Catering Business: Expert Guide on Getting Started

July 16, 2023
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Starting a catering business takes more than an extraordinary talent in the kitchen. It is more than your love for the hospitality industry and making guests comfortable at events. 

Unlike a restaurant business and other businesses in the food and beverage industry, a catering business combines extraordinary cooking skills and a flair for handling events. As a caterer, you must be able to perfectly plan a menu, prepare meals for a set number of guests, and deliver the meal to the event. 

You must also be able to serve these meals with class and style, even if this means bringing the plates and utensils to the event. That sounds like a good job description! 

So, how do you start your catering business? Let’s find out!


What is Catering? 4 Types of Catering

The catering business is fiercely competitive and brutal. So it's crucial to carve yourself a distinct specialty that will set you apart from the competition. Understanding the different forms of catering is necessary for you to accomplish this.

What, then, is catering? Let's first go over all you need to know about the fundamentals of the catering industry and the many types of catering.

What Is Catering?

Catering is the process or business of preparing food and providing food services for clients at remote locations, such as hotels, restaurants, offices, concerts, and events. The catering industry consists of businesses that offer a variety of consumers food, beverages, and other services, usually for special occasions.

Catering occasionally includes managing and preparing events. For instance, if you provide corporate catering services, you must deal with enormous crowds and corporate clients' needs.

Some restaurants may hire caterers to do their cooking, or they may even let customers order food from them. Customers might, for instance, be so enamored with a specific meal that they insist on having it served at their event.

Who Is a Caterer? 

A caterer is a person or business that prepares, cooks, and serves food and beverages to clients at remote locations and events. In addition to creating seasonal menu selections, the caterer may be expected to supply the plates, spoons, place settings, and wine glasses required to serve guests during an event.

If you enjoy connecting with customers and creating a variety of foods that are both delicious and appealing to the eye, starting a catering business is the perfect endeavor for you. A caterer is creative regarding new recipes, menus, and culinary presentations.

Caterers are also excellent multitaskers. For instance, the caterer must be prepared to make all the dishes for the event at once if professional wait staff will serve each course of the dinner to visitors.

What Does a Caterer Do?

  • Ensures that attendees enjoy their time at events. 
  • Offers delicious, relaxing dinner. 
  • Deals with particular demands.
  • Designs menus for unique events directly with clients.
  • Setting tables and serving meals during sit-down dining occasions. 
  • Sending staff to prepare chafing dishes, bowls, and platters.
  • Serving food to guests.

4 Types of Catering

  • Event Catering: Event catering is planning a menu, preparing, delivering, and serving food at social events and parties. 
  • Full-service Catering: Full-service catering manages every facet of an event, including meal preparation, decorations, and clean-up following the event.
  • Self-catering in Hotels: Self-catering in hotels is when guests have the facilities to prepare their meals themselves. 
  • Family-style Catering: When meals are served family-style, plates are passed around and shared at tables. 

What Is the FDA Requirement for an Offsite Caterer?

Here are some of the requirements to take note of:

  1. Structural and Equipment Requirements
  • A caterer is expected to run their business out of a licensed kitchen that can handle their projected operation.
  • All food transport equipment must be NSF-certified or equivalent.
  • The entire operation must be able to safeguard all food products from contamination and maintain the necessary temperatures for serving.
  • A certified powered serving device will be needed for continuous food service that lasts longer than four hours, such as portable steam and refrigerator tables.
  1. Administrative Requirements
  • Only a catering permit is necessary from a food outlet authorized to provide catering to an event location.
  • All goods sold separately over the counter, such as sandwiches, cookies, bagels, and doughnuts, must be packaged in food-grade packaging or placed in containers that have been certified for use.
  • Licensed restaurants are exempt from needing a separate catering permit. However, they must inform the health department that they offer catering services.
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Starting a Catering Business

Starting a catering business is a great way to make money from your love of cooking and event planning. A food catering business requires a lower start-up cost than other businesses in the food and beverage industry.

If you are an entrepreneur or a business owner interested in starting a catering business, you have come to the right place. Let’s discuss a step-by-step guide on how to start a catering business.

How to Start a Catering Business in 8 Steps

Here’s how to start an at-home catering business in eight steps:

  1. Select Your Catering Specialty

The first step to starting your catering business is choosing your niche. There are different types of catering businesses, and selecting one makes it easy to build your catering brand. 

  • What type of events will you cater? Social event catering, wedding catering, corporate catering, or concession catering. When just starting a catering business, serving small parties and events like cocktail parties, staff functions, and other social events is easy.
  • What type of food will you serve? Will you target a niche market, like vegan food, gluten-free delicacies, baked goods, or snacks? 
  1. Write a Business Plan

A business plan is a document that helps you map your goals and objectives. A well-written business plan will include strategies to actualize these goals and make your business ideas a reality.

  1. Choose Your Business Structure

A sole proprietorship business structure means your business will be unincorporated and owned by you alone. On the other hand, if you have a partner, you can register your catering business as a general partnership, limited liability company, limited partnership, or limited liability partnership.

  1. Obtain Your Catering Business Licenses

Businesses in the food service and restaurant industry need to obtain a business and food handling license from the State. In addition, you may be required to pass a health inspection as well. Consulting a local law firm is a great idea. 

  1. Get Your Catering Equipment

A successful catering business requires several things. First, consider taking a small business loan or buying used equipment if the cost exceeds your budget. Take note of these when preparing your catering business plan.

  1. Create Your Menu

Starting a catering business is one thing. Creating a menu your customers will love is another. Consider your target market, cooking facilities, and capacity when creating your menu.

  1. Pick Your Team

Selecting the right team is critical to the success of your catering business. Your team includes the in-house staff to help you cater events and cook meals. You’ll also need to partner with wholesale distributorships, distribution warehouses, and wholesale food distributors that supply wholesale food ingredients.

  1. Market Your Business

Here are a few tips for running an effective marketing campaign for your catering business:

Catering Business Plan

A catering business plan is easy to write and contains the same essential elements as other restaurant business plan formats. However, when writing a business plan for a catering business, add catering industry-specific sections.

Let’s review how to write a catering business plan for your catering business.

How to Write a Catering Business Plan

Writing a catering business plan is more than just filling out a downloadable catering business plan template. Your passion for your catering business idea must be evident in each business plan section.

When writing a business plan for a catering business, include these sections:

  • Executive Summary: Your executive summary, usually one page, is the opening section of your business plan. The executive summary is a summary of your business plan.
  • Company Overview: Your catering business overview should include details of your company. It should describe the client experience, ownership and management components, and business operations.
  • Team and Management: This section is a great place to explain your eCommerce team structure and organogram. Start the section by explaining your role within the company.
  • Market and Opportunity: Market research will help you know which type of catering business will succeed in your chosen market. When writing this section, use graphs and charts to explain your findings.
  • Business Operational Plan: Explain your business process flow in this section. From how you will attract clients to how you will serve meals at an event, your operational plan is a great place to explain your workflow in detail.
  • Products and Services: If you plan to specialize in a menu item for specific events, this is the place to discuss it. Ensure you include a sample of your menu and pictures of your meals. Include details about your pricing as well.
  • Marketing Plan: Describe your eCommerce marketing plan and strategies to grow your catering business.
  • Financial Projections: Draw your financial projections, estimated costs for starting a catering business, and cash flow statement.

5 Action Plan for Catering Business

  1. Choose a Format
  2. Decide on Your Brand
  3. Be Aggressive With Marketing
  4. Create Your Menu
  5. Try Software Automation

Catering Business Ideas to Get You Started

Choosing a unique idea that will grow the catering business can be challenging with hundreds of catering business ideas. Several catering business ideas exist, from being a restaurant contract caterer to offering group catering services for team meetings.

Let’s look at some of the best catering business ideas you can adopt for your catering business.

5 Best Catering Business Ideas 

  1. Mobile Catering Business: In a mobile catering operation, meals are made and served from a moving van. An instant food delivery service, a street vendor selling food to onlookers, or a concession stand at a fair are all possible uses for a mobile catering unit.

Tips For Starting a Mobile Catering Business

  • Write a restaurant business plan
  • Secure mobile catering permits and license
  • Register the catering vehicle
  • Buy catering insurance
  • Use catering management software
  • Set your prices
  • Get your mobile catering van and catering equipment
  • Hire catering team
  • Promote and grow catering business
  1. Event Catering Business: Event catering is one of the most popular categories of catering services. Event caterers handle various events and food, from birthdays and backyard barbecues to modest luncheons and retirement celebrations.

Tips for Starting an Event Catering Business

  • Build a relationship with other event vendors such as wedding planners, photographers, and bakery business owners
  • Work with a great team
  • Be great at organizing events
  • Use professional wait staff uniforms
  • Offer competitive pricing
  • Make delicious food
  1. Lunch Catering Business: The lunch catering business involves preparing meals, especially lunches, for customers in a company. You may cater lunch for small teams within a department or the entire company. 

Tips for Starting a Lunch Catering Business

  1. Meals to Go Catering Business: Catering companies specializing in meals-to-go provide consumers with quick meal options. In this kind of catering, the food is prepared and then heated in the oven for the diners.

Tips for Starting a Meals-to-go Catering Business

  1. Health Catering Business: Health catering is a specific type of catering business. You should consider starting a health catering business if you fancy cooking healthy meals and making healthy drinks.

Tips for Starting a Health Catering Business

  • Create the perfect healthy-food menu
  • Partner with a nutritionist or healthy-food expert
  • Build the perfect health-themed brand marketing plan

Catering Software: 6 Best Catering Business Software

Setting up an effective business system is crucial when starting a catering company. Catering software keeps track of all administrative activities while streamlining restaurant operations, cutting labor expenses, and maximizing time management.

You can utilize a variety of catering business software for your operation. Let's first examine some of the greatest online catering software to assist you in automating your catering business.


Catering Management Software: Top Features to Consider

  • Task management
  • Time management
  • Employee Scheduling
  • Calendar Management.
  • Accounting and Billing Management
  • Inventory Management

6 Best Catering Business Software You Need

  1. Catering Kitchen Management Software

Features of Kitchen Management Software

  • Tracking orders
  • Managing inventory and kitchen supplies
  • Preparing and reviewing orders
  • Planning menus
  • Reporting kitchen performance

Best Kitchen Management Software

  1. Catering Booking Software

Features of Catering Booking Software

  • Responding to emails and invites automatically
  • Integrating with Google Calendar, Xero, and QuickBooks
  • Modifying the calendar to suit your business
  • Assigning tasks to team members
  • Tracking your mobile workforce

Best Catering Booking Software

  • Octopuspro
  • Tripleseat
  • Curate
  • Total Party Planner
  1. Catering CRM Software

Features of Catering CRM Software

  • Managing leads and customers
  • Automating leads
  • Delivering the best customer service
  • Managing delivery addresses
  • Capturing signatures
  • Managing online orders

Best Catering CRM Software

  1. Catering Inventory Software

Features of Catering Inventory Software

  • Maintaining an accurate record of inventory
  • Checking the variance between the inventory used in a day and what’s left at the end of the day
  • Reducing inventory stock quantity automatically once the catering event is over
  • Automating restocking and ordering of restaurant supplies

Best Catering Inventory Software

  • BlueCart
  • GoFrugal
  • Pxier
  1. Accounting Software for Catering Business

Features of Catering Accounting Software

  • Accepting payments online
  • Creating financial reports 
  • Tracking and processing payments
  • Processing invoices automatically
  • Managing recurring payments
  • Sending notifications for failed payments

Best Catering Accounting Software

  • BlueCart
  • FreshBooks
  • Zoho
  • QuickBooks
  1. Catering POS Software

Features of Catering POS Software

Best Catering POS Software

  • TouchBistro
  • Toast
  • Square

How to Advertise a Catering Business

The key to generating sales, scaling up, and developing your catering company is to learn how to market it. Despite the fact that there are several sorts of catering businesses, the same marketing and expansion techniques will work for all of them.

Let’s look at some of the best strategies to grow the catering business. 


7 Tips to Promote Catering Business

Here are seven tips on how to market a small catering business:

  1. Draw Your Marketing Budget
  2. Get Creative With Marketing
  3. Build a Website
  4. Implement Digital Marketing Strategies
  5. Integrate Automation Software
  6. Use Digital Catalogs
  7. Offer Referral Programs

Starting a catering business needs considerable preparation, from having the appropriate tools to employing qualified staff. However, you can get started right away with the help of the advice and suggestions in this guide.

Streamline order management, grow your bottom line, and get back hours of your time with BlueCart. Schedule a demo now:
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