How to Start a Catering Business in California

by Renee Shelton; Updated September 26, 2017
Catering involves creating food dishes for many people.

Catering is a fun and fast paced career, and a rewarding business for those who enjoy working with people. Catering involves personal attention to detail, ranging from one-on-one visits with clients to going into clients' homes for special events. This business also revolves around handling food on a daily basis, so a thorough knowledge of recipes and food costing is essential to catering.

Items you will need

  • Applicable business license and zoning permits
  • California state caterer's permit, if applicable
  • Catering or event authorization, if applicable
  • Food handler's card
  • Kitchen
  • Vehicle
  • Phone
Step 1

Obtain any applicable licenses for the business. These include any local city licensing and county licensing. At least one owner or employee of the business must have a food handler's card, which indicates knowledge of how to cook foods safely and ensure food is transported and served safely. Business licenses can include, but are not limited to, Fictitious Name Filing if doing business by a name other than your own, California Seller's Permit to collect sales tax and a Public Health License or special zoning permit for handling and selling food products.

Step 2

Obtain a caterer's permit from the California Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) if you plan to serve alcohol. Fill out the required Catering or Event Authorization Application through ABC for each event after the caterer's permit has been granted.

Step 3

Ensure that you are able to create the menu items at your location. In California, food that is sold to the public must be prepared in an approved facility licensed by the state. In addition to preparing food in an approved kitchen, each caterer in California will need a Public Health Operating License that can be applied for and approved by each county's Department of Health. Caterers who prepare food on location are called cooks-for-hire and do not need to have a health permit.

Step 4

Find a vehicle large enough to handle transportation of all equipment and food needed for the catering event. A car, truck or van with air conditioning and good climate control will help ensure food stays fresh without wilting or melting before it is served. Also, maintain the vehicle in good working order, as catering is a on-site business serving food at the client's preferred location.

Step 5

Purchase a phone or other portable device that clients can call directly. For the client, being able to reach the caterer before and during the event is very important, and for the caterer it is vital to be in contact with any suppliers, employees or contract workers, such as florists and ice carvers.

About the Author

Renee Shelton is publisher of the periodical, Pastry Sampler Journal, and is editor and contributing writer to several niche blogs. Her personal webpages have been referenced in numerous cookbooks. When she isn't writing about food, you'll find her hunting down historical cookbooks at swap meets.

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