Starting a Catering Business on the Side

One of the most appealing profit opportunities for entrepreneurs without deep pockets is a side catering business. For as little as a few thousand dollars, anyone can start a successful catering concern from their home given the right plan and a little careful execution. Better still, such a business allows entrepreneurs to make decent money without throwing all of their metaphorical eggs in one basket. If things really take off, you can parlay it into a full-time enterprise. Do the following if a catering side business sounds good to you.

Settle on a Market Niche

The first big decision to make is what kind of food you’ll be serving. While it might make sense to go with a generic American buffet food approach, there’s bound to be more competition if you take that route. You could easily make yourself stand out by specializing in Mexican, Thai or traditional British fare instead. Do a little research in your local area to determine the feasibility of a given niche and assemble a sample menu of popular appetizers, entrees and desserts.

Choose a Business Model

Next up, you’ll need to figure out how exactly you’ll go about executing your catering vision. Depending on your business model, it might make sense to team up with professional freelance waitstaff and focus solely on the cooking end of the equation. If your catering operation will be less formal at the outset, it’s probably wise to do everything yourself using the steamer tray tack. If you want to expand to waiters in formal wear later, you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

Round Up the Supplies

Naturally, the next step is to put together a toolkit for your business and lock down bulk suppliers of foodstuffs. You’ll need at least one industrial-sized refrigerator, prep tables, chaffing dishes, crock pots and utensils at a minimum. If you need used equipment for pennies on the dollar, there’s always a restaurant going out of business nearby that’ll be selling its inventory at fire sale prices. Alternatively, you can acquire everything you need on eBay or through a specialty vendor like Food Service Warehouse.

Get Your House in Order

Before you can cater any gigs, there’s a bunch of paperwork to be completed. Start by incorporating your business as an LLC or other corporate entity to reduce tax liabilities. You’ll need a food handler’s license from the local authorities as well as a business license in many cases. If you live in an HOA, there may be rules against operating a business from home that will necessitate renting out commercial space. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce for the catering business requirements in your area.

Launch with a Vengeance

As you probably know, the food service industry is a cutthroat place where only the smart survive. You need to hit the ground running and quickly establish yourself as the go-to caterer in your area for your particular niche. Probably the best way to get your name out there in a flash is to cater a community event at cost or even for free. Do the same thing for a few friends’ parties or weddings and pass out your business card to anyone that’ll take it.

Make Nice with Your Peers

Much of your success will hinge on forming strong connections with other operators in the food service industry. Competitive though it may be, catering isn’t a zero-sum game. Getting cozy with local party and wedding planners is a great way to bump up your business. You may even want to team up with another caterer whose food compliments your own and offer your services as a package deal. There are a million ways to leverage synergy to ensure that your catering outfit thrives.

Market the Outfit Creatively

The final piece of the puzzle is a hardcore marketing campaign that clearly differentiates your business from the competition. As you may have suspected, digital marketing is the best way to become a household name. The usual social media suspects like Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp are always a decent start. Viral videos published on YouTube are another great way to fine-tune your approach and zero in on customers in your immediate area. Ultimately, new media is the best way to reach a wide audience while spending practically nothing.

Diversify for Long-Term Profits

According to the National Association of Catering Executives, catering is a $7.1 billion per year business in the United States. A tiny slice of that pie can mean a big payday for smart caterers. For starters, getting a liquor license and serving cocktails is a sound move. There are many other, more unconventional ways to profit from catering. For instance, you could publish recipe e-books on Amazon or teach cooking classes. However you choose to expand, there’s plenty of room for your business to grow.

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