Starting a catering business in Ohio offers a myriad of food choices. Whether it is Cincinnati's large Greek influence, Cleveland's Polish influence, or the German influence in Columbus, a successful caterer will be able to tailor the menu to the customer's style. Many customers may want something decidedly not Midwestern so having experience in other types of cuisine will also allow you to expand your repertoire and your business. Just be flexible and your catering business will take off in no time.
Log in to the Ohio Business Gateway and purchase a business license. You will need to register your company as a catering and food service business. If you plan to serve alcohol you may also need a separate license. The requirement varies by county so confirm whether you need this license when you submit your business registration.
Choose where to establish your business. Research the number of caterers in each area of Ohio and decide if the market can accommodate one more. The Ohio Department of Development operates a website devoted to industrial real estate and can assist you in finding an appropriate site. Lease or purchase a kitchen space. Commercial kitchens have larger equipment and will allow you to cook more at once, which is especially important when you are catering a big event. If you have a tight start-up budget, you may have to prepare the menu at home until your revenue can support the expense of a separate commercial kitchen space.
Establish a basic menu of items that you have experience preparing. Research the cost to purchase the ingredients and time to prepare so you can determine how much to charge. Create a price list for various menus and have that available for potential clients to review. Experiment with new menus so you can tweak your options periodically and expand into other catering markets. Contact event managers of popular venues such as Brookshire, the Columbus Athenaeum, Copper Lodge, Fifth Third Field, and Josaphat Arts Hall and provide them with a price list, menu portfolio and contract information so they can suggest your catering business to potential clients.
Join a catering community such as the Ohio chapter of the National Association of Catering Executives or the International Special Events Society. The Columbus chapter provides an opportunity to view new technology and menu ideas while mingling with other people in the hospitality industry. Professional organizations also offer education opportunities and the chance for successful members to become certified in catering. Catering certifications may help attract clients which, in turn, will grow your business.
Purchase uniforms so you portray a professional appearance at catering events. Hire servers to help during the events so you can spend your time overseeing the food delivery and making sure the guests are getting everything they need. Though it is best to hire experienced servers, if your budget is tight college students may work. There are nearly 100 colleges and universities in Ohio, so you should have no trouble finding available servers. Visit the campuses and put up fliers in the student center asking for interested students to call for interviews. If you need a lot of servers, you may be able to take part in a job fair to find candidates. Make sure to provide training on how to carry trays loaded with beverages and how to interact with the guests. Though the food should be excellent, the servers are often what the guests remember, so you want to insure perfect service.
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.