A catering business offers delicious foods served outside of a traditional restaurant such as weddings, corporate events, galas, and more. Every catering company differs, however, starting a catering business offers more flexibility in space, time, and creativity compared to operating a restaurant. In addition, catering businesses require less financial risk compared to opening a standing restaurant. Let’s explore everything you need to do to start a catering business of your own.
Write a Catering Business Plan
The first step to starting any business is to decide on a concept and draft a business plan. A business plan is essentially a roadmap to how you will start and run your business. When starting a catering business, you need to decide what types of food you want to prepare, what kind of events and people you want to serve, what sets you apart from competition, how food will be prepared, etc. Entrepreneur.com has a great resource to walk you through the process of writing your business plan.
Considerations for your Business Plan:
- How will the venture be paid for?
- What type of food will be prepared? Cakes, cupcakes, Ribs, Italian foods, Vegan, etc.
- What kind of events will be served? Weddings, corporate events, bridal/baby showers, conferences, etc.
Every business needs to be in good legal standing. However, it is especially important in the food industry to have proper permits and licensing. Food for catering businesses can be prepared onsite, or offsite and then transported to the location of the event. Keeping food at proper temperatures is critical to the safety of guests and in the end, your reputation as a caterer.
To obtain the proper legal documentation, contact your local state occupational licensing or health department. Additionally, contact a broker to obtain liability insurance. Things happen. Make sure that you are covered.
Testing It Out
Grab some friends and family and do trial runs of your menu, or offer your services at a small, local event. This will give the opportunity to fine-tune processes and tastes while also getting great feedback on the menu. Bring surveys where you can receive honest, anonymous feedback and then make adjustments to improve your processes.
Once your concept is set and all legal documents are in place, it’s time to get the word out about your venture. Focus your marketing efforts on where your audience lives. A couple of examples:
- If you want to focus on catering weddings, have a booth at a bridal show. Similarly, you can contact local photographers/venues to meet with and add each other to your “recommended vendor list”
- If you want to focus on corporate events, visit local businesses and leave samples and business cards
Without meeting your target audience where they are, your marketing efforts could fall on deaf ears. This approach makes your marketing dollars stretch further. Additionally, it is essential to develop a business name, logo and theme. These pieces will be used to brand your business and make you recognizable among customers. Ensure that your name is original to set yourself apart from the competition and also ensure the ability to get the domain name and social media profiles with the chosen name.
Creating a website and social media accounts is a high priority step in your marketing plan. This offers a place to direct potential customers you meet while getting the word out and also allows individuals to find your business in online searches in your area. On your website, include high resolution, attractive images, menu options, and pricing so that communication with customers is straightforward. Social media is also important because it gives an outlet to interact directly with customers. With so many social media outlets, it can be very overwhelming to get started. At a minimum, start with Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Utilize software to sync posts onto all social channels and focus on showing customers the benefit of using your company as their caterer.
Remember, above all, word of mouth is your most powerful marketing tool. If you show up, provide delicious food in an efficient and professional manner, and do so cost-effectively, customers will share their experiences with others. Soon, you’ll be hiring extra hands to help serve your customers.
Starting a catering business doesn’t have to be confusing. Start with your business plan, get legal, and prepare a marketing plan. Stick around and explore continued articles with Central about everything you need to know to run a successful catering business including equipment needed, the best tables and chairs for events, display options, and more.
Hope has been a Content Specialist since November 2015, where she brings to the table years of experience in the food service industry in a variety of roles. Throughout her time with Central, Hope has focused on learning all things possible about everything from cooking equipment to concession and specialty products in order to empower operators with education on commercial equipment and supplies. Hope is a wife, new mom, avid crafter, and food lover (french fries please!).