5 steps to start a catering business

Want to crack the catering industry? U-Select's Phil Scoble outlines the route you need to take to reap the culinary rewards of a catering business...

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So you’ve finally done it: you’ve decided to set up as your own boss. Your dream of having your own catering business is within reach.

If you do it right, you will soon be the proud owner of a catering business that reflects your values and tastes and, most importantly, makes your customers happy.

Here at U-Select we have a simple philosophy: we want to help catering businesses get started and expand with our flexible plans for equipment.

We’ve created a simple five step process that anyone can follow to get started. It’s designed to help you decide what kind of business you want to run, plan where it’s going to be sited, equip a kitchen and be ready to market your business to attract customers…

1. Know what kind of food you want to serve

Spend a long time thinking about what food you are going to serve, how customers are going to order, and how long they are going to sit eating the food that you give them.

Think about the specifics of the menu: list the individual ingredients needed for each dish. Look at food suppliers and find out how much they charge for the food you want and when they deliver.

Then answer these questions:

  • What do you need to store your ingredients in?
  • What equipment do you need to prepare it?
  • What dishes will need storing between prepping and cooking?
  • What production equipment will you use to cook it?
  • How will it be presented?
  • Do you need to wash up the serving dishes afterwards?
  • How many people can you serve in an hour? A day? A week?

Once you’re able to answer these questions, you should know how much storage space you’ll need, what refrigeration you will have to buy, what prep space you need, what prep and production equipment you need, what crockery you want and what dish-washing facilities you need.

You’re now ready to start planning where your catering business will be…

2. Find your location

Location will be vital to the future success of your company. Even if you are setting up a mobile catering business it’s still important to know where you will pitch up.

It’s vital you get your positioning right for viability, visibility, footfall and finding the right customers.

Research the area, find commercial agents and chat to them about footfall patterns and rents.

Visit existing businesses in your sector and find out what their experience has been with passing trade and competition, before deciding where to base your business.

3. Design your kitchen

If you know what food you want to serve and where you are going to be serving it, you can plan your kitchen.

Think long and hard about this – it’s incredibly difficult to change your kitchen around once you’ve set it up. In the years we’ve spet supplying catering equipment we’ve seen caterers stuck with the wrong kit for years. It ends up gathering dust rather than making money.

The best way to design a kitchen is to create a ‘flow’: have each part of the food creation process flow naturally into the next.

So start with where you’re going to receive deliveries, have a place to hold and check deliveries, then add storage (both dry and refrigerated), move onto the prep area, then onto preparation, production and serving, before pot wash and waste.

4. Finance your equipment

A lot of new caterers have to make a choice between three buying options: buying outright, hire purchase, or second hand.

However you purchase, it’s difficult to get your hands on the catering equipment you need without either facing a high outlay right at the start of your business’ life or tying yourself into a long-term contract.

It can seem a little scary when you are first starting out, when cash flow is most pressured.

This is why we think it’s important to put time into planning your menu before anything else. It allows you to know exactly what equipment you will need. It also gives you the time to research what models are best suited to your needs and give the best value for money.

Because of this, it’s important to be flexible about how you procure catering equipment. Renting can sometimes leave you with free capital. Buying second-hand – as long as it is from a reputable dealer and comes with a good warranty – can be a good option to reduce your outlay.

There is also a new option which leaves you with brand new equipment, no large initial outlay and doesn’t tie you into a new contract: Try It Buy It from U-Select. This is a 12 month contract to hire your equipment with no need to buy when you reach the end of your contract. If your catering business is a success you can either carry on renting or buy at a reduced price.

5. Market like a master

If no one knows about your catering business, you are going to find success hard going. You have to become a champion for your brand to drive your business forward.

Leaflet your local area with a simple offer that you can use to attract people in. Make it worth their while: a free starter or bottle of wine with every three-course meal perhaps? There’s no substitute for getting customers in the door and showing them a good time. They WILL tell their friends and that word-of-mouth is better thn any advertising campaign.

Begin finding ways to collect customer email addresses. Write emails introducing your menu and staff that also include offers to reward customers for coming back time and again.

Services like Mailchimp allow you to contact up to 2,000 customers for free, and this can be more than enough to build a loyal and profitable fan base.

I hope this five point plan gives you the tools you need to work towards your dream. Good luck!

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