The catering industry attracts a broad range of entrepreneurs. Maybe you’re an excellent cook, or maybe you’re interested in event planning.
Indistinctly everybody has the same goal, BE SUCCESSFUL
Catering is about much more than putting food on plates. It’s about thinking your way through stressful situations, planning for the unexpected, and most importantly, running a business just like you would any other.
Here at UNITED FOOD TRUCKwe build the best food trucks and concession trailers to start expand your restaurant by a catering concept
In this guide we are going to take you step-by-step through everything you need to know about how to start a catering business. With a little help, you’ll be delighting guests at parties, events, and festivals in no time.
1. 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.
Create a menu.
- Try to have a variety of items to suit different tastes. 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.
- Keep your menu to a manageable size, with food you’re comfortable cooking made with ingredients you know you can source.
2. Acquire All the Necessary Licenses for Your Kitchen
As with most industries involving food prep, you can’t just, well, do it. You need to obtain a business license from the state, as well as a food handling license. You also need to pass a county or state health inspection—a residential kitchen likely won’t cut it, so consider looking for a FOOD TRUCK kitchen that has already been approved.
Our last construction was a catering truck for corporate events
3. Determine Your Pricing
Pricing your work depends greatly on where your business is located and what kind of catering you do. Many businesses create price tiers that provide a certain level of service and amenities for various amounts.
“I started off doing custom proposals for people, and I’ve stayed with them throughout these nine years,” she says. “It takes a lot more time, but a lot of my proposals get accepted, rather than a package deal where it may or may not fit what someone is looking for. If they don’t need something, if it doesn’t pertain to their event, it’s not going into their pricing. If they need more, they pay for more; if they need less, they pay for less.
To get an idea of what costs what, Burnett says that her price per person has varied from $7-$8, for light appetizers for cocktail hour, up to $80 for filet and lobster.
“It varies because we do buffets, plated dinners, simple appetizers, or where we’ve just dropped off food and they’ve served it themselves—to very high-end menus with unique ingredients,” she explains.
4. Hire, Train, and Outfit Your Staff
It’s unlikely you can cater an event all by yourself, so staff is a requirement. Hiring and training staff is something that came organically, so whatever is best for your business is recommended here.
“At the first location, we brought on staff members one by one as we needed people. There was no real formal training from the beginning,” she says. “But when we moved into our new location, at the Hall County Government Center, we opened up a café, coffee shop, and expanded the catering business at the same time. Since we were going to have in-house staff as well as catering staff, we had to go through a much more extensive training period.”
Here’s another place where having capital at the start comes in handy: If you’re hiring and training staff before they actually work an event, you need to set aside training dollars.
Additionally, uniforms, including vectorized logos, can be “really cheap or really expensive,” 6
5. Apply for an account with food suppliers.
When you’re just starting out you may be able to use a local wholesale club to buy your food, but if you get busy enough, you will find it easier to do business with a larger supply company.
- Produce can be acquired locally from farmers.
- The makers of alcohol will sometimes give you a special deal on their brand if you display their logo at events.
6. Market During Your Own Events
When it comes to marketing and advertising your business, Burnett has one suggestion that trumps all the rest.
“When you’re putting food in somebody’s mouth, that’s the best time to find your next client,” she says. “It’s through the guests that are attending the events you’re catering for.”
Otherwise, it depends on what kind of catering you specialize in. If you focus on weddings, you’ll want to attend bridal shows—which involve bringing food samples and sometimes buying a booth. Corporate catering might involve more focus on LinkedIn advertising, where you can buy leads; you might also pay people to knock on doors and pass out fliers to bigger businesses.
“Really, it’s about networking. A lot of word of mouth, a lot of referrals,” she says. That’s where the putting food in someone’s mouth tactic comes in.
7. Plan for Emergencies—Both Financial and Others
You should have extra capital when you start out, and continue as you go, because you never know when something will go wrong in the catering industry.
listing the things that caught her off-guard when starting out. “Repairs on the food truck, catering can be hard on your vehicles, so you’ll need replacements to tires. The price of gas, when it went sky-high, it had an impact. Food was costing more. And people understood that food cost more to a certain extent, but people still had in their head that they need to do a lunch for $10 or $15 a person, and when the price of gas and food has gone up, it’s easy for that not to be profitable.”
But preparing for the unexpected is about more than budgeting. Most events are catered at a venue that can be 30 minutes, an hour, or even a few hours away from the kitchen. That can put you in a tight spot.
“The ability to be a MacGyver is a requirement. Every venue is different, and if you forget something, you’ve got to figure out how to make it work,” Burnett says.
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