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Whether you decide to open your Illinois catering business in the state's largest city, Chicago, or in the smaller towns of Springfield, Peoria and Champaign, the key is to find a niche and to excel at it. Due to the large Italian influence, Illinois is famous for its Chicago style pizza, but other ethnic influences can be found in the state. Catered events often offer a mix of various ethnic foods from Polish dogs to jibarito, which is a sandwich made with fried plantains. Successful caterers will need to be able to meld the many ethnic flavors of the Midwest into something their customers will love.
Register your business with the State of Illinois (see Reference section). Pay the appropriate fees and determine if you need a separate county license. There are also many local municipalities that require a special business license to cater events in their area. Chicago, Rockford, Springfield, and Napier definitely require a license, but check with other local municipalities for licensing requirements. For catering events that include alcohol, you will need a separate alcohol license. There are additional requirements for alcohol licensing that are more stringent than a basic business license, so be sure to fully review your potential liability before securing an alcohol license.
Rent a commercial cooking space. Choose a space based on your budget and whether you plan to have potential customers tour the facility. If your start-up budget is small, you may want to initially forgo a commercial space and instead prepare the dishes at home. This will reduce the monthly expenses until you can comfortably afford to rent a bigger space.
Pay your membership dues to join professional catering organizations such as the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE) or the International Special Events Society (ISES). These types of organizations will allow you to interact with other members of the hospitality industry and provide you with important contacts with suppliers and event managers.
Buy serving platters and dishes for your catering events. With a business license, you should be able to get these at wholesale, which will save you a significant amount. Order tablecloths and napkins for the guests. It is easier to start with basic solid white, then add other colors and patterns as your business grows. You may also rent linens if your inventory is low, until you can afford to buy more.
Buy a domain name and set up a website. This is the best way to showcase your catering business. Include pictures of your past events, but make sure to get approval from the customers to show their photos before uploading to prevent any privacy problems. Post fliers with event coordinators such as wedding planners, bridal shops, florists and bakers to increase potential clients. Offer to recommend their services to your customers to make the event coordinators more receptive to promoting your catering business.
Jeri Sullivan is a freelance writer with over 14 years experience based in South Carolina. She works for Flextronics International as a materials marketing manager and specializes in writing about business start-ups. Sullivan has a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Carolina.