Startup Costs: $10,000 - $50,000
Home Based: Can be operated from home.
Part Time: Can be operated part-time.
Franchises Available? No
Online Operation? No
If you're one of those fearless people who enjoys giving elegant dinner parties, get rave reviews from guests and/or your relatives beg to have holidays at your house because of your cooking, then catering might be your cup of tea. As a caterer, you'll plan menus and elegant or playful presentations for everything from company picnics to debutante balls, then cook it all up, deliver it to the event, serve it and clean up afterward. You can specialize in affairs such as weddings; specific goodies such as cakes or cookies; or clients including corporations, charities or individual parties.
ASK THE PROS:
How much money can you make?
Established caterers can demand top dollar for their services, but starting out, you'll have to have flexible rates. But the potential is there to bring in millions of dollars, which can be invested back into the business, as Jerry Baker of California-based The Food Matters told Entrepreneur. "I started with a $25,000 loan and $25,000 of my own. I've invested back into the business well over a million dollars in the past few years in order to have the right equipment to do the perfect job."
What kind of experience do you need to have?
"From a cost-of-entry perspective, catering is probably the most flexible of all the food-service businesses. While you need a commercial location, you can start small and build your equipment inventory as you need to. You may even find an existing commercial kitchen that you can rent. In the beginning, if you need something unusual, such as a champagne fountain for a wedding reception, you can usually rent it rather than buy it. And your food inventory is easy to control, because in most cases you know well in advance exactly how many people you’re cooking for." —Start Your Own Restaurant and More
What’s the most important thing to know about this business?
While your family may clamor for your meatloaf and mashed potatoes, you'll need more than just the ability to whip up some spuds. You'll also need a flair for presentation -- the ability to make the fruits (and other foods) of your labors look fancy -- as well as a talent for the latest trends in food and party ideas. You'll also need an abundance of organizational, time-management and record-keeping skills. Catering requires lots of hard-core planning and pacing. Last but not least, you need a good grounding in safe food-handling practices, product liability laws and health regulations, and good people skills. The advantages to this business are that it's creative and fun -- you can throw a party any time you like and serve up all sorts of new dishes and new ideas -- and somebody else foots the bill.
"Successful caterers are organized, consistent and creative. They enjoy working in an environment that in some ways changes every day, while in other ways stays the same. While a lot of the preparation, cleaning and serving becomes a bit routine, the places to which you’ll travel and the kinds of functions you’ll attend can differ greatly."—Start Your Own Restaurant and More
Your clients can be people with something to celebrate--a wedding, anniversary, graduation or other milestone--or any other kind of bash. You can go after the corporate market, helping to make a splash at conferences, meetings, employee-morale boosters and grand openings, or you can set a course for businesses like yacht charters, sunset cruises and dinner theaters. To snag the celebratory types, develop a referral network--introduce yourself to wedding planners, bridal boutiques, cake decorators and bakers, florists, and card and party supply shopkeepers. Hand out brochures and business cards and check in often. Bring a few choice tidbits, snazzy hors d'ouevres or sinful desserts to give as goodwill gestures. Everybody loves an unexpected treat and the person who delivers it--this is a good way to ensure that they remember you fondly and refer you to their own clients. For corporate and other business types, send a sales letter and brochure, then follow up with a phone call requesting an appointment to discuss your services. Cater a charity event in exchange for publicity, then get your company written up in local publications. Volunteer yourself for a local radio chat show and answer questions about throwing successful parties.
Other than a commercial kitchen, the only things you need to get started are a phone and a delivery vehicle. A computer and printer are always nice but not a necessity for starters. You can get around the kitchen problem by arranging to use a restaurant's facility for a small fee in its off-hours or by sharing the rental costs of a commercial kitchen and its use with other caterers.