Many people dream of quitting their “day” job and becoming their own boss. A party catering business is often a popular choice for people who enjoy preparing and serving food to other people. But there is more to this than simply baking a few cupcakes for a neighbor’s birthday party. Careful planning is required before any business can get off the ground.
The truth is, starting a party catering business is no different than any other business, so preparing a business plan is recommended before you fire up the oven.
A business plan is your road map to success. It is your guide for how you will get the company off the ground, how you will expand, and eventually, how you will exit – hopefully by selling it for boatloads of cash, allowing you to retire to a relaxing, remote location.
A business plan is also how you will secure money for your company whether it be through private investors or through bank loans. The business plan should include: business name, who your customers will be, where your customers will come from, catering and beverage menus, staffing needs, staffing costs, purchase costs, rental costs, insurance costs, projected income, unique selling points, mission statement, market facts, marketing plans, growth plans and contingency plans for down times.
All of this research takes time, effort and energy, and all are necessary before you can begin serving customers.
A key decision to make before starting a party catering business is whether yours will be home based, a mobile, or a fixed location business. Each has its own benefits, it’s own downside and set of liabilities, and its own costs or cost savings.
The type of catering business may also affect your unique selling points – that is, what makes your catering company different from all of the other catering companies in your area. It may be the type of food you serve, it may be the manner in which you serve it, or it may be your amazing customer service.
Your pre-startup research should also include ways to understand your client’s needs. When trying to start a new party catering company among the many already established in your market, you’ll need to strive not only to provide the best menu in town, but to go the extra mile with your clients.
Word of mouth advertising is not only the cheapest form of advertising, but it is also the most effective.
Many potential customers will ask around among their friends and colleagues before hiring a caterer for a party or event. Therefore, providing incredible customer service to all your clients will ensure your catering company’s name is on the tip of their tongue the next time someone asks “Who do you recommend?”
Naturally, careful planning is required when entering any business venture and starting a party catering company is no different.
But all of the planning in the world does no good if your menu isn’t excellent and your service isn’t spectacular.
Going the extra mile to provide what your customers want, especially in the beginning can quickly catapult your party catering business to success.
Make an Inventory
Write down the items you’ll need to begin catering. Inventory what you have and what equipment you’ll need to purchase. For example, your current dishwasher may not have the capacity to wash enough dishes to keep up with your business or you might have to purchase a separate freezer. You’ll also need dishes to transport the food, serving dishes, coolers and ways to keep hot food hot.
Find a Niche
Find a market niche that the competition has overlooked or that you feel you can excel at. As a small caterer you might not have the capacity to cater a sit-down dinner for a wedding of 100 guests but you could cater wedding showers, engagement parties, and bachelorette parties quite comfortably. Determine a menu to offer catering clients. Research what your competitors are offering. Check to see which local restaurants offer catering services. Base the menu on your specialties and what your market niche wants. Price the items so that you stay competitive but make a profit. Pricing is always a challenge and is determined by where you live, the time it takes to prepare the dish, the cost of the ingredients and the profit margin you plan to achieve.
Establish Relations with Vendors
Find vendors. “Catering is more than cooking,” says Denise Vivaldo, in her book, “How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business.” Often the caterer is expected to provide the linens, china, glassware, utensils — even the tables and chairs at some events– as well as the food. Research the suppliers in your area ahead of time.
Establish a Business
Develop a business plan that covers the additional investment you’ll need to get started and the first three to six months of revenues and expenses. Obtain the required licenses. You will need a business license from the state and possibly from the city and county where you live. The county or state health department will inspect your kitchen for safety and to see if it meets health codes. Many residential kitchens do not. Plan on upgrading or finding a kitchen that has already passed inspection. A restaurant that operates only for dinner may allow you to use the kitchen in the off hours for a rental fee. A food handler’s license will most likely be required. The local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center can help you find out what licensing is necessary.
Focus on Marketing
Develop a marketing program to reach your potential clients. Design business cards, stationery and a brochure. Make a few of your signature dishes and take photos for the brochure and your website. Even though you plan a small catering business more and more people use the Internet to comparison shop. ZDNet says that 74 percent to 80 percent of people between the ages of 29 and 69 use the Internet for product research. If you don’t have a website or blog, they won’t find you.