A Profitable Feast

Beyond Appetizers

A knack in the kitchen isn't enough, though. In addition to food preparation and presentation abilities, you need accounting, negotiating and people skills. The most successful caterers have a background in food service as chefs or servers. If you don't, it's a good idea to learn the ropes in a restaurant or established catering company first.

Formal training at a two-year culinary institute is strongly recommended. "One of the biggest challenges caterers face is sanitation," says chef John Carlino, 35, an instructor at the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach and a former restaurateur and caterer. "Without training on how to [prepare food] properly, you can make a lot of people sick." Training also exposes you to a variety of cuisines and preparation styles.

Before turning on the stove, apply for a state food dispenser's license, and get the facility where you'll be cooking approved by the local board of health. Most beginning caterers who don't have their own shops rent kitchen space from a school, church or community organization. Selling food prepared in a private residence that isn't up to code can land you in jail.

A catering business can be started with bare basics if your savings is minimal. Sara Corpening and Mary Barber, 29-year-old twins from San Francisco, launched Thymes Two Catering in 1994 with a $10,000 business loan. In 1998, the company--which specializes in classic, globally inspired cuisine and lists actors Jim Carrey and Lauren Holly as clients--will earn $250,000.

Albanese started her business with $14,000 financed through credit cards and a bank loan co-signed by her mother. Her company, which offers party planning as well as catering, now earns $2 million annually.

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