How to Start Your Own Catering Business
Have you ever thought about owning your own catering business? In this post we will walk you through exactly how to do it! While catering is a lot of work, it can be a great fit for chefs, event planners, and people with a passion for food. This business can be flexible, fun, and profitable. There is a lot to think about, so dive in as we explore what you need to consider before starting a catering business.
Write a Business Plan for Your Catering Business
The first step in starting a successful catering business is to make a business plan. Don’t be intimidated by the idea—it’s not hard. The business plan is simply a road map to starting, running, and growing your own catering business. There are even free websites that will help you do it!
If you write down the answers to the questions raised in this blog post, flesh out your ideas, and organize them well, you’ll basically have a business plan! Your business plan should include an executive summary, company description, market analysis, plan for company leadership, description of the business, marketing strategy, and financial plan. Find a more thorough description and examples of business plans, click here.
Know the Laws for Catering Businesses in Your Market
Your local health department will have regulations for all food service businesses. Resources for the city of Lubbock can be found here. Your state will also have rules and regulations for caterers. The ones for Texas can be found here. And finally there are federal laws to consider. There will likely be licenses, permits, and inspections required so make sure you know what’s required before you get started.
If you will be hiring employees, federal law governs how you must pay those employees and how you remit your payroll taxes, so make sure you’re familiar with those, as well, before you start your own catering business.
Choose Your Catering Niche
Catering is a very broad field. You won’t be able to handle every possible catering job in your area. Give some thought to your experience, your passion, your talent, your training, and your budget to decide what niche is right for your new catering business. Some possibilities are:
- Corporate Events
- Low Budget Catering
- High End Catering
- Small Parties
- Large Events
- Outdoor Events
- Indoor Events
- Specific Ethnic Foods (Mexican, Korean, African, German, etc.)
- Hors d’oeuvres
- Full Service
- Family Style
- Grazing Boards
- Home Parties
Do Your Market Research
You need to know who your competition will be and who your prospective clients are before you ever open your catering business. Learn about the other caterers in your area. What trade shows do they attend? Where do they advertise? What do they charge? What is their niche? Try to find underserved customers in your area. Do businesses have trouble finding caterers? Do brides? Is there a certain price point that’s underrepresented? What are clients looking for when they need the kind of catering you plan to provide? Where do these clients go to look for caterers?
Decide Where to Operate Your Catering Business
You probably have a lot of options for where to operate your catering business, depending on the laws in your area. Note: if you’re catering in Texas, you will NOT be permitted to cook in your own home, as the Texas Cottage Food Law doesn’t permit foods that require time and temperature control.
- Co-op Kitchen (Lubbock has two! Hand of the Cook and Culinary Co-op)
- Own or rent a kitchen with or without a store front
- Operate as a ghost kitchen by renting a kitchen that is already in operating during hours it’s available
- Work out of a food truck
- Cook in a specific venue or various venues
- Cook in corporate offices
- Cook in clients’ residential kitchens
Get ServSafe Certified
You’ll need to get a food handlers certification to operate any kind of food service business, including catering. Depending on your organizational structure, other employees may need to get certified as well. The certification is fairly inexpensive and easy. You can do it all online!
Decide How to Transport Your Food
Unless you will always be cooking at the same location of your events, you’ll need a way to safely transport food. Factors to consider are:
- The volume of food
- The temperature of the food
- The distance you must travel
- The facilities available at the event venue
Will you need a van? A refrigerated truck? Do you have insulated food storage to keep food at safe temperatures? Also give thought to the manpower required and the time available to load and unload the food.
Obtain the Right Equipment for Your Catering Business
This step will have a lot to do with where you’re starting your catering business. If you rent a co-op kitchen or operate as a ghost kitchen, most of the equipment and supplies you need will probably be included. Building a commercial kitchen will probably require you to purchase everything from heavy equipment to flatware. If you’re cooking for small groups in residential kitchens, you may only have to bring a few specialty items with you, as most homes have the kitchen basics covered. The list of every item necessary to run a good food service operation is too long to list, but here are just a few important items to consider:
- Foil pans
- Beverage dispensers
- Chafer dishes
- Utensil holders
- Meal kits
- Insulated food storage
- Serving trays
Develop the Branding for Your Catering Business
Once you know your niche, you can begin to develop your branding. What kind of impression do you want to make on your prospective clients? Fun? Sophisticated? Budget-friendly? Trendy? Your business name and logo should reflect the answers to this question.
Open social media accounts in your business name and upload your logo and photos of your food and presentation. Note on food photos: lighting is EVERYTHING! Get a second opinion on your food photos before posting them. They may not look as appetizing to others as you think they do. It may be worth paying for professional food photography.
Give thought to how you want customers to contact you: cell phone, email, Messenger, land line, website, etc. As you start your catering business, remember that all your accounts and literature should consistently send customers to the same place(s) to learn more about you and ultimately contact you.
Make some printables (business cards, fliers, brochures, etc.) to hand out at every opportunity you can find. You’ll need menus and possibly a portfolio of your food and presentation, as well. We also recommend having these resources on your phone in digital form so you can instantly email, message, or text new leads with the information they need.
Hire Your Staff
This begins by knowing exactly what staff you need, how much you need them to work, and how you are willing to compensate them. Do you require a bookkeeper? Administrator? Operations Manager? Chef? Marketing Director? Assistant cook(s)? Servers? Drivers? Housekeeping? Make detailed job descriptions, post the positions, take applications, and conduct interviews. Remember that you save a lot of time and money in the long run by being slow and methodical in the hiring process, and this is especially true when you’re just starting your catering business.
Make an Emergency Plan
Caterers are relied on to make some of life’s most important events run smoothly (weddings, funerals, awards banquets, parties, etc.). Your clients will not tolerate excuses like “the fridge went out and all the food went bad so we can’t cater your wedding tonight.” You’ll need a Plan B in case of emergency. What will you do if you lose running water in your kitchen? How will you handle a shortage on a critical food ingredient for your menu? What happens if the rolls get burned? You’ll need backup kitchen plans, alternate recipes, on-call employees, etc. to mitigate disaster in emergency situations.
Purchase Insurance for Your Catering Business
There is liability in both catering and managing employees, so make sure you get the appropriate insurance for your catering business before you start. We recommend getting advice from more than one insurance professional regarding what is required, and you should get multiple bids, as well. Protect yourself, your employees, and your business venture by maintaining the appropriate insurance coverage.
Start by having a procedure in place for onboarding new clients, including a contract. Then begin to the get the word out. Go where your customers are. If you want to cater weddings, be a vendor at your local bridal shows. If you want to cater corporate events, take samples of your food to businesses that would make ideal clients. Drop off the food with a business card and brochure. Send a direct mail campaign. Post regularly on social media. Run radio and/or television ads. Advertise in the local newspaper. Build an email list and send out campaigns with special offers. Partner with other businesses to find clients. For example, if you’re a wedding caterer, partner with local venues, wedding photographers, and wedding coordinators to promote each other since you’re after the same clients. Network with other businesses in any way you can.
There’s a lot to consider when you want to start your own catering business, but hopefully this article has helped walk you through the major decisions to be made. Remember that Big Plate’s friendly and knowledgeable staff is always here to answer your questions, so give us a call or come in the store!