5 Tips for Setting Up a Catering Business
Setting up a catering business requires a sharp skill set as well as strong business acumen. A good caterer will need to be highly organized and know what they are doing in order to prepare a large amount of food a high pressure environment.
They should be able to send out dishes quickly, and keep the food flowing without missing a beat. And as with setting up any business, they must have business management skills, and be prepared for the unexpected. If you are a chef and you are thinking of opening your own catering business, here are some crucial tips to help you get started.
1. Research Your Market
Opening a new business should always start with market research. You must have a thorough knowledge of who your target customers are -your specific market- and know what their habits are. This may sound complicated at the beginning, but it will save you lots of time and money down the road.
When you do your research, try to find a gap in the market that you can fill. Find out if certain catering services are needed in your area but are currently underserved. For instance, if you live in an area close to a sports venue, you may find that they will need caterers for their weekend sports events.
Make sure you add value to the catering packages you offer, and deliver competitive prices. Having a clear idea of your pricing will dictate which ingredients you buy and other overheads. Doing market research on the needs in your area can go a long way in helping your catering business be more sustainable.
When researching your market, find out who your competitors are; find out what they are offering, and their prices. This should be straightforward. Established catering companies will have a website or a social media page that you can pull the information from.
If possible, get first-hand information about your competitors from their clients. From pricing to service, to the food provided, find out as much as you can. And don’t focus solely on your competitors’ shortcomings, find out what they are appreciated for, and learn from it.
A catering business requires hiring competent staff. The size of your your business will obviously dictate how many employees you need, but bear in mind that it might not be necessary to hire full-time staff given that catering work occurs most often in the evening and at weekends.
If you don’t want to rely on recruitment agencies, or if your company needs a large number of staff, consider hiring human resources staff to help you source the right candidates, providing you with hospitality staff that can work job by job. HR staff can look for people willing to work on occasional hours or part-time and then manage them appropriately. They will prioritize hiring those who have experience working on a food service-oriented job, which saves you time to train and teach them. The HR team will keep a list of people who can work at a certain time, which is especially important when running a catering business since your regular staff may be unavailable for certain events. All of the work the HR team does will take away a lot of time and stress, allowing you to focus on the areas of the business you enjoy more.
Of course, you can also hire people yourself, and you might already have the contacts to do so. The first few months in any new business can be extremely stressful. If you have already worked with people you can rely on and know they will do a great job, of course hire them. Just remember that catering is as much a food business as it is a service business, so hiring the right people out front and behind the scenes is critical for success.
3. Design a Tasty Practical Menu
When setting up a catering business, designing your menu is very important. While it’s very tempting to let your creativity go wild, try to come up with a practical menu.
Remember that you will be delivering large quantities of food that needs to be delicious and appealing to the customers. And, crucially, the timescale is tight. Leaving your customers waiting and hungry is one of the biggest catering mistakes, which could damage your reputation and, ultimately, your business.
Organise the dishes on the menu to prompt customers to choose certain foods and drinks that can help boost your profits. Studies show that the upper right-hand corner of the menu is what most diners check first. This, therefore, is where you should place the most expensive dishes. There should not be a large gap between the cheapest and most expensive dish, or the more expensive dishes will seem overpriced and therefore be chosen less often.
When designing your menu, opt for warm colors like red and orange. Studies have shown that these colors relax the eyes and increase the appetite. Keep your layout simple and try not to go overboard when it comes to text. Most people will only want to know what the ingredients are, so keep the descriptions of each dish short and simple.
If you already own a restaurant and think about adding a catering menu to your full-service operations then it’s important for your catering side of the business to mirror your restaurant in terms or pricing and quality.
4. Test and Get Feedback
Once you have come up with a list of dishes for your menu, the next crucial step is to test them out. Trial your catering service with a small group of friends, or offer to cater a small event. If you decide on the latter, limit your offering to a few dishes, and make it clear that this is a trial. You don’t want to overpromise at this point in your career.
Then ask for feedback from the guests. Insist on constructive feedback. Your friends or hosts may not want to hurt your feelings, so they may not always be as transparent as you’d like them to be. Remind them that at this point your objective is to learn about what’s not working so that you can improve your food and service.
Another thing you can try is sending food samples and then asking for feedback. Written feedback is useful, but if you can, try to actually talk to the people who sampled your food; in conversation they might reveal more about they liked and didn’t like.
As well as getting feedback on your finished dishes, it’s vital to test the quality of your product at each preparation stage. It’s quite common in catering that food is prepared offsite, stored, and transported to the venue. Each stage will have an effect on the how the food eventually turns out. By testing items at every stage, from initial preparation to serving, you can identify at which point the quality has declined and address the issue accordingly.
5. Food Safety Training
As with any food service industry business, food safety is extremely important. Providing adequate training in food hygiene protocols to all staff, including the waiting staff who will handle the food, can minimize the risks of customers getting food poisoning, suffering allergic reactions, or suffering from other health risks if they end up eating contaminated food.
Training should be at least a level 2 HACCP certificate course, which will cover anyone working in catering that involves the handling or preparation of food.
You will find food safety training courses online that cover everything you need to know about food safety and hygiene requirements, from the importance of personal hygiene to cleaning and decontaminating the kitchen. The course may also discuss the risks associated with Covid-19 and how to minimise these risks.
As a food business, the health department will keep a close eye on your operations, but remember that this is for your benefit. Inspections will ensure that you are following hygiene standards, mitigating health risks which could lead to expensive, painful lawsuits should anyone become ill as a result of your service.