Plan a Menu Before Opening a Catering Business

Are you someone who makes food that is always the topic of conversation? Maybe you can put your cooking and organizational skills to the test and start your own catering company.

Catering is also a way to get experience in the food and restaurant industry without taking a gamble on opening a restaurant. But being a caterer involves more than just cooking for giant dinner parties. Starting a catering business requires that you adhere to numerous rules and regulations. Here are five steps to starting your own catering business:

Have a plan. Create a detailed plan for your catering business. How are you going to pay for everything? What are your financing options? How will you go about hiring people? Determine your customer base. Are you looking to cater weddings or lunch meetings? That will play a big role in the items you put on your menu. It might help to tailor your catering business to a niche market. Check out your competition so you know what services they offer. Catering also has an aesthetic element, so make sure you know how to make your food look elegant and presentable rather than just plopping it down on a plate.

Know the rules. You need to decide if you are going to work from home or rent kitchen space. If you want to work from your house, you need to check your local government’s zoning laws to see what they say about home-based catering businesses. Also contact your local public health department to find out what regulations you need to follow because you will need different permits and inspection certificates. Renting a commercial kitchen may be the best idea if regulations make it difficult or illegal to work from your house. The U.S. Small Business Administration has a good outline of which regulations apply to you. Also make sure you get the proper insurance.

Assemble your supplies. If you do decide to use your own kitchen, make sure you have the correct equipment and places to store your materials. Be mindful that your work space needs to be able to withstand the preparation that will go into preparing a lot of food.  Check that there is room to store the food before you deliver it to the venue. Also figure out how you are going to transport the food, along with the necessary furnishings and cutlery. Shop around with vendors and see if you find one that suits your needs particularly well.

Create the menu. If you have followed the rules, and you have your pots and pans ready to go, it is time to put together the menu. Start with a few items so you don’t get too overwhelmed or carried away in the beginning. Be creative and stick to your skill set. Remember your target audience and the occasion, if there is one. Always keep your eyes open for new ideas and recipes. Reserve a chunk of time to write and design your menu. Base your prices on food and labor costs. Catering software can help you make the necessary calculations.

Advertise your business. Once the menu is set and you are satisfied with your name and services, start selling your new business. Befriend party planners and people who run event venues; they have the power to suggest that their customers use your catering service. Create fliers or brochures and distribute them. Be courteous and professional with everyone so your business maintains a good reputation. Consider joining a catering association like the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE).