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how to start a small catering business

How to Start a Small Catering Business [a Kickstart Plan]

11 min read

Creating a small catering business may seem like a daunting task. And to be honest with you, it is! However, there’s no such thing as a reward in the business world that doesn’t involve at least a small risk.

If you have a passion for cooking and want to start your own business, then you should definitely consider a small catering business. Even if producing food is not your thing, small catering businesses are great for individuals that enjoy organizing and interacting with lots of people. Founding a small catering business may seem confusing or difficult, so we’ve taken the liberty of simplifying the process and mapping it out below. So, let’s walk you through all the things you need to know to start a small catering business.

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Steps 1: Who’s Your Client?

Start small: choose the type of catering business you would like to specialize in, and come up with a few names for it. This is a pivotal step, as you must pick what food and/or events your catering business will supply. For example, will you be a business that provides only desserts, or will you decide on putting on black-tie events?

These should be decided early in the process because they will help define your business model and guide you on the path forward. You should also decide what city or cities your business will be based in. Once you pick a name, it is imperative that you check that your business name is available in your state. You can do this online on your state’s official website.

You should also figure out if a partner is necessary or if you will be the independent owner of your business. There are a variety of partnerships that each offer financial security to all partners involved. Pick the one that is best for you and your small catering business.

Steps 2: Strategy

Create a general business plan and structure. This usually includes a mission statement, specific services/events provided, a marketing scheme, and a drink and/or food menu. This can be a plan that lasts a certain amount of years or just an overview of your business and the tactics you’ll use to become successful. You should find out how many employees you will hire (if any) and the starting salary for everyone involved in the business. The small details of a small catering business are actually quite crucial, and they cannot be overlooked.

Next, you should choose where your small catering business headquarters will be located. You could rent, purchase, or lease this area. Or, you could start a home-based catering business where your literal home is the catering businesses’ HQ. Monitor your state’s unique laws that regard starting a business in a home kitchen. Some states allow it, while others do not. You should decide what size kitchen you need and how much equipment that you will have to store. Equipment inventory is actually a key aspect of this step, as your catering workspace should not be too small; there needs to be ample room to work efficiently.

Before you start setting up the kitchen, you need to get all permits, licenses, and employer identification numbers that allow your business to operate legally. You have to register your catering business name and put in an application employer identification number. Employer identification numbers offer many perks, such as facilitating salary payments to employees and applying for company credit cards. A business license must also be obtained before you can start operating.

Step 3: The Menu

Think about foods that you love to make and eat. Also, think about events where you had an awesome experience and think through what made them special. You should have a real passion and love for making food and serving people. The food you love and events you have attended in the past should inspire your small catering business.

Don’t copy the menu and business structure directly, as that can put you in some legal trouble. Of course, if you prefer to handle the business side of things and partner with a talented cook, stay in your lane and leave this step to them.

You should also create a menu that features unique snacks and drinks. Deciding your niche is a must at this point, as your menu will define your business. You should also keep ingredients in mind, so only pick foods with ingredients you know you can acquire. Determine how much the food is going to cost you to purchase, and that should factor into the prices for customers. You should keep records involving expenses, or hire someone to do that for you.

It is a good idea to have people sample your food and drinks once the menu is set. Friends, family members, and random people should sample your food. You should emphasize that you want their honest opinion on the food and beverages. It is good to get advice from customers and make a few tweaks so your food and drinks taste better.

Once the menu is settled, it is the right time to assemble your kitchen. Your menu should dictate how your kitchen is designed and how much equipment is needed. If your menu is mainly drinks, then you probably need minimal cooking equipment. If your small catering business has a large pizza menu, then you should consider placing an oven or two in your kitchen.

Step 4: Storage & Transport

You also need to contemplate where you will store your food once cooked. A walk-in fridge freezer could be crucial for food storage.

You should look into how you are going to transport food from your kitchen to the event. A truck, van, or bus are usually the most efficient vehicles to move food from one place to another. A car could also work, but may not have enough space to fit all the food and equipment. Small catering businesses usually only need one vehicle at the start, but feel free to invest in more as your business grows.

Step 5: Branding

Create a cool logo for your small catering business. Customers need a way to recognize you, and an emblem or logo with a little flair to it is perfect for that function. You could slap the logo on the employees’ uniforms as well. The logo should represent what makes your business awesome, and it can be as simple or fancy as you would like.

Step 6: Staff

It is time to think about the people that work under you. Yes, you are the boss, but you may eventually need to expand your employee roster to ensure your success in the catering industry. You can start off by hiring extra temps, which are people that work temporarily, aka for short stints as opposed to full-time. This can provide you with some additional flexibility, and these employees can become your small catering businesses’ most valuable asset.

Step 7: Suppliers

Make sure you have a good rapport with your chosen food and drink suppliers. Wholesaler dealers should work as you begin to build your catering business. Many places will throw in deals if you buy in bulk, so that should always be considered. Some alcohol vendors will give you a deal on their drinks if you show off their brand and products at an event.

Step 8: Marketing & Recognition

Marketing your small catering business is a crucial step that will take your company to the next level. Once you have established your business and have successfully juggled a few events, it is important to use that momentum and spread the word. You should create business cards and brochures that can be given out at events.

You could make deals with dining halls and galleries to promote your brand and put up flyers. Of course, there are traditional marketing tactics like placing ads on newspapers, television, and more. You should have a unique marketing program that fires people up and will make them want to work with you. Social media is a solid marketing tool as well. Keep in mind that marketing is crucial to growth and branding, so it may be best to outsource marketing to a service like Ecwid: marketing specialists who can take the reins of your strategy and implement it for optimal return on investment.

You’re in the Game Now

The final step is being patient and not freaking out if things do not work immediately. Rome was not built in one day, and neither will your small catering business. If you are committed and put the work in, you will find success eventually. It also helps to have good-tasting food and drinks. You should develop a business model and set up deadlines for getting stuff done.

Follow these steps and we think you’ll be a successful entrepreneur in the catering industry in no time!


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About the author

Max has been working in the ecommerce industry for the last six years helping brands to establish and level-up content marketing and SEO. Despite that, he has experience with entrepreneurship. He is a fiction writer in his free time.

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