The Beginner's Guide to Starting a Catering Business

Catering chef loading food into van

 Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

Running a catering business may be the perfect job for you if you enjoy entertaining and cooking. Catering offers a lot the same creative freedoms as running a restaurant, at a fraction of the cost. Advertising for a new catering business is easy with the use of social media and photo-based sites like Instagram. Trying out catering as a part-time or full-time job can help you decide if you want to take the next step of opening your own restaurant.

Are You Ready to Be Your Own Boss?

Not everyone is cut out to be their own boss. While it sounds nice on paper, being your own boss requires self-discipline, organization, and determination. Some people thrive on being in charge and being responsible for everything. Others quickly become overwhelmed, and that’s when businesses stutter and ultimately fail. To be a successful caterer, you need to know:

  • How to budget
  • How to handle problems
  • Offer excellent customer service
  • Know when to delegate
  • Know how to budget time
  • Understand the importance of prioritizing tasks

In addition to these qualities, do you have a support network at home? Starting a new business, food or otherwise, takes a lot of time away from family and friends. Will your spouse be supportive? Are you okay with the possibility of missing your kid's sports games or school events? Is this the right time to try something new? If the answer is yes, the next question is what kind of catering business is right for you?

Catering Concepts & Menus

Much like restaurants, there are many different types of catering concepts to choose from. You could focus on bar-b-que, specific regional cuisines, healthy menus, or decadent desserts. If you aren’t sure what type of menu to offer, start by examining the competition.

Look at what is already being done in your area and determine if you can do it better. You need to decide how large an event you want to cater. You can start out small—catering home parties or small business luncheons—or, if you think you have the ability, jump in to cater to a 200 person wedding. The size of your average event will also help you narrow your catering concept and menu.

Find Financing & Making It Legal

Unlike opening a new restaurant, you can start a catering business on a shoestring budget (or a quick trip to Sam’s Club and your existing kitchen equipment). Again, the average size of your events will ultimately dictate how much equipment you will need to purchase. Some standard upfront purchases include:

  • Platters (disposable if you are only delivering food and not staying for the whole event)
  • Tongs
  • Chafing dishes
  • Table linens for serving stations
  • Commercial grade serving pieces

You may be able to finance a home-based catering business for a few hundred dollars. If you need more cash than you have on hand or more than you want to put on a credit card, you may consider applying for a small business loan. If that is the case, you should ​create some sort of business plan, to show potential investors you are serious about your new business.​​

Equally important is the legality of your business. Few states, if any, allow someone to sell food commercially without some sort of license or permit. Check with your state for the requirements to become a legal caterer.

Promote Your New Catering Business

Once you have your menu is written and financing is secured it’s time to get the word about your new business. If you don’t want to invest in a website right away, you can build a Facebook page in just a few minutes, as well as set up an Instagram account to showcase your fabulous foods.

For many people, starting a catering business is the gateway to owning their own restaurant. It offers a feasible way to try out the food and beverage industry and see if they have what it takes to be their own boss.