If you’re interested in cooking and customer service, you would be hard-pressed to find a career better suited to you than catering. And while being your own boss with your own catering business seems like a rewarding endeavour, it can be extremely challenging if you’re not properly prepared.
Preparation is perhaps more crucial than ever before, with the hospitality industry taking a huge hit throughout the pandemic — especially SMEs. But it is still possible to navigate your way to culinary success, as long as you have the determination and the right plan.
Conduct market research
You can’t run a business if there is no demand for your product. Similarly, if no one is going to book you to cater their events, or even just eat your food, your business will fail. It’s crucial to conduct market research to figure out exactly what your target market is looking for, as well as how much they’re willing to pay for it.
Your market research should look at a number of factors that will affect your catering business, including location and audience. It should also be thorough, especially given that the industry as a whole starts recovering from the pandemic. In fact, more than half of hospitality businesses believe there is at least a “slight risk” to their survival. You can meet this challenge by gaining a clear understanding of what your audience wants and expects and using the information to help you carve out a business plan.
Choose your niche
Your business plan should revolve around your niche, which you can identify using your market research. This is essentially the thing you’re offering that competitors are not, and it could be anything. For example, you may want to tap into the growing vegan market, offering either a fully vegan menu or including at least a couple of options. Your niche could be anything that sets you apart, but it should ideally be something that you’re passionate about.
In general, catering businesses are either for private (events like birthdays, weddings, and private parties) or corporate affairs (business events such as office parties, awards ceremonies, and festivals). It’s vital to remember, however, that whichever catering option you’re looking at, you need to remember that you’re also offering a full experience. It’s also important to only take on jobs where you can realistically deliver the service you promise. For example, it may not be feasible to accept a corporate booking to feed hundreds of people if you work alone. Think carefully about what you’re passionate about delivering to clients, and what part of it makes you stand out from the crowd.
Research and organise regulations and insurance
There are a number of regulations that you need to comply with in order to run a successful catering business. After all, you’re in charge of feeding other people, so your kitchen and equipment need to be perfectly clean and sterile, all food must be kept according to legal standards, and appliances like ovens, heaters, and other equipment must be regularly inspected. You’ll first need to register with your local authority and have an inspection of your premises completed by the Environmental Health Department. It’s important to note that authorised officers have the right to make unannounced inspections of your premises at any reasonable time.
And while you’re building your catering empire, you should be thinking about how you’re going to protect it. Having the right insurance in place is crucial to keeping you safe financially, as you won’t have to pay for any costly claims that are made against you. A public liability policy is the bare minimum you need to protect your business, which covers you if a customer or third party falls ill from your food, is injured, or their property is damaged due to your business. The experts at Tradesman Saver also recommend that your catering insurance policy includes other coverage, such as legal expenses, which means you won’t be responsible for paying your legal fees if a claim is made against your business.
Register your company
Before you can start trading and catering events, you need to register your catering business. The government stipulates that you need to hold a licence to carry out any ‘food operations’, which includes selling, storing, preparing, cooking, and distributing food. This needs to be completed at least 28 days before you start your business. As well as this, you have to register the premises you use. So, whether you work from your home kitchen, rent a commercial kitchen, or use a van or stall, you need to register the location. If you have a commercial kitchen as well as a food truck, you must register them both.
As well as this, you’ll need to register with HMRC, like any other business. This ensures you pay the right tax, which depends on the business structure you’ve chosen.
Hire your staff
It’s likely that you’ll need some help running your business yourself, especially once it starts gaining traction. When hiring your first round of employees, look carefully at what you can afford to pay and what part of your company needs the most help. For example, you might need assistance catering from a stall at a food festival. Or you might want someone to handle your social media accounts and post content regularly while you focus on the actual catering side. Once you employ someone, you’ll need to hold employer’s liability insurance, which is a legal requirement for employers.
Don’t rush the hiring process — you want to choose someone who believes in your vision and will help you reach your goals. Ideally, your first hire should have similar values as you, allowing you to start building up your company culture, which can shape the way future employees and clients see your business.
When it comes to launching your own catering business, the most important thing is to have fun with it. While it may be stressful at times, it also offers huge rewards and benefits. Take your time, and enjoy every step.