How to start a catering company
If you love to cook for others, then starting a catering company may sound like the ideal career. Catering companies service clients looking for food to serve guests at special events. The following steps will help you launch a new catering venture:
- Review licensing requirements. Caterers must follow strict health and worker safety guidelines. Apply for any licenses and health permits needed in your municipality.
- Write a business plan. According to the Small Business Administration, a business plan runs your business. Traditional business plans include key aspects of your organization including market analysis, management structure, marketing goals and financial projections.
- Research the competition. What types of services and menus are popular right now? Where is the gap in your area that you can fill? For instance, local couples planning a wedding may be finding it hard to book wedding caterers. Choosing your niche can do wonders for boosting your clientele.
- Get funding for your business. Caterers require certain equipment for operations, including commercial-grade ovens, mixers, refrigerators, freezers and more. Commercial-grade kitchen equipment can be expensive, so compare the cost of leasing versus purchasing. You'll also want to review costs between leasing and owning space where you prepare the meals and any type of vehicle needed to transport food to events.
If you're looking to start your own catering company, make sure you have the tools you need to get the job done. This guide outlines some of the latest and greatest in catering tech essentials, from software to help you run your business more efficiently to temperature-controlled systems to keep food fresh on the go.
Restaurant, catering and event management software
Food service businesses have unique needs not easily met by software built for generic businesses. Software solutions that are created for the food service and hospitality industry vary in scope: Some focus primarily on customer relationship management and processing orders, while others are more far-reaching and include such features as inventory management, food cost accounting, employee management, menu construction, payroll, shift scheduling and reporting.
The type of software you choose to manage your catering business should be determined by your current needs, your potential future needs and your budget. If you already own a restaurant and are creating an offshoot catering company, you may want to opt for a solution that focuses on restaurants, not catering exclusively.
Additionally, if you are not only the caterer but also the venue owner and event planner, you want to choose a system that has event planning features. Popular restaurant, catering and event management software solutions include Restaurant365, ReServe Interactive, Amadeus Sales and Catering Software, Caterease, Total Party Planner and Gather.
Workforce management software
If workforce management is not built into your primary catering software, you will need to adopt an additional system for tracking employee hours and maintaining schedules. Catering companies often rely heavily on temporary servers and experience more turnover in staff than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, so solutions that offer easy onboarding and deployment are key to workforce management.
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There are free workforce management solutions, like When I Work, which is free for up to 75 users, and offers online scheduling and team messaging via its website and complimentary mobile app. Like most free services, though, it is limited and does not enable clocking in and out. For full functionality, you may want to opt for paid workforce management software. Popular paid scheduling, time and attendance products include TSheets and TimeClock Plus.
Temperature control technology
One of the biggest challenges with catering is maintaining a safe and desirable food temperature through the transit and setup process. Food carriers are available in varying dimensions and configurations, but most catering companies use either polyurethane foam-insulated containers or electric carts that can be plugged in.
Foam-insulated containers are more common than electric because they are less expensive and more practical. Insulated containers can be stacked, handheld and even placed on rolling dollies. Some insulated temperature-controlled food carriers are created specifically for hot or cold dishes, while others can be used for both.
Tray carriers that are suitable for hot and cold foods can house both hot and cold dishes at the same time, in the same container, while maintaining the temperatures of each. The way this temperature control technology works is simple, making it easy to alter based on your needs during each event. Companies like Cambro, Carlisle and CaterGator all sell high-quality hot and cold insulated carriers, as well as food-grade hot and cold inserts that set the temperature inside the container, and removable temperature barrier shelves that make it possible to combine hot and cold foods in one carrier. ThermoBarrier, a Cambro temperature barrier, is a popular choice among caterers, as are the Camchiller cooling trays and Camwarmer warming trays.
The easiest way to build an efficient collection of temperature-controlled food containers is to select a brand and stick with it. That way, you can swap out cooling trays, warming trays and temperature barriers between them, stack them in different configurations, and use the same dollies for all the containers. Most companies that make insulated tray carriers sell insulated beverage dispensers and soup tureens, but these are more standardized across brands and aren't typically stacked, so the brand you choose matters less.
Specialized catering equipment
As your business's needs evolve, you may find you require specialized catering equipment that bridges the gap between catering and event planning. Such items as portable bars, grills, food presentation displays and buffets can help extend the reach of your catering company, and make it possible to service events that are not in traditional venues.
There are also specialized catering options like rolling tray carts, which are often used in institutions like schools and hospitals, as well as food kiosks and catering trucks, which catering companies use to promote their business and provide food at outdoor events.