For entrepreneurs with a penchant for cooking and customer service, the restaurant business has always been a logical choice. It gives them the chance to flex their creative muscles while simultaneously managing a very lucrative financial opportunity.
Of course, the overhead associated with restaurants, along with the ever-greater competition, can make it tempting to find another way to channel that energy and creativity. For many, that channel turns out to be catering.
Food on the go has gained a lot of popularity in general, and people are breaking free of the notion that a business meeting or training session should include a lunch break. This trend is also driven by the reluctance to waste a lot of time while people get stuck in traffic, held up by slow service, or distracted by conversation, turning a 90-minute lunch break into a two-hour fiasco. Instead of sapping the day’s momentum, organizers are looking to caterers for an on-site meal that can be ready at a specified time and require minimal disruption to the day.
The combination of growth in areas like that as well as the traditional role of caterers at weddings and other social events has made it a true growth field. If this option is now calling your name, start on your homework today and look at what will be required.
Special Considerations For Going Mobile
The big difference between a caterer and a restaurant is the ability to transport and prepare perishable foods. While both will have a commercial refrigerator for storage, the caterer must also be able to transport those cold items to the preparation site.
A catering firm that cooks on site will have to have portable cooking equipment, which must have a fuel or electrical source that’s infallible. For those who cook back at their base of operations, they’ll need a method to transport the food in a spill-proof, properly heated device that will ensure quality food is delivered to the event.
As a place of business, a restaurant is required to have many different permits. Their workers must be trained on topics like HACCP and food preparation, and the business itself must have municipal licenses, health department permits, and OSHA signage.
All of this is true with catering, with the added complexities of mobile preparation. If you locate your catering business in one city or county and work events in other areas, you may need to have licenses in the other locations as well. Crossing state lines or working with units of government could bring further requirements. Talk with local business licensure officials and get these things taken care of before a spot-check costs you a fine.
Restaurants may have surges through the day, but for the most part it’s a table-by-table, party-by-party preparation process. Four appetizers here, five entrees there. When you cater, you may be preparing food for dozens or even hundreds of people–simultaneously. Everyone wants to eat at the same time, so you need the ability to have it ready and properly preserve with temperature and moisture management.
As a caterer, then, you’ll need the ability to cook larger quantities at a single time, meaning bigger appliances and more personnel. You’ll need more preparation space and equipment in order to have all the food ready to cook at once. You’ll need to plan your pricing very carefully to make that work.
A Different Marketing Approach
How did you choose the last restaurant you visited? You either got a recommendation from a friend or you saw advertising that caught your eye. You took a chance and tried it, and if you didn’t like it, you won’t go back.
Catering is different. People don’t eat all that many catered meals, so they’ll need to sample your menu options before hiring you. They’ll also be more risk-averse because they are shelling out a lot of money and feeding a diverse group of people. They want to know that you can produce a great meal before they commit.
Be prepared for point-of-service advertising. Restaurants are already well-marked and recognizable, but if all they see is chafing pans and a grill, they won’t know who you are. Mark your vehicles, your apparel, and your equipment. Place business cards along the serving areas. Get your name out there.
Catering can be a great business opportunity, but you need to understand that it’s not just a mobile restaurant. It’s a very different undertaking, and you’ll need to understand those differences before you invest.