Startup Advice

Top tips on starting your own catering business

Charlotte Harwood

Catering is hard work, but rewarding work. Here are some tips on starting a catering business.

Food is often the highlight of any social, formal or corporate event, so if you’re a dab hand in the kitchen but the thought of running a restaurant fills you with horror, why not try catering instead?

Catering can range from canapes and nibbles to a full-on banquet, and done well it’s often the thing that guests talk about the most. Remember those mushroom vol-au-vents they had at last year’s Christmas party? Of course you do. Everyone is still talking about them twelve months on.

If a catering career beckons, follow our top tips on getting your ideas off the ground and on the table.

Get some experience

You might have cooked for a few dozen people at a party and think that’s all the experience you need, but in reality you’ll need much more than that. The demands of catering can be tough, often requiring vast quantities of food without any compromise on quality. You could be catering for anything up to hundreds of covers at a company event, so make sure that you understand what it really involves.

With that in mind, if you haven’t got any kind of experience working in catering then it really is worth getting some. Consider a catering or hospitality course, many of which lead to an NVQ qualification that will give your business a real boost. You should also look into getting experience in management and business to give you the grounding to build a solid business.

Prepare for hard work

Catering is no walk in the park. Expect hard work and long hours – and that’s before you’ve even started preparing the food. Events can be held at any time of the day and on almost every day of the year, so expect to work unsociable hours, especially at peak times of the year like summer and the festive period.

The price needs to be right

The competitive nature of the catering market means that it isn’t what you serve; it’s how much you charge for it. You might think that you offer the very best Chinese buffet in town, but if there’s another company out there that undercuts you on price, chances are they’ll get their hands on those contracts instead. So to make sure that you seal those deals, you need to learn the vital skill of cost control and make every penny count. It’s easy to waste money by over-ordering food, but if you’re shrewd with your numbers then you can make sure that you price correctly and make a profit.

Know the rules and regulations

Any business dealing with food needs to adhere to strict food safety rules and regulations. For starters, the premises need to be clean and in good condition, with plenty of food storage areas and surfaces that are easy to wipe down.

You also need to know all about proper food handling and hygiene, how to deal with waste, how to transport dishes – the list goes on. Check out the Food Standards Agency website for more details.

Research the market

The catering industry is competitive, so you need to make sure that you research the market if you want to make a success of it. Think about who your customers are, what their expectations might be, and what you do differently to all the other catering companies out there. Once you’ve found your USP, things will be much easier.

But first things first, you need to actually decide who your customers will be. Do you want to cater for corporate functions or private social events, or both?