How to Start a Catering Business 1-2-3

by Assistant on June 24, 2009

Do you enjoy cooking and have a creative flair? Catering can be a rewarding and fun business with a bit of challenge. Everyone enjoys different types of food and every event you cater has new and different need that must be met, so your job as a caterer will be far from boring. Discover unique menu solutions to each client’s needs by using your creativity - and your catering business can be stimulating and challenging as well.

If you imagine that starting a catering business will be completely overwhelming and impossible to do, start small. In a few basic steps your business can be up and running, and you can change and refine your business as it grows. Don’t be afraid to learn as you go – every other business does!

And who says you can’t start your catering or food business part-time? Many businesses have begun as a “side job”, while full-time employment is still running it’s course. And with catering, weekends and evenings are when you may experience the most demand for your service anyway.

You’ll have the opportunity to work for both business clients or individuals – large events or small gatherings – weekend galas or corporate luncheons – casual or extravagant. In the broad field of catering, you can choose your preferred work schedule, event size – even down to the type of client and cooking style to really create a business that you’ll truly enjoy.

Over the years, the average lifestyle has become busier and more hectic. Where a party host used to prepare her own food – now she hires the work out to a caterer. Families are now hiring personal chefs or purchasing prepared meals to be delivered on a regular basis. Almost every restaurant offers take-out service and many have added catering to their line of work for an additional revenue stream. People are willing to pay more for the convenience of prepared food – my favorite example being drive-through coffee.

So how do you actually start a catering company?

1. Learn about the catering field - If necessary, take a few cooking classes. If you’ve never worked as a caterer, you can gain valuable experience as an apprentice or assistant for an established catering company. Interview successful caterers or invest in a basic catering business start-up guide that shows you how to price menus, calculate labor, estimate food quantities, write a proposal, etc. Many of these things are simple formulas you can quickly learn – and will make your business much easier to run.

2. Find good clientele. Catering can be a very good repeat business – so you don’t necessarily have to find lots of new customers to be profitable in this field. Get your foot in the door without selling by offering to deliver free catered lunches or snacks to local offices in your area. Another simple “advertising” technique is to serve your food samples at a local street fair or community event. In addition, you can partner with another company like a wedding planner, a tour company or music venue and provide your catering service to their existing client base. It’s a good idea to have on hand business cards that explain the services you provide to potential clients.

Treat your customers well, and they will treat you well in return – with repeat business and other customer referrals. And when everyone likes each other, it makes work much more fun (did I say work?).

3. Make sure you comply with city ordinances by making a simple phone call to your local government office. Ask which licenses and permits are required for your business and area and how to apply. Talk with an accountant and banker (you can get referrals from other local business owners or friends) to get helpful budgeting, financial and tax tips, and business management advice that will save you time and money down the road.

Many professional caterers will tell you that catering is a fun, creative and social business. If you’ve impressed people with your cooking before, there are probably lots more people out there who are ready to enjoy your creations. Don’t doubt yourself, you may be profitable sooner than you think.

Sue Barrett has been the Director of Business Solutions at Home Business Center, Inc. for over 10 years. Specializing in small and home business issues, she can provide quality insight and reputable resources for those wanting to start, manage and grow their own home-based businesses. Find out more >> Start your own Catering Business

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