A catering business can be one of the most accessible food service businesses, and it is a rewarding career for those who have a creative flair for cooking and the drive to feed discerning diners at events and celebrations. With a step by step plan for starting a catering business, you can start small and build out your equipment, your clientele, and your skills as your business grows.
1. Choose a Business Name and Structure
As you move into the catering industry, it is important to register your business name and decide what type of business structure to use. Check with the Secretary of State’s office to make sure no one else in your state is using the name you intend to establish as your own.
If you are the owner and operator of your business and expect to have few employees, you (and your spouse) might register as a Sole Proprietor or a Limited Liability Company (LLC). If you have one or more investors who share in profits and costs, you might register as a Partnership. Usually you would not need to register as a Corporation to start a catering business.
2. Create a Business Plan
This step is dreaded by many, but is a great way to organize your business planning and make sure you are ready to take that first order. If you need a small business loan to start up, you will need a more formal business plan, but there are many free online resources to help you create one.
The planning process is part of learning how to start a catering business. Include some research to identify your potential customers and what they are looking for in a catering company. Check out the local competition and see what they charge and how heavily booked they might be. Investigate where you will buy or rent equipment and supplies like tablecloths, dishes, glassware, and serving trays.
3. Locate or Build a Suitable Kitchen for Catering
Catering services can be provided on site and this opens the door for your business to cook and prepare food at the event location like a hotel, community center, or golf course that has a food service kitchen that meets all legal requirements without building or renting your own kitchen. However, it means that there are many events you will not be able to cater to because they do not have approved kitchen facilities on site.
In some states you are allowed to prepare food in your home kitchen for your catering business, provided your kitchen equipment meets state requirements and your food prep and storage practices are top notch. If your state does not allow home catering or your own kitchen is not up to par, you can often rent a professional kitchen in a restaurant, bakery, church, or community center in their off hours. Since you may be cooking late at night and in the early morning for events the following day, this can be a cost-effective way to avoid building a commercial kitchen of your own.
4. Research the Licenses and Permits Required
Some licenses are required for any business, like a sales tax permit, while others are specific to food service businesses. State and local regulations will apply to your business. You can find out which licenses and permits are required from your local health department and Secretary of State Office.
You might need:
- A general business license
- Zoning permits
- Health permits
- Food handling license
- Wholesale license
- Liquor license
- Certificate of inspection or occupancy
- Proof of business insurance
- A written catering contract for clients
5. Choose Your Niche or Specialty
As you learn about catering business requirements, you can fine-tune your business plan and decide where your skills and passion fit into the local market. Will you serve family style events and wedding receptions by cooking off site and delivering hot and cold foods with a homestyle presentation? Or will you focus on gourmet fine dining prepared on site, where presentation and flavor are equally important to your clients?
There are many ways to establish a successful catering business with the knowledge you’ve gained and the resources you can access. You can focus on small business lunches or large events with 100 or more guests. You might specialize in cultural cuisine or fantastic fusion. Find the place where your passion for good food intersects with local demand and your hard work will pay off quickly as you establish loyal clientele and word of mouth works for your business.
6. Help Hungry People Find Your Business
A simple website can do wonders for your business, as well as an active social media account with pictures. If you share photographs of events, be sure to obtain permission from the client if any people, location signs, or other identifiers are in frame. Great pictures of delicious food will help spark interest in your catering service.
When customers express their appreciation, ask them for a testimonial or online review to help your business, and consider offering referral rewards to loyal customers who spread the word about your catering service. Getting involved with community events with a booth or sample stand can bring in the local clients you need to succeed, and offering low-cost or free service to charity events is another way to build strong connections with your friends and neighbors.
Take the First Step Toward Catering Success
The challenges of starting a catering business are small in comparison to the rewards of owning your own business and doing the work you love. Successful caterers thrive on the challenges that change with every order received and are ready to put their organization and creativity to the test to feed and comfort their community.
These catering business tips will help you get started on the path to independent security and a career you love. The first step is to complete your necessary state filings and register your business name and structure. You can file with state offices directly or streamline the process with the business forms you need from FastFilings. We offer fast online service authorized in your state, so you can get started on your catering journey today!