Starting an at-home catering business enables a person to turn culinary talents into a profitable venture. While great food is certainly the foundation of success, the start-up caterer must also display business acumen. Many new caterers do well with the cooking, but fail when it comes to the business aspect. Take care with both the creative and financial portions of the company and seek assistance where needed.
Education and Skills
You do not need a degree to start an at-home catering business. Culinary skills are a must, but how you obtain them is irrelevant, provided the result is good. A number of culinary schools and programs are available at colleges across the country. The most important skill to learn is the preparation of large quantities of food without sacrificing quality. In catering, making a single dish well won’t matter if you can’t mass produce.
Registration and Legal Matters
Decide on a structure (corporation, limited liability company, partnership, sole proprietorship) for your catering business. Register with the appropriate state agency. This is usually the Secretary of State or Department of Treasury. You will file paperwork and pay a fee. The fee varies by state, but typically runs a couple hundred dollars. You must renew your registration on an annual basis. Depending on your state, you may need to apply for a license. Licensing issues can be problematic with an at-home catering business. For example, in King County, Washington, no food service can be run out of a home kitchen. You will need to install a separate, commercially approved kitchen in your home. This expenditure may be too much to move forward. If your city or county allows you to use your home kitchen, be prepared for health and sanitary inspections,
You will need start-up costs to begin catering. These costs will vary based on the size of your catering business and the capability of your home. Start-up costs for a catering-business can run from $1,000 to $80,000 depending on the level of fit-out required. Seek out investors or apply for financing through business lenders. Some lenders may be hesitant to lend to start-ups, but may if they are backed by a U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) guaranty. Inquire with lenders to see if they participate in SBA loans.
Once you are up and running, get the word out about your catering business. While you can place ads in the paper, radio and television depending on budget, the best advertising is word-of-mouth. Do some small pro-bono events to start. Cater backyard parties for friends and families. Put forth your best work and their friends will hopefully use or recommend you for their parties. Trade shows are another good option. Set up a booth and provide samples of your best dishes. Print brochures and fliers detailing the type of events you cater along with a sample menu and pricing.