meal or cuisine is good, but you want it to satiate everyone’s taste buds. For example, if you’re offering flavorful foods, you’ll want to offer something that is a little more bland for the people who do not enjoy so much flavor. You should also consider including vegetarian and vegan options as there are many people who do not eat meat and animal products such as dairy. While you’ll want to include a lot in your menu, try not to overcomplicate it.
Once you develop a menu you feel comfortable with, cook and taste test everything on it. This can be done by hosting a get together with friends and family. You’ll ask for their honest opinions as compensation for a free meal. This input has the potential to ensure that your first-night cooking goes as smooth as possible. You’ll want to ensure you’re capable of cooking the meals you’re committing to as well as the amount of time you believe it will take to cook them. Remember. You’re going to be cooking with a deadline and if you cook too early, the food will not be fresh. If you start cooking too late, the food will not be ready in time! There is a fine line you’ll have to walk when you own a catering business so tread lightly!
Once you know what you’ll cook, you’ll need to figure out how you’ll transport your food and equipment. The sedan likely isn’t going to cut it so you’ll have to find something that has plenty of room to store the food, tableware, linens, etc. that you’ll be bringing to the events. A van is typically the perfect vehicle to use as it has a lot of storage space. When you’re purchasing the vehicle, make sure it is reliable. There is nothing worse than breaking down mid-way to an event you’re catering. Imagine having to call an Uber to help bring the food out to the client!
Starting a catering business takes a lot of course. Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur chef or someone who is starting their first business, there are a lot of things you’ll have to do prior to even opening the doors. With this being said, your endeavors owning a catering business will come with challenges that you’ll overcome. Stay motivated and continue staying focused on satisfying your clients, building solid relationships and your catering business in the process.