Planning Pod Blog

 

Fresh insights and best practices for event professionals

How To Start A Catering Business In 2024

by | Oct 2, 2023 | Business, Catering, Event Management, Event Vendors and Suppliers, Venues

Thinking about turning your dreams of entrepreneurship into a reality? Starting a catering business can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Plus, the idea of creating delicious dishes, serving them to clients at events, and seeing your culinary vision come to life is undoubtedly exciting.

So, how can you turn your passion for food into a thriving business? Careful planning, the right tools, and a comprehensive strategy are at the core of a successful catering business. From creating your own business plan to finding the right catering management tools, here’s a step-by-step guide to turn your vision into a reality as soon as January 2024. 

Step 1: Build your own catering business

Starting any business starts with passion and a clear vision—and catering is no different. Now that you’re considering turning that passion into a full-fledged catering business, you’ll need to establish a solid business plan, brainstorm your business ideas, and consider your business needs. Here’s how to get started.

Rows of dessert in many styles

Define your culinary niche

Before you start building your business plan, take some time to think about your culinary niche. What do you want your catering business to specialize in? Will you cater to a niche market or provide wide-ranging catering services for larger events? 

If you’re not sure where to start, try asking yourself these questions:

  • Personal preferences: Brainstorm your favorite cuisines and dishes. What’s your favorite dish to cook? What type of food do you feel the most passionate about? Are you interested in opening an on-site catering business, or would you prefer a home-based business? Are you planning to be a full-time entrepreneur or cater as a side hustle?
  • Target audience: Think about the kind of events and potential clients you’d like to target. Are you interested in corporate events, weddings, or intimate dinner parties?
  • Value proposition: What sets your culinary business apart from the competition? Maybe you have a secret sauce, or you use cooking techniques passed down from generation to generation. Whatever it is that sets your business apart, identify it.

Create a comprehensive business plan

Now that you have an idea of what your business will look like, it’s time to move on to your business plan. Think of your business plan as your catering company’s roadmap to success. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or daunting document; instead, consider it a guide to help business owners stay on track as they navigate the world of entrepreneurship. 

Some key components of a successful catering business plan include:

  • Executive summary: Your executive summary should include your business name and mission statement. If you haven’t done so already, define your catering company’s purpose and values in a few sentences to create an impactful mission statement for your new business.
  • Business description: Next, your business description should elaborate on your culinary niche and what makes your catering business unique. It should also identify your ideal clients, what type of catering you provide, and what events you cater to.
  • Market research: After you’ve finished up the basics, you’ll need to perform a market analysis to understand your competition, catering industry trends, and the demand for catering services in your area.
  • Financial projections: To estimate start-up costs for an initial business loan, consider your initial investment, including a commercial kitchen, business license, permits, marketing expenses, and kitchen equipment, such as ovens, fryers, and refrigerators. Your revenue projections are a prediction of your income and profit margins based on factors like pricing, demand, and the number of events you cater.
  • Marketing and sales strategy: As the last step of your business plan, you’ll need to define your sales and marketing strategy. Start by describing your website and social media strategy to build an online presence. From there, explain how you plan to build relationships with event planners, event venues, and potential clients (i.e., word-of-mouth marketing, referrals, digital marketing). In addition, consider online advertising platforms like Google Ads to reach your target audience.

Next, it’s time to tackle the legal side of entrepreneurship. It might not be as exciting as cooking up a storm in the kitchen, but it’s crucial for a successful catering business.

  • Choose your business structure: You’ll need to decide on the right legal structure for your catering business—whether it’s a sole proprietorship, where you’re the sole owner, a limited liability company (LLC), which offers personal liability protection, or a corporation, which offers extensive liability protection. LLCs are a popular business entity for small businesses, while larger catering companies may opt for corporations.
  • Register your catering business: This step varies by location and business structure, so check your local regulations to register your business properly. You’ll need to register your business name and obtain an employer identification number (EIN) for IRS purposes. Make sure your business name is available by checking with your local Secretary of State.
  • Obtain permits and licenses: Catering businesses require a food service license, which may involve local health department inspections. You’ll also need a business license and zoning permit to operate in your area if you don’t have a home kitchen, and a liquor license if you plan on serving alcohol, along with a health permit to ensure you meet food safety standards.
person typing onto laptop

When you’re ready to cater an event, you’ll need legal terms and agreements to protect your interests and outline expectations. The good news? Catering software solutions like Planning Pod can help you seamlessly manage client relationships, with features ranging from intuitive client portals where clients can view, sign, and pay contracts to advanced banquet event ordering tools that enable you to prepare for the event and account for everything you will need. 

Generally, agreements with clients should include:

  • Service agreements: Service agreements specify what catering services you’ll provide, including menu options, staff, and any additional services.
  • Pricing and payment terms: These terms clearly define your pricing, payment schedule, food costs, and any deposit requirements. You should also consider your workers’ compensation, as well as upfront costs and any equipment you’ll likely need, when calculating pricing and payment terms.
  • Cancellation policies: Make sure to outline your policies for cancellations, including refunds and rescheduling.
  • Liability waivers: Depending on your local regulations and the type of catering events you cater, you might need clients to sign liability waivers.

Planning Pod comes with pre-built and customizable proposal and invoice templates to make this process easier. As your business grows and you learn what you like and don’t like, you can easily adjust and update your templates to reflect those changes. 

Step 2: Craft your catering menu

It goes without saying, but one of the most crucial aspects of your catering business is creating a menu that not only showcases your culinary skills but also entices potential customers. Here’s how to impress clients and drive business with a delicious menu.

Consider your target audience

You’ve already defined your target audience, but what types of food do they prefer? Knowing your audience is key to tailoring your menu, so you’ll need to consider multiple factors to create an amazing menu.

  • Client preferences: What do your potential clients typically enjoy eating at events?
  • Event type: The menu for a corporate event will differ from a wedding reception, so make sure to consider different appetizers, main courses, and desserts for different types of catering events.
  • Dietary restrictions: Be prepared to offer options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free attendees, as well as individuals with allergies or dietary preferences.

Create a diverse menu

A well-rounded menu is the best way to appeal to a broader audience. Make sure you have multiple options that cover appetizers, main courses, side dishes, and desserts. Here’s a basic structure to help guide your menu planning process:

  • Appetizers: Include a variety of appetizers, like finger foods, dips, and small bites.
  • Main courses: Offer a range of proteins (e.g., chicken, beef, seafood) and consider dietary restrictions. Offer vegetarian and vegan options as well.
  • Side dishes: Complement your main courses with a selection of sides, such as salads, vegetables, and starches.
  • Desserts: Sweeten the deal with dessert choices like cakes, pastries, and fruit platters.
diverse food and kitchen tools

Provide detailed menu descriptions

Even if you’re serving a well-known dish, each menu item should come with a clear and enticing description. Make sure to highlight the key ingredients, flavors, and any special features of the dish. A well-written menu can make a significant difference in client decision-making.

Conduct menu tasting and sampling

Before finalizing your menu, conduct taste tests and invite potential clients for tasting sessions. Their feedback can be invaluable in refining your dishes and menu offerings—and it can even help you secure the deal and lead to word-of-mouth referrals for your food business. If you’re hosting an open tasting session, be sure to hand out business cards to potential clients.

Step 3: Invest in the right tools

You’re ready to embark on an exciting journey as an entrepreneur—but there’s a secret ingredient that can make all the difference: investing in the right tools. Here’s how banquet and catering management software for events can take your business to the next level.

Streamline day-to-day business operations

Between running your business, handling clients, and spending time in the kitchen, you’re already working overtime to grow your catering company. Fortunately, event planning tools offer a centralized platform where you can manage all aspects of your catering business. Here’s how.

  • Manage event details: Keep track of event dates, deadlines, client preferences, communication, contracts, payments, and more all in one place.
  • Client communication: Maintain clear and organized communication with clients and automatically attach those conversations to their events with an easy-to-use email platform.
  • Handle legal terms and agreements: Easily create and store agreements, proposals, and invoices for each event. Plus, you can create contract templates to streamline new client onboarding. Collecting signatures and payments is also a breeze with easy eSignature options and online or automated payments. 

Keep your business organized

As a catering business owner, your time is valuable. An event planning platform automates repetitive tasks, which can help reduce the need for additional staff. With these tools, you can:

  • Schedule efficiently: Plan food handler schedules, deliveries, and equipment rentals with ease, ensuring everything runs smoothly. With task management functionality, you can easily assign tasks to staff, send reminders, and even build customizable task-list templates.
  • Stay organized: Avoid the chaos of managing multiple spreadsheets, emails, and paper documents. This way, your information is neatly organized and accessible when you need it.
  • Automate reminders: Send automated reminders to clients and staff to reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations.
team high fiving

Build strong client relationships

Just like any hospitality industry, your clients’ satisfaction is the key to your success. With an event planning platform at your side, you can create a professional (and convenient) online portal for your clients. At the same time, you’ll be able to:

  • Approve proposals: Clients can review and approve proposals and contracts online, streamlining the booking process.
  • Share event details: Easily provide clients with access to event details, including schedules, menu choices, and invoices. Either email PDFs of your menus from inside the food and beverage software or have clients use the personal Client Portal to view menus online.
  • Collect eSignatures & online payments: Quickly create event agreements for electronic signature and collect online payments with event management tools.

Practice effective growth strategies

As your catering business grows and you acquire more clients, you’ll need to manage an increasing number of events. When you’re ready to take the next step and grow your business, an all-in-one catering platform can help you focus on what you love.

  • Follow-up with clients: Drive repeat business, request testimonials, and cultivate long-lasting client relationships with streamlined communication tools. Boost your productivity and provide white-glove service to clients without spending hours behind a desk—it’s that simple!
  • Build lead capture forms: Planning Pod provides functionality to build custom lead capture forms and questionnaires, which you can embed into your website to collect lead inquiries. From there, you can send instant automated email responses to potential leads to guide them through the conversion funnel.
  • Efficiently plan tasting events: Looking for ways to expand your client base? Try hosting a tasting or sampling event with event planning software to create a buzz around your business. You can craft a tasting menu, establish a seating layout, and manage venue accommodations with one centralized platform.

Grow your catering business with Planning Pod

Every business has its ups and downs, but your passion for food and dedication to providing excellent service will set you apart from the competition. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to take the first step toward making your dream of owning a catering business a reality!Ready to kickstart your catering company? Get started with Planning Pod’s all-inclusive catering software today to bring your food business to life.