How to become a professional caterer Part -1

The food business is one of the safest and the easiest business to become a part. Homemakers can turn their cooking skills into a lucrative food service or catering business. If you have the talent, you just need to go out and capture the market. This article helps you understand the nitty-gritty of getting started in the food business.

An ex-student of mine recently left a very well paying corporate job to start a food service aka catering business. She decided to turn her passion into a business. What till recently was getting her appreciation has now started getting her good returns. She started off small, as a food service, supplying lunch for a few managers in her brother-in-law's factory-cum-office. The food was delicious, healthy and home-cooked, word soon spread around – and her clientele grew from five to sixty-three. She's doing really well and is all set to expand her business further.

There are many of us who can take a cue from her. You've probably also been told that you make the most scrumptious biryani or your malai kofta is finger-licking good or your cakes and pastries have everyone drooling. If you can cook for a large gathering, without feeling the heat, you too can think of making catering a career. You can start small, with a food service, take party orders from friends and relatives and gradually build up your business.

The advantage of taking baby steps is that the initial overheads are low because you'll be working alone, in your favourite territory, your kitchen. You can go big, as your business gains more clients. It's all doable - read on to find your niche, launch a successful catering business and become big.

Finding a niche

Don't experiment or try something new, not when you are just setting up your business. Finding a niche is about working with food that you love to cook. Stick to your favourite cuisine or signature dishes. Leave the experimentation for later. Consider the following options to get the bigger picture –

Quick meals

Working professionals, often do not have time to eat elaborate meals, especially during working hours. Convenient food items that can serve as a meal can get you into the business. Think wholesome sandwiches, rolls, pasta and other one-pot meals that can be eaten on the go.

Healthy bites

With people becoming health conscious you could find a market for healthy foods. Salads, whole grain bread sandwiches, smoothies, whole wheat muffins and grilled food. The menu could also include low-fat desserts and snacks or interesting preparations calling for exotic ingredients.

State specific cuisine

The IT industry all over the country is known to import people from different states. Such individuals crave for food they've grown up eating. Take advantage of this to set up your catering business. For instance, a Rajasthani staying in Hyderabad can supply authentic Rajasthani meals to working professionals from that state.

Have a clear plan in mind and stick to it, initially. There'll be ample opportunities, in future, to diversify and spread your business. To begin with, model your catering business around just one niche.

Putting together a menu

  • Don't start off with an extensive menu. Keep it to a manageable size, serving dishes that you are most comfortable cooking
  • A menu makes it easier to source ingredients before hand and helps to manage the pantry
  • This will also help you decide if you need special equipment, and how much you'll need to invest
  • Though I've mentioned sticking to just one niche and a limited menu, ensure there is variety, to keep the palettes satisfied
  • Have vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, so you can serve a bigger clientele, provided you have no qualms cooking meat

Rent a place

It is always better to rent a place where you can operate your kitchen. Working from home is fine if you are supplying food to just a handful of people. But, if the numbers are growing, and if you want to expand, it is best to do it the professional way.

Rent a place with –

  • Adequate running water
  • Enough room to set up a kitchen and work table, with still have room to spare for groceries and seating
  • You should be able to install exhaust fans and chimneys
  • You'll also need to check if any permits are needed to set up a kitchen in the building

Sourcing equipment

Setting up a professional kitchen will require heavy duty equipment. The gadgets have to be of an industrial standard, as they'll really be put to use. These are generally costlier than equipment used in your own kitchen.

Create a list of items that you need -
  • You will need bigger burners on the gas stove to be able to place bigger cooking utensils on them. Maybe have four to six burners installed, with ample space between each, to accommodate bigger cooking vessels
  • A catering business involving a lot of baking, will need at least two ovens
  • If the cooking has a lot of deep frying then a fryer would be a good buy, instead of the staid kadai
  • Apply for an LPG connection for commercial use
  • Power backup is also something that will need to be addressed – install a generator with enough capacity to run all the equipment
  • Kitchen sinks and draining area, plus a table or counter for prep work are essential
  • There'll be need for cupboard space too for storing ingredients
  • Refrigerator or/and freezer are a must too
  • Mixies and blenders and grinders are a must have as well
  • Get heavy bottomed pots and pans instead of modern non-stick/enamel stuff
  • Shop for other kitchen equipment such as graters and knives and sieves etcetera
  • Last, but not the least containers for packaging the food in

Setting up business

  • Get all the licenses and make sure you are registered to pay the various taxes. Get all your paperwork in order. Get the advice of a professional who will also be able to assist you with getting all the permits smoothly
  • Determine profit and set prices. Take into account all the overheads. In the first few months, you should not concentrate on making a profit. This is the period when you are establishing yourself. Profits will increase once you have a foothold in the industry
  • You may want to hire a bookkeeper or account to keep all your accounts. It takes some amount of skill, for tallying invoices, expenses and income. Have someone come in once a week, or once a fortnight
  • Buy or hire a van or tempo to transport food
  • You will require a team to assist you with the various tasks – purchase of ingredients, preparation, cleaning and more

Market you catering business

There are online companies with whom you can set up an account, and they'll help you find customers. All of them have similar working models. These companies allow you to advertise with them and they take the orders for you, pick up packages from you and deliver them to the customer – they allow customers to order food online. If you register with them you'll be able to reach out to a larger clientele. These services offer a lot of conveniences. You can specify your working hours, minimum order requirement, places delivery is covered etcetera. Zomato and Foodpanda are two major online businesses that you can approach.

Another way of targeting customers is through fliers and menus slipped under their door, in the mailbox or in the newspaper. Create a Facebook page to get more publicity. You could also post ads on Facebook and other popular social media.

Irresistible offers

To get a grip in a competitive market you will need to formulate strategies that draw clients. Think of novel ideas to do so. Here are a few examples to work with –

  • Offer a discount on the first order
  • Offer discount on bulk order or orders above a certain amount
  • Make the deal attractive for those who sign-up for a month of food - include a dessert for free or offer to deliver a couple of meals for free

There is no sure shot formula to success in the catering business other than maintaining quality, keeping bellies (clients) satisfied, delivering yummy, healthy and hygienic food, using good quality ingredients and providing quick and reliable service.

This is just one aspect of starting a catering or food service. The other aspect involves getting the license to operate your business and register with tax authorities. Get information about that in How to become a professional caterer Part - 2. Make the best use of the information provided in this article and Part 2, to operate a successful food/catering business.

Article by Juana
Juana is a freelance writer, with years of experience, creating content for varied online portals. She holds a degree in English Literature and has worked as a teacher and as a soft skill trainer. An avid reader, she writes on a variety of topics ranging from health, travel, education and personality development.

Follow Juana or read 551 articles authored by Juana

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