The catering business involves preparing and serving food at events. These events can include weddings, anniversary parties, graduations, corporate events, retreats, and more. Catering can be a very demanding business but, for those who enjoy food service and the challenge that catering brings, this business can be started from home on a shoestring budget.
The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)1 compiles occupational projections data on many occupations. BLS data does calculate food preparation and serving workers, but does not differentiate between those working in catering and those working in restaurants or fast food establishments. BLS occupational data for “combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food” workers indicates that 2.7 million people were employed in this field during 2008. Nearly 400,000 jobs are expected to be added over the decade from 2008 – 2018 for 14.6 percent growth in this occupational category. Only 0.1 percent of these workers are self-employed according to the BLS data. Wages also tend to be quite low for this occupational category, but that may be skewed due to the inclusion of fast food workers in the same category.
BLS also has a separate occupational projections category for “non-restaurant food servers.” This job category accounted for nearly 190,000 jobs in 2008, and is expected to add nearly 20,000 more jobs over the decade from 2008 – 2018. This would represent an increase of 10.2 percent. Only 0.3 percent of non-restaurant food servers are self-employed.
Many caterers choose a niche or specialty for their business. For example, a caterer may specialize in weddings or in corporate events. Likewise, caterers may specialize in certain types of foods. Decide before starting your catering business what types of events you want to service and what type of foods you are comfortable preparing and serving. New services can always be added at a later date, but starting with services that you are comfortable with can make things easier as you start your new catering business.
Many cities require a business license for any business – including home-based businesses. Considering the high profile nature of catering businesses it is probably a particularly good idea to have your business license in order before catering public events!
State health department regulations vary but most, if not all, will require a commercial food service license or permit. These permits are often inexpensive, but they are required before opening a food service business.
Your home kitchen may or may not be adequate for the demands of catered meals. However, even if your kitchen is adequate for the cooking demands, it still may not meet health department regulations for a commercial kitchen. Commercial kitchen space can be rented by caterers though – often by the hour.
Commercial catering and cooking equipment can also be rented. This can help to keep costs low while getting your business started. This is particularly useful for specialty equipment that is used infrequently or is particularly expensive.
Caterers frequently advertise their business in business directories and local newspapers. Locally-focused specialty magazines and newspapers allow you to market precisely.
Some local newspapers also run special bridal editions once each year. Advertising in bridal editions or local bridal magazines is a great way to advertise your business in front of a targeted audience.
Establishing connections with local event planners, churches, banquet halls that do not serve their own food, and similar contacts can be a great way to gain referrals. Joining the local chamber of commerce can also help to establish connections with a number of area businesses and business people. Participating in charity fundraisers, competitions at the local fair, and similar public events can provide a lot of exposure for a new catering business.
Setting up a professional website for your catering business can make it easy for customers to find you when they search the Internet for a local catering business.
This business frequently involves long and irregular hours. Catered events are often held on weekends or in the evening. The preparation work involved in catering an event can also be considerable.
Business insurance should be carried for any catering business. Some businesses are inherently low risk. Catering, as with any type of food service business, carries the risk of a customer contracting a food-borne illness. For this reason, it is essential that food service businesses carry appropriate liability insurance as well as engaging in safe food handling practices. Business insurance should always be carried on motor vehicles that are used in any business as well.
Starting a home-based catering business can be a rewarding and profitable business for someone who likes preparing and serving food, and who is comfortable working odd and long hours. Since food service equipment can be rented as needed, and commercial kitchen space can also be rented as needed, this business can be started from home on a shoestring budget.
– Elizabeth Wilson. Catering. Entrepreneur. Site accessed on 28 October 2010.
– Scott Hayden. How to Start a Successful Catering Business: Steps Necessary to Succeed in the Competitive Catering Industry. Suite101. Site accessed on 28 October 2010.
– Rob Hard. What You Should Know Before Starting a Catering Business: 10 Tips for a Successful Catering Business. About.com. Site accessed on 28 October 2010.