How to start a catering business

Adella Miesner

Choose your catering niche In such a crowded market, it’s important to carve out a niche. Whether it’s a cuisine you have an interest in or a gap in the market you’ve identified, setting yourself apart from the competition with a unique and compelling proposition is the key to success. […]

Choose your catering niche

In such a crowded market, it’s important to carve out a niche. Whether it’s a cuisine you have an interest in or a gap in the market you’ve identified, setting yourself apart from the competition with a unique and compelling proposition is the key to success.

The type of food you decide to make may well dictate the type of event you decide to work at, which will in turn inform your branding and marketing.

Generally catering is either private or corporate:

  • Private – birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, funerals
  • Corporate – catering for business events including office parties, awards ceremonies and other evening events, networking events and large meetings

Of course, you’re not just offering food, you’re offering a full service; an event, an occasion, an experience. You need to give people a reason to choose your business over another provider.

Take some time to diligently research your local market. What’s already being offered? What could you do better than others?

The corporate catering market

Serving the business sector will predominantly involve lunches for business meetings and training courses (cold sandwiches and other pre-cooked snacks), but may extend to business breakfasts and evening receptions, which could involve providing drinks and servers as well.

The major advantage with corporate clients is the opportunity for repeat business. Businesses like having a regular supplier, so if you provide a good service at a good price and you’re reliable, you’ll become invaluable to them. They will remember you and call you whenever they need some catering.

The food you serve to this sector will need to be good quality and freshly prepared, but since you will be preparing it at short notice, many times to several different businesses over the week, the gastronomic qualities of the food will not be the main concern. Your organisational skills may be more important than culinary expertise in this sector.

Concentrating on the corporate market can be one of the fastest ways to grow your catering business until you have established yourself as the preferred supplier to a large client base of businesses. Competition is fierce in this area, however, and you’ll have to work extremely hard to make an impact.

If you’re considering corporate catering, you’ll also want to consider things such as invoice payment terms, or even invoice factoring (more on the costs of invoice factoring here), to ensure you don’t have a gap in cashflow between needing to pay suppliers and waiting for payment from a client!

The private catering market

Alternatively, you could aim your catering service at the private sector. Predominately this will be catering for large family occasions such as weddings, funerals and birthday parties. To run this type of business will require good culinary skills, since the quality and range of your menu will be a major selling point, and you will have to be flexible enough to cater for any special requests from clients for their big day.

Think about offering extra services in order to stand out in the highly competitive private market. If you can save your clients time, effort and money by providing crockery and cutlery, servers, decorations and marquee hire for example, you’ll attract business much more quickly and it’s a good way of diversifying your revenue streams.

If you don’t want to focus on weddings, you can find a niche through specialising in a certain type of cuisine, offering themed events such as Mexican nights or hog roasts, or gourmet cuisine for dinner parties.

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