If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. However, if you can, catering outsourcing is a huge growth market. Here are five important considerations when starting your own catering company.
A catering business can be a great idea if you have a talent for cooking, management or, preferably, both. There is a huge potential market – from corporate events to weddings to vans serving street food – that, while crowded with competitors, is always open to someone with an innovative way of doing things. But, before donning your apron and coming up with an obligatory pun-tastic name for your business, there are some important things to consider first…
Unless you have people working for you, you’re going to struggle to cater much more than Sunday lunch, and that in itself would be exhausting. Even if you’re planning to do all the cooking yourself, you’re still going to need servers that you can trust to get plates in front of people or pour drinks while you’re slaving in the kitchen.
Then there’s the driving – how are you going to get from place to place? If you don’t have a license you’ll either need to take your driving test yourself or employ someone who is qualified to drive. You might also want to encourage your staff to take their tests, perhaps by helping to fund lessons, so that they can be available if needed.
Many catering companies employ creative chefs, kitchen staff, servers and managers on their payroll. As your business grows, you’ll need to become just as adept at people-management as you are at slicing an onion.
Certain businesses require more investment to get off the ground than others. In the case of a catering company, you’ll need to purchase all the equipment you need, hire staff, rent premises – it can be very expensive, which is why many such companies tend to start small, often working from the founder’s home kitchen.
If you’re just starting out, then it could be unwise to pitch straightaway for a society wedding or a major conference in case you find yourself out of your depth. Not that there’s anything wrong with a little ambition! Begin with smaller events though, build a good reputation – while growing your skills and experience – and the path may be easier.
It’s important to have a concept for your catering business, and that will quite often be centred around the menu you offer. Aim for a type of food you have a passion for, as you’re going to be cooking it day in, day out – for the rest of your life.
The best sandwiches are generous with the filling, so don’t spread yourself too thin – it’s better to offer a limited but excellent menu, rather than one that tries to tick every box from healthy and gourmet to exotic or vegetarian. Be ready to accommodate meals at different times of day, various dietary considerations, and new preparation techniques. A good catering menu is as flexible as it is appetizing. Always be on the lookout for ideas from elsewhere.
The one thing no catering company can do without is food, obviously. So think about where are you going to source your food from. You need good value but you also want quality. While you may be able to generate greater profits by going with worse cuts of meat or slightly older fruit and vegetables, in the long-term this is going to have a detrimental effect on your business as the meals won’t be as enjoyable.
Consider how you are going to transport and store food carefully and safely – easier for sandwiches than it is for soup or wedding cakes.
The presentation and taste of your food are all-important and this should be your first priority at all times. All staff should be properly trained in safe food preparation, and also about how to make it look perfect on the plate in line with your company’s standards.
You’ll be needing a large fridge and freezer with plenty of storage, an oven, a stove and probably a microwave too. But catering companies also require plenty of smaller equipment such as pans and pots, knives and containers. Many provide a holistic service, supplying clients with tableware, glasses, cutlery, even tables and chairs. You’ll need to look at your menu and the types of events you want to cater for to know what you’re going to need, and ensure you have enough storage available.