Thinking About Becoming a Caterer?
Your friends say you put on the best parties, you love experimenting with different cuisine, and you have a razor-sharp business sense. With that kind of skill set, you might want to become a caterer.
Catering is a $7.1 billion a year industry, according to the National Association of Catering Executives. Here are five key areas to consider:
1. Culinary School
Many people in the catering business have a Certified Professional Catering Executive certificate from the National Association of Catering Executives. Others earn an Associate of Science in Culinary Management certificate from a two-year program that focuses on food preparation, food service and business principles. Workshops and seminars on catering, menu planning and food service also are available.
All Culinary Schools has a list of institutions that offer culinary degrees, such as Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, California Culinary Academy and International Culinary School at The Art Institutes. Check the site for schools in your area.
"The smaller the program, the more hands-on experience you get with the instructor, and this is really important, says chef Candice Deis, professor at Quality College of Culinary Careers in Fresno, Calif., in an interview with All Culinary Schools. "I suggest picking the instructor's brain when you're working with them."
Remember, catering isn't just for fancy weddings. You can offer your services to corporate events, sporting events, retirement parties, church functions, health-care facilities and schools. The list is endless.
2. Legal Requirements for Caterers
Consult your local and state public health departments to determine what food-service permits and business licenses are required, what forms need to be submitted and what legal requirements must be met. All food businesses must comply with food hygiene legislation. The Food Standards Agency offers advice for caterers getting started, such as registering your food business, tips for caterers and guidance for dealing with allergies.
Other legal and financial considerations include:
- Taking classes on health laws for certification
- Obtaining a tax identification number and registering to accept sales tax (if your state requires it)
- Securing liability insurance coverage
- Consulting an attorney
- Getting a small-business loan
3. Finding a Kitchen.
In most jurisdictions, it is illegal to cook or sell food from home and you'll need to rent a commercial kitchen. Here's a website where you can research commercial kitchens in your area.
In some places, however, food service can be approved in a home kitchen, but only if there are two separate kitchens, according to the Public Health Department of Seattle, Washington. Check your state's requirements, but generally, if you plan to run a catering business from your home, you will need a separate kitchen that is inspected and approved as a commissary kitchen. You will need large enough appliances (stove, refrigerator, sink) and ample counter space for food preparation and decoration.
Don't let that ominous-sounding financial investment scare you. Your community likely has many legal kitchens that are not being used to their fullest and also might be available on a rental basis. Ask around. Start with churches and social service organizations such as the Masons or the Lions Club.
4. Tools of the Trade
For your catering business, you also will need:
- A supply of durable pots, pans, mixing bowls, and other cooking and baking implements
- High-quality and decorative serving ware (matching table settings, silverware, wine glasses)
- A delivery van
One option when you're just starting out is to rent the higher-cost equipment.
5. Promoting Your New Business
You will need to develop a marketing and advertising plan for your new business. Start a Catering Company advises placing ads in newspapers, using direct mail and posting community notices. Don't forget your own friends who encouraged you to get into the business. You can also use free social networking websites and host in-kitchen tasting parties.
For more information, visit the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation and ChefTalk, which offers advice and a chat room forum for chefs.
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