Get Tips for Running a Successful Catering Business

Man serving buffet plates
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Catering is perhaps one of the most important aspects of event planning that will help make or break any business meeting, fundraising gala or wedding event. That’s why the catering manager often takes the lead to help clients plan and execute special events and other one-day programs at hotels and other venues.

And many people who enjoy choosing food and beverage dream about becoming a caterer and opening their own catering business. The good news is that the success rate of catering businesses can be higher than a restaurant because the overhead is much lower and employees are only needed for planned events, according to information from the National Association of Catering Executives (NACE).

“I started my catering business in a recession,” says Greg Casella, CPCE, 2010 president for NACE and owner of Catered Too!, San Jose, CA. “The caterer I was working for went out of business. Clients found my home number and asked if I could cater their events. It just happened naturally – it was meant to be! My office was in the attic, props were in the basement, and I rented kitchen space as needed to start.”

Although talent and perseverance can help anyone become a successful business owner, Casella offers the following 10 tips for anyone who wants to start a catering business.

10 Tips for Anyone Who Wants to Start a Catering Business

Gain Catering Jobs Experience

Anyone who thinks they want to be a caterer should work for a caterer first. A good option may include working as a server for an established caterer because they are always looking for good people to work events. This is also the best experience to decide if starting a catering business is something you really want to do. It will also prepare you to realize that catering is very physical work with long hours on your feet.

Find a Licensed Commercial Kitchen to Rent

If you are ready to start your catering business, you cannot provide catering services from your home kitchen. You must find a licensed catering kitchen in your area, and inquire about renting commercial kitchen space by the hour.

Set Your Catering Prices

This is a business like any other, so you must have profit and loss statements for everything that you do. Make sure you tally up the hours you put into doing the event because the best way to know if you are making money is to approach it hour by hour for every job.

Rent Catering Equipment

 You don’t have to buy everything that’s needed right away. The best part about having a catering business is that everything you need may be rented, but make sure you invoice your client for all of the rentals that are needed for the event. This way, as you take on more events, you can slowly build your inventory.

Obtain Business Insurance

Like any other business, you must make sure you have insurance. The importance of this cannot be underestimated because it’s sometimes easy to overlook. You must have the proper business license and commercial liability insurance to cover client, vendors, guests or anyone who is potentially affected by your services in a negative way. And, if you have hired workers, you must have workers’ compensation insurance for each of them.

Become an Approved Caterer

Most venues maintain a list of approved caterers who may operate in their facilities, so this is a great way to start and maintain your business.

Network With Event Planners and Wedding Coordinators

Caterers are one of many services hired by event planners. Don’t be afraid to work for these people and give them a discount for your services. They essentially serve as outside salespeople for your company, and the discount you provide them is basically their commission for bringing you on board – that’s how they get paid.

Promote Yourself as a Catering Expert

Social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook are excellent ways to begin promoting your business and establishing a group of “friends” and “followers.” But don’t use this as a tool to talk about your business itself; use these sites to offer advice and establish yourself as an expert.

Join a Catering Association

Join a professional organization, such as NACE, or related professional associations, such as MPI or the International Special Events Society. You can attend chapter meetings and national conferences where you meet others who are starting out or are more established.

Stay Focused on Your Catering Business

You should be creative, but also remember that you are a business. The art of catering is one of the most fun and important parts of the business, but always remember you are in business and need to keep track of the books and paperwork.

Casella also advises that anyone wishing to start a catering business should make a decision about the type and style of caterer they want to be, and stick to it. “Don’t try to be everything to everybody – customers will respect you more when you let them know there might be someone better for them to use if it out or your specialty area,” he suggests.

And that’s how Catered Too! began. Initially, Casella focused on corporate special events and groups with more than 100 guests. “Of course, I sometimes did smaller events to start but staying on track with what my company was good at was important. It was very hard to say ‘no’ to clients who wanted a business breakfast or lunch dropped off for 20 people. But they appreciated the honesty, and they used us for what we were good at. I was not set up with vehicles and equipment to do that type of business,” he explains.