Starting a Catering Business

Written by Dave Lavinsky

how to start a catering business


How to Start a Catering Business

If you’re looking to start a catering business, you’ve come to the right place since we’re going to show you exactly how to do it.

We’ll start with key catering industry fundamentals like how big the market is, what the key segments are, and how revenues and profits are generated.

Then we’ll discuss keys to not only starting a catering business but succeeding in it!

And don’t forget to look at our catering business plan template if you need a plan to start or grow your catering company.

How Big is the Catering Industry?

There are 111,909 catering businesses in the U.S. that generated $11.6 billion in revenue last year. This represents an annual growth rate of 1.8% over the past five years.

What are the Key Segments of the Catering Industry?

The main segments of the catering industry are off-premise events and on-premise events, both of which, account for equal parts of the industry’s total revenue.

What are the Keys to Launching a New Catering Business?

1. Create a Catering Business Plan

Create a comprehensive business plan that outlines your vision, mission, goals, and strategies. Include details about your target market, pricing structure, marketing plan, and financial projections. You can download our catering business plan PDF template here. This is a business plan template you can use in PDF format.

2. Create a menu

Determine what type of food you want to serve. This will help you identify the equipment and space you need for the business. Make sure that you have variety in your menu so that you will be able to provide for a range of clientele. You should also consider the ingredients that you will need for the food that you will be serving, make sure that it is easy to source and preserve.

3. Test your Recipes

Prepare sample meals for your family and friends to taste and ask for their honest reviews. You can also test your target market and remake your recipe based on their feedback to make sure that you get the taste that your prospective customers are looking for.

4. Find your own kitchen space

If you do not have enough space in your home, you must invest in a place where you can prepare your dishes. Your kitchen space should be spacious enough to house all your equipment, machines, utensils, and cookware. It must be clean, well ventilated, and located away from polluted and hazardous areas.

5. Purchase equipment

Make sure that you have both kitchen and on-site equipment before you accept orders. Kitchen equipment is what you need to cook your dishes and store your supplies. On-site equipment, on the other hand, refers to the things you need to serve your dishes to your customers. This includes plates, silverware, glassware, platters, utensils, napkins, linens, and centerpieces. Invest in equipment that looks good and will last.

6. Invest in your own catering vehicle

Have a vehicle that you can use to transport your food to your client’s premises or event locations. Make sure that this vehicle is spacious enough to store your food and on-site equipment and supplies.

7. Hire reliable employees

Look for people that have previous experience in the food or catering industry. This will save you more time in training them the basics in food service. You can either use an agency or hire employees individually, whichever is more convenient for you.

8. Secure necessary licenses and permits

Know the regulations in your area for catering businesses and comply with their requirements to avoid hassle and conflicts in your operation. It would be better if you work on these requirements on your own to save money.

Finish Your Business Plan Today!

If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template and complete your plan and financial model in hours.

What External Factors Affect the Catering Industry?

A number of factors affect the performance of the catering industry. These drivers include:

  • Consumer spending: As consumer spending increase, they also tend to spend more money in catering services.
  • Corporate profit: Companies are the top customers of catering businesses. When company’s income increases, their budget for corporate events which includes catering costs also increases. Last year, corporate profit increased.
  • External competition for the Catering industry: This comprises of restaurants and hotels that offer function rooms for corporate events, and packed meals available in the market. The increase of external competition threatens the catering industry because they are more time and cost-efficient.
  • Demand from trade show and conference planning: Trade shows and conferences highly need catering services. Therefore an increase in events positively affects the catering industry.
  • Households earning more than $100,000: A huge percentage of revenue that catering businesses generate come from household incomes, so when households earn more than $100,000, they tend to spend more on food and catering services.

What are the Key Customer Segments in the Catering Industry?

At almost 58%, households are the largest customer segment for the catering industry. Businesses and the government then account for the remaining key consumer segments.

What are the Key Costs in the Catering Industry?

Purchases – Last year, more than 1/3 of the catering business revenue is allocated to purchases.

Wages – Due to the labor intensive nature of the industry, wages account for almost a quarter of costs.

Other – Other costs include rent, utilities, marketing and other misc. costs.

What are the typical startup costs for a new catering business?

The typical start-up costs for a catering business include:

cost breakdown for start-up catering business

How much do catering operators make?

The annual salary of catering managers ranges between $37,976-$53,111.

Finish Your Business Plan Today!

If you’d like to quickly and easily complete your business plan, download Growthink’s Ultimate Business Plan Template and complete your plan and financial model in hours.

Sustainable Catering for a Better Tomorrow

Sustainable Catering infographic

Sample desserts prepared by caterers

strawberries and desserts table

pie slices dessert

Catering table arrangements

simple table arrangement in a white room

purple and orange halloween themed table arrangement

Helpful Videos

Insider Secrets to Grow Your Catering Business

5 Tips for Hosting and Catering a Successful Event

Pricing Your Catering Menu

Additional resources in the catering industry


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