Building a Successful Catering Business: How to Get Started

It might start with a few kind words from guests – friends you’ve had over for dinner. “You’re an impeccable host,” they say. “You should do this for a living!”

And, for a while, you file these complements away in the back of your mind, perhaps telling yourself that “they’re just being nice.” Then, one day, you realize: Maybe you do have a real knack for this entertaining stuff. Maybe your food is impeccable, and your zest for accommodating people is exceptional. And maybe you should consider doing this for a living.

Opening a catering business is a potentially lucrative endeavour. But it’s also one defined by myriad logistical, financial and administrative considerations. If you want to build a successful catering company, you need to fall in love with planning. To help you get started, here are four critical steps to take.

Menu Planning

Menu planning for a catering company is a high-wire balancing act between pragmatism and panache. You want your food to be stylish and delicious enough to attract customers, but dishes should also be optimized for intuitive prep, expedition and transport. Brainstorm dishes that a) you can prepare in large quantities with your existing equipment, b) do not involve a lot of a la minute cooking, c) travel well, and d) appeal to a wide range of tastes.

It might take some time and experimentation to arrive at a core roster of exemplary dishes, but do not cut corners in this step. As a caterer, your menu is – figuratively and sometimes literally – your bread and butter.

Certifications and Licenses

Next, research what licenses and certifications you require to run your business. These will almost certainly include a general business license, which formalizes your company in the public record. And they may also include a health/food service permit, certifying that you are trained and compliant with safe food handling, storage and transportation practices.

Finally, your servers and bartenders will require alcohol service certification. It’s incumbent on you as the business owner to stay on top of proper certification, so ensure that your liquor servers and managers of servers undergo training like responsible beverage service training with Userve and obtain the requisite certification. It isn’t just for your safety; it’s also in your guests’ best interest.

Preparation, Transportation, Storage

With your menu planned and permits in order, you can focus on food handling. Food handling involves the end-to-end journey your food takes – from kitchen to the guest’s plate. You will start by securing a kitchen space sized according to your expected output. Ensure that the kitchen you rent has the industrial supplies and tools you need to execute your menu.

Next, you will probably need to lease a transportation vehicle, like a commercial van capable of holding a transpo cabinet or service carts. Finally, you will need to purchase cambros and coolers to keep your food temperature-regulated in transport.

Marketing Your Business

Finally, you need to get the word out about your catering business. Marketing a catering business should be a multi-pronged, multichannel effort, encompassing social media, personal website content, a branded vehicle, wedding expo presence, and good old-fashioned word of mouth. The first step, however, will be to hire a professional photographer; food photographs are the lifeblood of catering marketing!

Following these steps, you will be well on your way toward turning your passion into a viable, successful catering business.