Setting up a hospitality business requires not only sharp skills but also strong business acumen. A good caterer must be well organized and know what they are doing to prepare a large amount of food in a high pressure environment.
They need to be able to send dishes quickly and keep the food flowing without missing a beat. And as with setting up any business, they must have business management skills and be prepared for the unexpected. If you are a chef and are considering opening your own catering business, here are some crucial tips to get you started.
1. Research your market
Opening a new business should always start with market research. You need to have a deep understanding of who your target customers are—your specific market—and their habits. This may sound complicated at first, but it will save you a lot of time and money later on.
When you do your research, try to find a gap in the market that you can fill. Find out if certain catering services are needed in your area but are not currently served. For example, if you live near a sports venue, you will find that they need caterers for their weekend sports events.
Make sure you add value to the catering packages you offer and deliver competitive prices. A clear idea of your pricing determines what ingredients you buy and other overheads. Doing marketing research to the needs in your region can make a major contribution to making your catering business more sustainable.
When researching your market, find out who your competitors are; find out what they offer and what their prices are. This should be simple. Established catering companies have a website or social media page where you can get the information.
If possible, request first-hand information about your competitors from their customers. From pricing to service, to the food provided, explore as much as you can. And don’t just focus on your competitors’ shortcomings, find out what they are valued for and learn from them.
A hospitality business calls for the hiring of competent staff. The size of your company will of course determine how many employees you need, but keep in mind that it may not be necessary to hire full-time staff as catering work usually takes place in the evenings and on weekends.
If you don’t want to depend on recruitment agencies, or if your company needs a large number of employees, consider: hire staff to help you find the right candidates and provide you hospitality staff that can work per job. HR staff can look for people who want to work occasional or part-time and then manage them appropriately. They will prioritize hiring people who have experience working in a food service oriented job, saving you time training and educating them. The HR team maintains a list of people who can work at a specific time, which is especially important when running a catering business as your regular staff may not be available for certain events. All the work the HR team does will take a lot of time and stress away so you can focus on the things you enjoy more.
Of course you can also hire people yourself and you probably already have the contacts for that. The first few months in a new company can be extremely stressful. If you’ve already worked with people you can trust and know will do a great job, hire them. Remember that catering is just as much a food business as a service business, so hiring the right people in front of and behind the scenes is critical to success.
3. Design a tasty practical menu
When setting up a catering business, designing your menu is very important. While it’s very tempting to let your creativity run wild, try to come up with a practical menu.
Remember that you will be providing large quantities of food which must be delicious and appealing to the customers. And, crucially, the timetable is tight. Making your customers wait hungry is one of the biggest catering mistakes that can damage your reputation and ultimately your business.
Organize the dishes on the menu to ask customers to choose certain foods and drinks that can help you increase your profits. Studies show that most diners check the top right corner of the menu first. This is where you place the most expensive dishes. There should not be a big gap between the cheapest and most expensive dish, otherwise the more expensive dishes seem too expensive and are therefore chosen less often.
When designing your menu, choose warm colors such as red and orange. Studies have shown that these colors relax the eyes and increase appetite. Keep your layout simple and try not to go overboard when it comes to text. Most people just want to know what the ingredients are, so keep descriptions of each dish short and simple.
If you already own a restaurant and are considering adding a catering menu to your full-service business, then? it is important for your catering side of the business to reflect your restaurant in terms of pricing and quality.
4. Test and get feedback
Once you’ve come up with a list of dishes for your menu, the next crucial step is to try them out. Try out your catering service with a small group of friends, or offer to cater for a small event. If you opt for the latter, limit your offer to a few dishes and make it clear that it is a test. You don’t want to promise too much at this point in your career.
Then ask for feedback from the guests. Insist on constructive feedback. Your friends or hosts may not want to hurt your feelings, so they may not always be as transparent as you’d like them to be. Remind them that at this point your goal is to learn what isn’t working so you can improve your food and service.
Another thing you can try is: send food samples and then ask for feedback. Written feedback is helpful, but if you can, really try to talk to the people who tasted your food; in conversation, they could reveal more about what they liked and disliked.
In addition to getting feedback on your finished dishes, it is essential to test the quality of your product at every stage of preparation. In the hospitality industry, it is common for food to be prepared, stored and transported to the location at a different location. Each stage will have an effect on how the food turns out in the end. By testing items at every stage, from initial preparation to serving, you can identify where quality has declined and address the issue accordingly.
5. Food Safety Training
As with any business in the food service industry, food safety is extremely important. Providing adequate training in food hygiene protocols to all staff, including serving staff who will handle the food, can minimize the risk of customers developing food poisoning, allergic reactions or other health risks from eating contaminated food.
Training must be at least one level 2 HACCP certificate course, which refers to anyone who works in catering and where food is processed or prepared.
You’ll find online food safety courses covering everything you need to know about food safety and hygiene requirements, from the importance of personal hygiene to cleaning and sanitizing the kitchen. The course can also discuss the risks of Covid-19 and how these risks can be minimized.
As a food company, the health department will keep a close eye on your activities, but remember that this is to your advantage. Inspections ensure that you follow hygiene standards, limiting health risks that could lead to expensive, painful lawsuits if someone falls ill as a result of your service.
Related: 8 Tips for Starting a Canned Food Business