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How to Start a Catering Business

Get tips on how to start a catering business.

Owning a catering business is a lot of hard work. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Owning a catering business is a lot of hard work.

Starting a catering business may be a good career choice for people who love to cook, enjoy coordinating events and planning menus, and want to be their own boss. A caterer is different from a personal chef, someone hired to cook meals in a home or at an event site. The personal chef, or cook-for-hire, does not prepare or store any food off-site and therefore is not required to get the same licenses and permits that a caterer must obtain. Catering businesses are either run by restaurants or by a private caterer from a separate facility.

One of the fastest-growing food service segments in the United States, catering is an essential service even during economically slow periods. Check out these steps to starting a catering business.

Get a Catering License and Insurance

Most local or state authorities require a catering and/or liquor licensure from any business that prepares and distributes food. Check with the Food and Drug Administration to determine local regulations, which vary by state. Then search locally to learn about regulations pertaining to cooking facilities. Both state and city or county permits may be required.

Also, consider getting business insurance. Just imagine being sued by 200 wedding guests if the crab salad gives everyone food poisoning. Contact several insurance companies to get competitive rates on home-based business insurance.

Setting up a Catering Business

Many states require caterers to use facilities that are separate from their personal kitchen. This can be a kitchen built to personalized specifications that may or may not be attached to the home (but is completely separate from the home kitchen). Another option in some states is to rent out the kitchen of a church, community center or school. Possible code requirements for kitchens include separate food preparation, dish-washing and hand-washing sinks, employee restrooms and walk-in coolers. Be sure to obtain these specifications while researching legal implications.

Creating Catering Menus

Individuals with a creative streak, cooking skills and a discerning palate will probably have no problem creating menus. Caterers can choose to focus on just one aspect of catering - like making only cakes and desserts or serving specialty items like fondues - or they may decide to serve full dinners.

Appearance counts when creating menus, so try to choose color-contrasting garnishes or complementary relishes. Also, remember to include all the food groups: vegetables, fruits, dairy (including yogurt and cheese), meat (including poultry, fish, beans and nuts) and breads/pastas. Mix hearty items with lighter treats. And don't forget texture - soft and creamy foods taste great with crispy items.

Get Catering Experience

Consider volunteering to gain valuable experience and get the word out. Offer to prepare and serve the food at a friend's party if they'll pick up the grocery bill.

Setting Catering Prices

One formula for setting a price is to add overhead costs to the costs of materials, labor and profit. Another way to set prices is to charge two and a half to three times the cost of ingredients.

Whether setting up a merchant account to accept credit card payments or using PayPal, be prepared to accept payments via credit card. Also, be sure to set up an official business bank account.

More Catering Resources
Food safety must be a priority for catering businesses. Learn about directives and regulations for businesses from the United State Department of Agriculture.

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