Are you passionate about the culinary arts, hosting events, or party planning? If you’re a foodie who loves to provide for guests, you’ve probably wondered about how to start your own catering business. If you’re looking to launch a new venture, a catering business is an excellent choice! 

If it seems overwhelming to open your own storefront or home-based catering business, don’t worry! This article will cover the basics in the following steps:

  • Imagine your business
  • Create a business plan
  • Register your business
  • Launch your business
  • Market your business

Get the tools and guidance you need to find new customers and keep your regulars coming back for more.

Imagine your business

First, you’ll need to decide what kind of catering business you want to start. For example, you may choose to:

  • Host cocktail receptions
  • Provide buffet-style catering
  • Offer full-service catering for major events

Once you’ve narrowed down the catering style you’re dreaming of, the next step is to choose a business name. Your catering service name should be creative, descriptive, and unique. Once you’ve landed on a name you love, check your secretary of state’s website to make sure it’s available. At this point, you will also want to choose which type of legal structure is right for your business — most likely a sole proprietorship or LLC. 

Create a business plan

When it comes to learning how to start a catering business, creating your business plan is a crucial step. Writing a business plan requires research and effort, but the results are worth it! A great business plan will act as the foundation of a successful brand. An effective business plan will be about 15 to 29 pages long and include:

  • Your executive summary
  • A company overview
  • Comprehensive market analysis
  • A clear outline of your service
  • Your marketing plan
  • A vendor list or plan
  • A realistic financial plan  

What niche do you hope to fill in your industry? As you craft your business plan, keep your target market and goals in mind. This plan will serve as a roadmap during the launch of your catering business. Consider doing additional research by observing your competition and noticing their strengths and weaknesses. 

Register your business

Whether you’re opening a storefront or a home-based catering business, you will need to register your business and procure the appropriate licenses in the state where you plan on conducting business. Possible requirements you’ll need to fulfill include:

Meet state health department regulations

Before opening, your state health department will likely need to check your kitchen and food prep area to make sure it meets state health department regulations

Apply for an employer identification number from the IRS

All businesses must apply for an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS. Your EIN will serve as your business tax ID — which you will need for taxes, applying for credit, and paying your staff.

Procure food safety and handling licenses

To prepare and serve food to other people, it is required that you obtain a food handling license and food safety certificate. These vary from state to state, so start by researching what the requirements are in your area.

If you’re planning on serving alcohol, you’ll need to follow the same process for obtaining a liquor license per your state’s requirements. Resources for researching licensure guidelines include:

Launch your business

Before you open the doors to your catering business, there are several details to finalize:

Determine your price point

Your price point will depend on multiple factors, such as where you are located, what kind of service you provide, and what amenities are included. As a business owner, you have the freedom to establish pricing in tiers, packaging, per-plate, or custom services.

Hire your staff

Staffing is a key element of your catering business. As the owner of a catering business, it’s your job to establish a work culture by hiring the right management, developing effective training, and choosing the best team of support staff to represent your business.

Create a uniform

Plan on setting aside some money to create a cohesive uniform for your staff. Details such as incorporating a company logo you’ve designed can elevate your business’s professional credibility when it comes time to cater to your first event. 

Market your business

Marketing your foodservice business is your best opportunity to connect with the prospective clients you hope to serve. To effectively use restaurant and catering marketing to attract customers: 

Launch your website

Your website is where most leads will go to learn more about your catering business. Take the time to build your website in a way that is visually appealing, easy-to-navigate, informative, and mobile-responsive.

A great company website makes it easy for prospective customers to connect with you, request more information, and book their event.   

24 Carrots Catering and Events makes it easy for leads to learn more about the kind of catering it provides and connect with the business.

Show off your work on social media

When it comes to marketing your catering business, social media is a powerful tool for showing off your service to your followers. Popular platforms include:

  • Instagram. Instagram is the perfect place to show off beautiful photos of the events you’ve catered. This helps prospective customers imagine you as a part of their big day!
  • LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great platform for connecting with businesses in need of your service if you specialize in corporate events. 
  • Facebook. Facebook is a spectacular resource for engaging with followers via direct message and in the comments of your page. Many clients use Facebook to check out reviews and comments about people’s experience with your business.

Your social media platforms allow you to connect with prospective, new, and loyal customers in a personal way. To gain additional insights about your clients and their online behavior, use social posting and monitoring tools

You can also purchase Facebook and Instagram ads to gain more online visibility.

Connect with your industry

Networking is essential for building your catering business. Events are often the combined efforts of companies such as florists, event planners, decorators, DJs, venue management, and catering! Depending on the catering you do, it pays to connect with other businesses in your industry.

For example, if you primarily cater for weddings, be sure to build relationships with the other vendors you encounter. Other vendors often provide glowing word-of-mouth referrals to their clients who are seeking to round out their events. When you are easy to work with, other vendors will want to continue making magic alongside you at future events. 

24 Carrots uses Instagram to show off its catering at an event, as well as promote photographers, wedding planners, venues, and other vendors that 24 Carrots loves to work with!

Optimize your profiles 

Optimizing your Google My Business account and purchasing Google ads are imperative if you want to appear in local near-me searches. Visibility is especially important when prospective clients are planning an event away from home. To take your optimization one step further, take time to claim and moderate your reviews on primary platforms like Google and Yelp. The goal is to make it easy for prospective clients to find positive feedback about your business.

Provide updates

Marketing your business during the pandemic is a unique challenge. Your online presence is your first line of connection. Be sure to include regular updates about your business operations and highlight how you are prioritizing client health and safety. 

Beyond social media, use email marketing to stay connected with past customers, current clients, and potential leads. Along with updates, email campaigns give you a great platform for sharing your upcoming foodservice promotions

24 Carrots shows some love to its staff while updating clients about health protocols and efforts.

Final tips for how to start a catering business

Starting a catering business isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the reward when you cater a successful event. Now that you have learned more about how to start a catering business and market it to attract great clients, how do you feel about launching your business?  If you want access to more restaurant and catering advice, check out The Download, a free marketing guide for foodservice professionals.