To start a catering business, start by deciding what kind of food or events you want to specialize in, like appetizers and cocktails or wedding receptions. Once you know what kind of food you want to make, start coming up with a menu and testing it on your friends and family. Also, since most local laws prohibit catering companies from operating in a home kitchen, you'll need to rent a space where you can prepare food.
You'll also need to purchase catering equipment that you can use on-site, like serving platters and utensils. To learn how to set up your catering business and hire staff, scroll down!
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This article was co-authored by our trained team of editors and researchers who validated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness. Together, they cited information from 8 references. It also received 53 testimonials from readers, earning it our reader-approved status. Learn more Think about what food you love to make. Catering, like any other business, should be rooted in a genuine interest and passion.
Consider the following types of food you could focus on as you develop your catering business:  Lunch or brunch-style food. If you enjoy making sandwiches, quiches, tarts, salads, and other food that is generally served during the day, you might want to model your business around lunchtime service. You could cater business luncheons, daytime awards ceremonies, school functions, and so on.
Wedding reception or special event meals. Wedding caterers typically offer a variety of appetizers and finger foods along with several hearty entrees and a few desserts. Desserts only. If you love baking and have a flair for making cookies and cakes, consider desserts-only catering. This may limit the types of clients who hire you, but you'll also have less equipment to buy. Appetizers and cocktails.
Clients are increasingly hiring caterers to create a trendy, festive atmosphere by serving only appetizers, sometimes accompanied by caterer-prepared specialty cocktails.
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- 2. Figure out if you’re ready to start a catering company;
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Create a menu. By doing this first, you can figure out how much kitchen space you'll need, what appliances you should install and how much you can expect to bring in financially. Even if you specialize in one cuisine or type of meal, make sure your menu appeals to a lot of tastes. For example, if you want to offer a lot of spicy food, have non-spicy options as well. Consider offering vegetarian and vegan options for clients who don't eat meat and other animal products.
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Keep your menu to a manageable size, with food you're comfortable cooking made with ingredients you know you can source. Test your dishes. Once you've settled on a menu, have a party to test out your dishes on family and friends. Ask them for honest feedback about the entire experience - both the food and the service. Tweak your dishes until you're convinced they're delicious and crowd friendly. Practice makes perfect. Make sure you've got the techniques, cooking times, and presentation down before you launch your business.
Find a space to rent. Even if your starting small, most local laws prohibit people from operating catering businesses from a home kitchen. Look into your jurisdiction's health codes to find out what type of space you'll need to rent. Some kitchens allow people to rent the space for a day or a few hours at a time. This situation could be the right one for you if you cater only on the weekends or a few times a month.
How to Start a Catering Business: Everything You Need to Know
If catering is going to be your full-time business, you'll probably need a more permanent storage and cooking facility. Find a place with adequate plumbing so you'll be able to set up your cooking and catering equipment. Check with your landlord and your local zoning office to make sure you can install the proper equipment like ventilation hoods and grease traps.
If you plan to host tastings or sell food directly from your kitchen, look for a place with a storefront that's separate from the kitchen, and provide tables and seating for customers. Set up your kitchen. Catering work requires industrial equipment that is usually more expensive than equipment you would use in your home kitchen.
Create a budget and figure out exactly what you'll need to run your business efficiently. For example, if many of your items are baked, install at least two ovens. If you have a lot of fried foods, opting for more than one fryer might be a good idea. You may want to install multiple sinks to make your prep work more efficient, especially if you plan on hiring people.
Plan ahead for food storage, too. Multiple refrigerators and a walk-in freezer might be necessary to store dishes you prepare ahead of time. Heated and non-heated holding areas are important for holding temperature and storing prepared items. Obtain all the pots, pans, and other kitchen equipment you need to make the items on your menu. Purchase the catering equipment that you will use on-site. The equipment you choose will depend on the type of service you want to provide, but at minimum you will need serving platters and serving utensils.
You may want to offer special display trays and tiered food platters to help make the catered event more festive. Make sure you have the proper equipment to keep the food either cold or hot, such as chafing dishes with liquid fuel burners. Consider buying linens, napkins, table decorations and centerpieces. Some catering businesses also offer tent canopies for outdoor events.
Get applicable permits and licenses. Research the laws in your area regarding distribution of food or alcohol at catering sites.
Make sure you have the permits and licenses you need before you get started. Set your prices. Make sure you have paperwork in order for when you do consultations, tastings, and cater events. Either hire an accountant or do your own bookkeeping to keep track of your expenses, invoices and income. Buy a van and other equipment for transporting food. Make sure the van has plenty of space for storage of food, linens, tableware, and any other equipment you might need to bring to your clients' sites.
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One vehicle should be sufficient to start. You may decide to buy more if your business expands. Buying the equipment you need for your catering business is an investment. With all the food blogging and catering I do, I go through about 3 sets of pots and pans a year. Plus, I had to invest in 8 chafing dishes.
Even if you decide to rent your equipment, will the cost of renting eventually outweigh your profits?
6 Steps to Starting Your Very Own Catering Company
Renting for each job adds up. Yeah for you! So exciting, for sure…. Are you going to cater for large events, medium event, small events or a combination of each?
Are you only marketing your services via word of mouth? Have you thought about advertising? Yeah…I know! For me, I started out small. My first catering job was for people. What I mean by small is I only wanted to start out with catering jobs a year. From there, you can start to come up with a marketing strategy. For me, it was word of mouth and local advertising. And that meets my business strategy for the time being. Onto the fun part!! The menu!! Like seriously, you need your food to taste really good! Or hire a really good chef…but regardless, the food you serve needs to taste yummy.
I kinda lucked out in the menu area. I have over recipes they can choose from. That approach can be overwhelming though so often times I collaborate with my clients to help them narrow down a theme. Meaning…do they want pasta, chicken, fish, BBQ, appetizers, etc. You also need to set your pricing. Some things you want to think about are food and labor costs. Also, are you going to do a fixed rate or a tiered rate?
Personally, I always do fixed pricing which I base on a per-person or per platter basis. But that may change in the future as my business grows. There are things you have to consider such as markups, overhead costs and accommodations for special diets.