You can operate a catering business from your home in most states. To find out the requirements for in-home food catering in your state, contact your local health department. They can furnish you with the rules and requirements for food service businesses in your state.
To get your catering business up and running you will have to consider licensing, equipment, and safety and sanitation requirements. Caterers must follow many of the same rules as restaurants.
You must have a food service permit to operate a business selling food. When you apply for your permit you will have to file a plan review for food service. This document allows regulatory agencies to review your business before it opens with a view to preventing problems before they occur. The review provides a complete description of what you serve, how you prepare it, and how it is held and transported.
You also will need a business license and a tax identification number. Apply for these through your local city hall or county offices. If you plan on having paid employees you need an employer's tax identification number, which will be used for withholding payroll taxes.
You cannot operate a catering business from your family kitchen. Any food prepared for catering must be prepared in a separate kitchen. Some caterers avoid the cost of constructing a second kitchen by renting or leasing kitchen space from a restaurant or other facility with a full kitchen.
A kitchen that caters food to the public must have a triple sink for dish washing, a hand washing sink and NSF-approved refrigeration for food storage. NSF is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1944 to ensure product and equipment quality standards. Equipment and packaging for holding and transporting food at safe temperatures will be necessary. Hot food must be held at 140 degrees F and cold food must be kept at 40 degrees F to prevent foodborne illness.
Your catering business is a food handling business. This means that everyone who works with food needs to be trained in safe food handling procedures. You must know how to safely prepare, cook, and hold food so that your clients do not get food borne illness.
Everyone involved with your catering business may need to have a state food handler’s permit and your cooks should all be ServSafe certified. ServSafe certification is offered by the state health department. Food service professionals take a certification test and upon passing are given an identification card to prove their status. A ServSafe certified cook is highly trained in safe food handling procedures.
Your kitchen will be inspected by the health department twice yearly for food safety, sanitation, and cleanliness. You must pass the inspection to continue operating your catering business. A good score on your health inspection reassures your clients and is often published in the newspaper.