Catering businesses are highly lucrative businesses to get into, as long as you plan for every step along the way. There is plenty of information out there. When you find catering solutions and build your business with them in mind, you’ll set yourself up for success. This catering businesses guide will give you the information you need to get started with your catering business.
A catering business is a great way to enter the food and hospitality industry. Starting a catering business is similar to opening any food and beverage industry business. A catering business can be scaled to fit your needs. This first section walks you through how to start a catering business from home.
How to Start a Catering Business From Home: 8 Steps
You can expand your catering business beyond the home or keep it as a side hustle. In fact, this is one of the best side hustles to explore. These eight steps will help you as you learn how to start a catering business from home. They will give you the foundation to craft a successful business that works for you and allows you to grow at your own pace.
8. Choose Your Catering Type
Choosing your catering type helps you plan for every other part of your business. Some of the main types of catering include catering for weddings, corporate events, and social events, but you aren’t limited to those options.
7. Learn About Permits and Licensing
The permits and licenses you’ll need depend on the type of catering you provide and your location. Dive into your local rules and regulations to make sure you have everything covered. Permits and licenses are something you should plan for from the very beginning.
6. Set Up Your Business
You might choose an LLC, a sole proprietorship, or a partnership for your business. This choice is a foundational part of your catering business plan.
5. Learn About Liability Insurance
For a catering business, liability insurance will help cover you in case of emergencies. Those emergencies could be someone having an allergic reaction, or a kitchen emergency with cooking plans that lead to food spoilage.
4. Write Your Business Plan
A catering business plan should include everything from the executive summary to your market analysis, financial planning, and business marketing campaigns. Your business plan is the place where you thoroughly examine what will help you be successful.
3. Make a Marketing Plan
Your business plan will include your marketing plan. However, the overall marketing plan will be much more comprehensive. Even a small business marketing plan is expansive. It involves figuring out business branding and planning your email marketing strategy. It’s also an ongoing process.
2. Create Your Menu
The menu types you choose will depend on your catering business idea. Once you know the type of catering work you’ll do, you can create menus to suit different occasions.
1. Buy Supplies and Equipment
Invest in quality restaurant equipment for your catering business. An order management system will allow you to easily stock up on supplies. With the best equipment and the right supplies, you’ll be ready for anything.
Catering Business Card Designs
In starting a catering business it’s important to make a lasting impression on potential clients. You can do this with attention-grabbing business cards. The following three card designs are great places to start.
3. Seasonal Business Cards
Seasonal catering business card designs work for a catering business specializing in holiday events. If this is the case with your business, you can make cards for those seasons to emphasize the work you do.
2. Personalized Business Cards
Personal business cards elevate your design to showcase your specific business. If you specialize in dessert menu options, create a dessert-themed card. If you serve the best entrée food, make your card themed around a full-course meal.
1. Classic Business Cards
You can never go wrong with a classic business card. Your business name, contact information, and a quote or distinct image are all you need to make a long-lasting impression.
Starting a Catering Business: Catered To Your Business Needs
Starting a catering business will take concentrated effort, time, and a decent amount of capital. When you put in the work you’ll have a business that suits your needs and can grow with your business plan. Some of that work will come from brainstorming your catering business ideas.
"Key Takeaway: A catering business is one of the best ways to get your foot in the door of the food and hospitality industry."
In this section we’ll walk through innovative ideas for catering business plans. From tips on catering business name ideas to general catering business plans, we’ve got you covered.
Catering Business Ideas: Business Names
There are two common directions you can go with catering business name ideas:
- A straightforward name. This kind of name states who you are and what you do. For example, “Sarah Michaels Catering” or “Emily’s Brunch Catering.” This is a direct approach that will give your business a streamlined brand.
- A playful name. This may make use of puns, wordplay, or something cute and whimsical. For example, “Egg-cellent Omelets” for a breakfast catering company–including corporate breakfast. Another example is “The Lime In the Catering” if you focus on tropical options–like a Hemingway daiquiri.
There’s room for creative freedom in choosing your catering business name. Remember to keep brevity and clarity in mind.
Innovative Ideas for Catering Business
A catering business may be straightforward but don’t let that make you limit your business ideas. There is room for creativity in how you build your business and what you offer to clients. These three ideas will help you keep things fresh–beyond the fresh food you serve.
3. Your Business Blog
A blog, also known as content marketing–which can lead to email marketing–is an excellent way to grow your online presence. These days a robust online presence is the best way to boost your business. Blogging about catering, foods, recipes, and your business industry will help you expand and find success.
2. Offer Cooking Classes
You can teach cooking classes from home or provide on-site services where you go to the client's home to teach. This is an option you can charge a higher price for, as it’s exclusive and unique. You can even increase the level of service by catering your own cooking classes. For example, you can provide beverages and appetizers while you teach the recipe.
1. Shop Local
Shopping at locally-owned small businesses and working with seasonal ingredients helps make your catering business eco-friendly. You’ll be the catering equivalent of eco-friendly restaurants. Seasonality in business also makes your menu types exclusive as a seasonal menu. Explore your local small businesses for fresh produce, proteins, dairy products, and everything else.
Ideas for Catering Businesses: Put Your Catering Cap On
Your creative catering business ideas will help you build brand awareness and find your space in the world of catering. They’ll also help you build your catering business plan.
A catering business plan will take your catering business from a great idea to a profitable business. Writing a catering business plan is similar to writing a restaurant business plan. This section will show you what you need for your catering business plan.
How to Write a Catering Business Plan
Writing a catering business plan includes general business plan needs like the executive summary, market analysis, and financial projections. It also includes catering-specific sections like the equipment list and liability insurance. These 10 facets of the catering business plan will get you started.
10. Executive Summary
Your executive summary is the part of your business plan that grabs your reader and gets them invested. The summary includes a brief overview of your business plan, the problem you're solving, your target audience, and the key financial information.
9. Market Analysis
The market analysis section of your catering business plan is an in-depth analysis of the market of the catering industry. It needs to be thorough for your sake and investors or business advisors. It tells you where your business will fit with other catering businesses, and it includes buying patterns, market dynamics, and your competition.
8. Service Specifics
The service specifics for your business plan are all about the unique structure of your catering business. This is where you dive into the particulars of whether you operate on-site, off-site, or a mix of both. This is also where you define what you can do with your business.
7. Actionable Steps
Actionable steps may include buying the right equipment or starting up your marketing campaign. These are the tangible business plans that get you going.
6. Equipment List
The equipment list on your catering business plan can be as extensive or as minimal as you like. It’s okay if it’s a general list of tools and equipment you should have. It’s also a great spot for specific needs like restaurant equipment, kitchen gadgets, and even things like wait staff uniforms.
5. Management and Investors
You might share your business plan with investors and potential managers. This section may look different depending on who you have already brought on board. Maybe it’s where you outline who will be in management and who has already invested. If, however, you’re currently recruiting and searching, it’s for the financial and business information those people would be interested in.
4. Budget and Finances
The budget and finances section of your business plan are crucial. This is where you lay out your existing finances, what you need, and where your money will be spent. It’s also the place to include what kind of profit you need to make in order to have a successful business.
3. Marketing Plans
The marketing plans in your catering business plan are more fun to write, but equally important. Start with an overview of your chosen marketing tactics. From there define your first few marketing campaigns to show how your marketing initiatives will work.
2. Liability Insurance
Liability insurance is important for any business that is selling food. Problems can arise from allergic reactions to food spoilage in the kitchen. Liability insurance helps you rest assured that you won’t be held solely responsible.
1. Permits and Licensing
Permits and licensing for a catering business are of the utmost importance. As a business owner, you’ll need everything from a food handler’s permit to a liquor license. You also need to keep your documents up to date.
Catering Business Plans: Plan Ahead, Cater Later
Writing your catering business plan will get you started on a solid foundation for your business. When you have a clear plan of what you want, what you need, and what you already have, you’re well set up for success. The next step you should focus on is getting your catering license squared away.
"Key Takeaway: The process of how to write a catering business plan includes general business plan needs like the executive summary, market analysis, and financial projections. It also includes catering-specific sections like the equipment list and liability insurance."
The following three factors of getting a catering license cover your general needs, the specifications of liquor licensing, and requirements by state. Read on to learn what you’ll need to get your business situated.
Catering License: Do Caterers Need a License?
Caterers need several licenses and permits. The general list includes:
- A general business license
- A tax ID number
- A health permit from your local health and safety department
- A Doing Business As (DBA) if you’re operating as a sole proprietorship
- A catering permit
- A liquor license–learn how to get a liquor license
- A home occupation permit if you’re cooking from home
- Catering business insurance–and liability insurance
- A food handler’s permit
- A restaurant food service license
You might want to look into permits for your wait staff. When you’re serving food you can never be too careful.
Liquor License for Catering
There are a few ways to serve liquor at a catered event, but as a caterer, there are some strict rules on liquor licensing. You need a liquor license if you want to offer liquor as part of your catering services.
There is a workaround in some states where a caterer can serve alcohol if the host provides it. However, most states require businesses to have a state liquor license to serve alcohol. You need to research your own location and business to be absolutely sure. BinWise isn’t a legal agency, and we don’t offer legal advice. It’s best to know the specifics of your state.
Food Catering License: By the State
This guide to the state requirements will give you a headstart. These regulations aren’t necessarily everything each state requires, and the requirements may change, so be sure to check your state before getting started.
- Alabama: you’ll need a business license, a DBA, and a seller's permit, as well as a food handler’s permit.
- Alaska: you’ll need a food worker card, a health permit, a temporary food permit, a cottage food license, and an Alaska business license.
- Arizona: you’ll need a county permit and a food handler’s card, beyond those, the state of Arizona has a lot of county-specific requirements.
- Arkansas: you’ll need a food service permit, regular food-service inspections, and a home-based catering and food service permit.
- California: you’ll need a caterer’s permit, an environmental health permit, and a food handler’s certificate.
- Colorado: you’ll need a retail food license, a food handler’s certificate, and a Colorado sales tax license.
- Connecticut: you’ll need to complete a state-approved food safety training and be approved, as well as a catering license and a food handler’s certificate.
- Delaware: you’ll need a food establishment permit and a Delaware general business license.
- Florida: you’ll need a catering license, a licensed DBPR facility, a general business license, and a cottage food license.
- Georgia: you’ll need a catering license, a general business license, and a liquor license.
- Hawaii: you’ll need a food establishment permit, as well as potentially a personal chef license and a cottage food license.
- Idaho: you’ll need to meet Idaho Food Code requirements, and have a general business license, as well as comply with FDA standards.
- Illinois: you’ll need a Type 1 meat processing license, a general business license, and a catering license.
- Indiana: you’ll need to register through the state or county health department, as well as get food safety certification and a liquor license.
- Iowa: you’ll need a catering license and a general food license, as well as a liquor license if you want to offer alcohol.
- Kansas: you’ll need a food establishment safety license and a general business license.
- Kentucky: you’ll need an annual permit to operate a catering business, a certified kitchen, and food safety manager and food handler certification.
- Louisiana: you’ll need a liquor license and food handler certifications, but there isn’t a specific catering license.
- Maine: you’ll need a catering permit and a state food license.
- Maryland: you’ll need a statewide caterer’s license and a food service facility license.
- Massachusetts: you’ll need a caterer license, a general business license, and a liquor license.
- Michigan: you’ll need a catering permit, and a food service establishment license or retail food establishment license.
- Minnesota: you’ll need to be a certified food protection manager, and have a caterer’s permit with alcohol if you intend to serve alcoholic beverages.
- Mississippi: you’ll need a food permit, potentially a cottage food license, and you or a staff member needs a food protection manager certification.
- Missouri: you’ll need a state sales tax number, a health permit, an occupancy permit, a catering permit, and a general business license.
- Montana: you’ll need a catering endorsement, a business license, a catering permit, and a seller’s permit.
- Nebraska: you’ll need a food establishment permit, a catering license, and a food handler certificate.
- Nevada: you’ll need a business license, a food service license, a catering business license, a liquor license, a seller’s permit, and a food facility health permit.
- New Hampshire: you’ll need a local business license depending on your specific location, as well as a food service license.
- New Jersey: you’ll need a catering permit, a food license, a commercial, inspected kitchen, and a liquor license.
- New Mexico: you’ll need a retail food permit, a food handler’s card, and a certified food protection manager.
- New York: you’ll need a health permit, a general business license, a liquor license, and potentially other certifications depending on your specific location.
- North Carolina: you’ll need a food vendor license through a food establishment review, which will also require your complete catering and menu plan.
- North Dakota: you’ll need a state health license, a food service license, and a catering permit.
- Ohio: you’ll need a liquor permit, licensing for your vehicle, a catering food service operation license, and a vendor’s license.
- Oklahoma: you’ll need a catering and storage license and food safety training certification.
- Oregon: you’ll need a domestic kitchen license and a food safety license.
- Pennsylvania: you’ll need a retail food facility license and a general business license.
- Rhode Island: you’ll need a food service license, a food safety manager, and a general business license.
- South Carolina: you’ll need a local business license and a food safety and food service permit.
- South Dakota: you’ll need a food service license, a health permit, and potentially a cottage food license.
- Tennessee: you’ll need a catering license and a food service license.
- Texas: you’ll need catering certification, a health permit, and a food handler’s certification.
- Utah: you’ll need a liquor license, food license, and a general business license, but there isn’t a specific catering license.
- Vermont: you’ll need a food service establishment license, a liquor license, a beer and wine license, a meat products and dairy license, and a general business license.
- Virginia: you’ll need a catering license and a retail food business license through the local health department.
- Washington: you’ll need a spirits, beer, and wine catering license, a food handler’s certification, and a general business license.
- West Virginia: you’ll need a general business license, a seller’s permit, and a food services permit.
- Wisconsin: you’ll need a retail food services license, a state sales tax number, and a general business license.
- Wyoming: you’ll need a food handler’s license, Wyoming has a lot of industry and locality-specific requirements, but you don't need a general business license.
Catering Licenses: Licensed to Cater
Once you’ve got your licensing and permits sorted you’re nearly ready to start catering events. You’ll need to get your catering service staff hired and prepped before you book your first catering job.
From wait staff and servers to kitchen assistance, hiring catering service staff is a big portion of preparing your catering business. Here we’ll cover three key facets of hiring catering staff. The job description, nuances, uniforms, and responsibilities are all things you need to know.
Catering Event Staff Job Description
The catering event staff job description is summed up in three neat roles: serving, clearing, and meeting and exceeding expectations. Meeting these objectives keeps your events running smoothly.
3. Serving Food and Drinks
Serving food and drinks is the primary role within the catering event staff job description. Making sure guests have a drink and food options is the main goal.
2. Clearing Guest-Facing Spaces
Clearing the guest-facing spaces, if done properly, is a seamless part of serving and maintaining the space. When the catering staff has served up everything on their trays, that same tray can be used to clear away used items.
1. Meeting Guest Needs
Meeting guests’ needs goes above and beyond serving and clearing. It can mean relaying information to the kitchen if someone has a specific request or a need for something unique. It could be preparing coffee a certain way, or mixing a specialty mixed drink.
Catering Staff Uniform
From the classic vest to a dressed-up shirt and tie, there are options for a catering staff uniform. The common trait is sophistication and neutrality. The job of the catering staff uniform is to blend into the event.
3. Classic Vest
A classic black or gray vest is always a good option for a catering staff uniform. You can switch it up with navy blue. If you have a color scheme for your business you can match it.
2. Aprons and Button Downs
A tidy apron and button-down shirt is a clean option. It gives your catering staff the ease of an apron pocket. For choosing apron colors you should follow the same idea of choosing a color for the vest.
1. Dress Shirt and Tie
A dress shirt and tie is one of the more dressed-up choices. This is fitting for elegant events. The dress shirt can be the same button-down as the apron uniform choice with a complementary tie. An eye-catching but understated color is best for this option.
Catering Staff Responsibilities
Catering staff responsibilities go beyond the catering staff job description. These three vital responsibilities will keep a catering event running smoothly. If catering staff responsibilities are met, the catering manager has less to worry about.
3. Supporting Kitchen Staff
Supporting the kitchen staff is a continual catering staff job. Anything the catering staff can do to make it easier for the kitchen staff to get food prepared is a huge help. That can include keeping the kitchen clean or preparing simple dishes.
2. Keeping Food and Drinks Moving
Keeping food and drinks moving is part of serving and clearing, but it goes beyond the guest-facing services. It also ties into supporting kitchen staff. The more work the catering staff does to prepare food and drinks, the better it is for everyone.
1. Maintaining Organization
Maintaining organization means keeping the kitchen tidy, cleaning guest-facing areas, and keeping uniforms in order. However, for a catering business, the organization goes beyond this. When it comes to organizing and keeping track of the budget, catering staff can assist by being mindful of what is served and poured.
Hiring Catering Staff: Time To Read Some Resumes
Hiring your catering staff is a big step no matter where you’re at in your catering business plan. It’s an exciting next step. It goes hand in hand with the time when you’re deciding with finality on the types of catering events you’ll work with.
"Key Takeaway: Serving, clearing, and meeting and exceeding expectations are the main objectives of any catering job."
Now it’s time to cover the types of catering events you can work into your catering business plan. Before that, however, we’ll walk through some basic catering decisions you need to make:
- Whether you’ll serve different types of alcohol and mixed drink options. It’s best to learn how to get a liquor license if you want to serve anything stronger than tonic water.
- What menu types you’ll offer. There are all sorts of menu options to choose from including a dessert menu, brunch menu, and a light dinner option. You may also consider having specialty dishes to showcase with your catering business.
- How you’ll set up your catering services at events. Some options include buffet style, tray passing, plated options, and banquet table setup serving.
- Whether you work with themes. If you want to work on specific types of events you have the option to theme your catering around that event. You’ll be able to work with business branding that shows your specialty with those events.
- What your budget is for each event. Catering is a business where you can make a great profit but you’ll also be purchasing supplies and equipment, and paying employees. Organize the budget for your catering events to avoid worrying about finances.
- How your kitchen organization works. When it comes to organizing your kitchen, you need to prepare for dealing with allergies, dietary restrictions, and food storage. It’s also possible to have to deal with the unknown specifics of working at the event if onsite service is requested.
Those basics will help you figure out the structure of your catering business. Beyond them, these 10 types of catering events will give you niche areas you can work in:
- Baby showers
- Retirement parties
- Family dinners
- Bridal showers
- Engagement celebrations
- Corporate events
- Holiday parties
- Birthday parties
Catered Events: It’s Your Birthday, Order Catering If You Want To
The types of catering events in this section are all well-suited for any catering business. You can tailor your business to specific events or be a versatile business with the capability to cater for any event. Your catering menu ideas will help you work with a variety of events.
Catering businesses rely on many plans to make the business run smoothly. Catering menu ideas are high on the list of necessities for the business to be successful. These three unique catering menu plans to try out will help you build a menu that works for any event.
3. Rice-Based Meals
Rice-based meals are always a good idea. Rice can be purchased at a great price in bulk, it lasts, and it works with so many flavors.
Some of the best rice-based meals are:
- Paella verdura
- Mushroom risotto
- Chicken and rice soup
- Crab rolls
- Tofu bowls
- Shrimp and rice
- Chicken and rice casserole
- Fried rice
- Pesto rice and bean soup
- Shrimp risotto
- Curried chicken and yellow rice
- Kimchi fried rice
- Vegetable stir-fry
This list comes with a wide range of flavors and proteins. It also has options for different food needs–from allergies to dietary decisions.
2. Batch Drinks
One of the best things you can do for your catering menu is to make the recipes as simple as possible. That means making batched items, and that applies to your drinks menu.
Some classic and unique options for batch drinks include:
- Margarita recipe options
- Daiquiri recipe options
- Prosecco punch–one of many prosecco cocktails
- Rum punch
- Iced tea
- Iced coffee–or cold brew
1. One-Pot Entrées
The one-pot meal sensation has been sweeping across kitchens for quite some time. Some of the best one-pot catering-friendly meals are:
- Creamy pesto chicken pasta
- Lemon garlic shrimp and rice
- White chicken chili
- Roasted chicken
- Cheesy sausage pasta
- Lemon pepper chicken and orzo
You can invest in several pots to make these recipes easy for catering large events. In some cases, altering the recipes is as simple as multiplying ingredients and cooking times.
Catering Menus: Craft Before You Cater
Crafting your catering menu ideas gives you the level of preparation you need for a successful catering business. Once you find clients and events, your work will be a whirlwind of preparing dishes, working with hosts, and managing your staff. Having your menus ready ahead of time–designs included–will give you one less thing to worry about.
"Key Takeaway: Planning your menu types and options with ingredients and full meals is an integral part of your overall catering business plan."
Your catering menu design goes beyond the items you put on the menu–though those are very important. Designing a catering menu is about finding the right balance between delicious foods and a specific menu type and style. These five types of menus for catering will further serve to help you design your menus.
Food Catering Menu Sample
The general outline of a food catering menu is two-fold. This is the menu you share with clients and health department officials to make sure your ingredients are safe and high quality. The menu has a full breakdown of ingredients, where they are sourced from, and how you will prepare each dish.
Then there is the menu you share with the host and event guests. This menu has less detail and more design qualities. It showcases the dishes you’ll serve and involves a chosen font, aesthetic color themes, and your company logo.
Breakfast Catering Menu
A breakfast catering menu is an opportunity to show off your ability to make breakfast foods irresistible. A good way to format a breakfast catering menu is to organize it by type of food. That typically means sections for:
- Bread products–such as pancakes, toast, or waffles
- Toppings–including butter, fruits, sauces, and whipped cream
- Drinks–with coffee–including white label coffee, tea, juice, and potentially even some morning mocktails
- Quick bites–for anyone looking to eat quickly, this could be something along the lines of muffins or fruit cups
Working within those sections will help you fill out the necessary information. Odds are, you’ll also find additional information to add, such as coffee creamers or cereal options.
Banquet Catering Menu
A banquet catering menu is typically used in the hotel industry, and that’s an industry you can tap into. This menu will include a variety of courses. It should also come with a plan for serving a banquet event.
Brunch Catering Menu
A brunch catering menu is similar to a standard brunch menu. It includes cocktail drinks and non-alcoholic mixed drinks for teetotaler guests, pastries–perhaps prepared by a pastry chef, and common breakfast and lunch foods.
Catering Services Menu
A catering services menu is all about efficiency, clarity, and preparation. Those three factors come together well in any situation. They are especially important for a catering services menu because of how hectic a catering business can be.
Efficiency is important for a catering menu design because catering is a busy business. A menu with a lack of frills and fluff is a must.
For a menu, efficiency is all about having a streamlined process for order management, meal planning, and cooking needs. The menu should make every step easier.
Clarity for a catering menu refers to the need for transparency in ingredients. You’re dealing with a lot of people enjoying your food. You need to be clear about what is used in the dishes in case of allergens or dietary preferences.
Preparation is key for any menu. A catering menu–in its full form–should make it clear what preparation will be needed for each dish. This involves a food safety system and checklist and recipe instructions.
Catering Menus: Map Out Your Menus To Reach Catering Success
Planning your catering menu design is a key component of setting up your catering business for success. Once it’s set up, you’ve hired everyone, and you’ve launched your marketing plan, you’re ready to take on the catering industry.
Guide for Catering Businesses: Set Up Your Catering Business Today
Setting up your catering business plan and following this guide will get you started on the path to success in the catering industry. It’s a robust industry with room for creative business ideas and unique catering solutions. Your passion and creativity, paired with solid catering plans, will help you find your niche within the catering businesses on the market today.