Catering business

Discussion in 'Catering & Large Group Gatherings' started by rgautheir20420, Sep 17, 2014.

  1. Hello SMF,

    I've been considering how and what would be needed to begin a small catering business in my area. I have some questions though that I can't seem to find answers to online...go figure. I've already contacted my local food service department and made sure what licenses and certifications will be needed. I will be working to rent commercial kitchen space to start out, which I'm also in the process of finding. 

    I'm thinking of a menu that would suit a 1 person operation best and I seem to be hitting a wall. I know a number of cajun dishes are better the next day such as gumbo and red beans and rice. I know a number of things can be prepped and frozen also in advance like boudin balls. 

    I currently work full time, so this will be a side job thing to start, but I'd love to make it more than that. I go through my day thinking of what I want to cook that night and I love cooking larger meals for friends usually up to 7 or 8 people. I'm wondering how many menu items should be in each category, apps, sides, entree, and deserts (if any). I'm also trying to figure out how many job a week would be considered small? 1 a weekend? 2 a weekend? 

    Any and all advice is more than welcome. Thanks everyone!
  2. [​IMG]  but I wish you luck [​IMG].

    Happy smoken.

  3. Thanks for the bump mule [​IMG]
  4. Definitely not my area of expertise. I know a couple of people though who statred from scratch and had thought about catering bbq's with a friend.

    The advice they passed on to me is start with what you make best, keep it simple and to be patient as customers can drive you crazy. I was also told invariably there would be a time where we would need someone else to help. Myself after talking to them decided it was not for least for the time being.

    Don't know if that will help at all but good luck in any case.
  5. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    I have been thinking about the same thing myself. I have told myself I'm done working at My current job when I'm 40. I am going to start a catering and roadside stand. Hope you get some good advice.
  6. BBQ, that's indeed helpful. I'm doing a Cajun style theme, and I definitely want to keep the menu simple and manageable for myself at the beginning. There's zero places near here in the food style. Growth would be welcome, but I'd love to get an idea of what a "small" size entails.

    Brooksy, good luck to you. Where are you opening up? Any advice is welcome!
  7. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    When I do it will be in the little town I live near. Melrose, fl
  8. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    20420 , Hello and these are only MHO's .

    A personal kitchen is more Frugal , instead of a (Monthly/yearly) contract and then when it's free . . . I feel it would be to your advantage to (if you have room) build a 'shed of sorts' and include the necessary equip.  You can go to Restaurant

    suppliers and get used equip. cheap .

    Constrain yourself to a 'smallish' menu and according to your days off , cook as much as you can of each (to keep it all fresh) in a day/night and the next day open and sell all until you are out ,put up a sign stating such and close.

    There's a famous BBQ shack ( memory fails me as to the name[​IMG]) in Dallas , Texas , but every day at early morn. 9-10 o'clock , folks start lining up for the Q. His started as a hobby also . . .

    just saying . . .
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2014
  9. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Forgot to say , word of mouth goes a long way . . .
  10. murfsmeat

    murfsmeat Newbie

    Frankin BBQ i believe is the place you were thinking of. He is in Austin Tx. 4 hour wait for his brisket...and all he uses is salt and pepper. My goal is to one day eat there!
  11. oldschool, thanks for the reply. I'm on the works talking to a couple of friends that are in the restaurent business that might be able to provide an "agreement" letter of sorts saying I've got access to use their kitchen. This free option would of course be the best. However, setting up a brand new space in my home solely dedicated to this would not be feasible at the moment. If such a space is created, it would require in floor drainage and additional bathrooms and stuff like that. I'd be looking in the area of 20k+ to get it up and running. However, I 100% agree that if I'm able to grow this business into something sustainable, creating my own space and foregoing renting/leasing a place would be the plan.

    I do plan on keeping fresh what I can. However, making the food and selling to patrons that come to me until I run out isn't really a catering business and atm not the style of business I'm looking at. But I will add, sort in line with that, once food fest and fair season kicks back up here I will be getting a booth at them and selling both portions to eat on the spot and frozen pint size portions to take home. 

    Does anyone have any input on the amount of items that would be on a menu? Most all of the catering places around me are either Italian or just run of the mill food and their menus are ridiculously huge because everyone thing is pretty much frozen or they've got a large team. My thoughts are 4-5 apps, 4-5 entrees (of which I can offer with differing proteins so technically it would be more), maybe 4 sides, and 2-3 deserts. I'm also thinking that I would want to top myself out at 2 booking per weekend day so I'm able to manage the cooking.
  12. sketch

    sketch Newbie

    I think I'd start off just hoping to get 1 booking a weekend, and see how that treats ya. Then if you want more and your able to get the business consider going to 2 events a weekend.
  13. squirrel

    squirrel Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I have a catering business and I don't have a set menu at all. I work with the client and build a menu around their event. If you want to have a set menu put four to six items in each category, but also stress you can do other things. I'll be honest with you, I did the full deal catering for 8 years and it made me hate cooking and food. People will nickel and dime you to death, always wanting something for nothing. The main thing is people don't understand why your price is so much higher than a restaurant. They can't understand there's a lot of time put in to their food, not to mention the actual cost of the food, the time spent setting up, taking down, etc. So, I don't do that very much any more. I prepare the food and let them deal with the rest. It's a win, win. They get great food, I get a decent profit and they also get friends and family to help with the set up and clean up. When I do an full catered event I make darn sure it is worth it. I use a place in town that is only open on Th., Fr. and Sat. I talked them in to charging me by the day, not month. I'm only there about 6 days out of the month so $500 rent didn't cut it. Best of luck to you!!!
  14. Thanks squirrel, that's very helpful. I wasn't planning on offering a set up and break down option at the beginning. I'd be dropping off hot food only. As a 1 person show to start, I don't have the time or the energy to attempt that. Later on down the line, I might offer a set/break option at an additional fee. 

    I'm sure people are always looking for ways to get something for nothing, and as a customer, I can understand. But as a business, that's not a place for negotiation for me. The style of food I'm cooking/catering is so much different than the standard fried and Italian crap that's par around here. I have a number of friends who have their birthday parties catered by such places and the food of always bland and tasteless IMHO. As it stands, I can make my food for prices that would be competitive with those other places, but it would stand out so much in taste they wouldn't care if I up charged a couple extra bucks. But of course, that's all still to come. We shall see.

    I'm still in search of a commercial kitchen to rent to be able to do my cooking in around the SW burbs of Chicago though. I've got a few leads, but I'm not willing to pay the BS $24/hr rates of those incubator kitchens....especially seeing as this will be a part time weekend thing to begin.

    If there's anyone in the SW or W Chicago burbs the owns a restaurant or commercial kitchen willing to talk, PLEASE contact me [​IMG]

    Thanks for the help information and wishes!!!
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2014
  15. reautheir20420

    I carry my license through a winery nearby that has a commercial kitchen license.  The County wanted a "Commissary Letter" that basically states I can use said facility anytime I want for food service purposes and there I am.  Since most of my cooking is done at the client's site or the festival site I'm not at the winery much.  At the same time I provide BBQ for winery events so all is good for everyone.

    I would say do not get your menu too wide to start.  Leftovers will KILL your profit margins if the next event is a week away.  At the same time your freezer is your friend.  PROPERLY handled leftovers can greatly reduce waste and lessen what's in your trash can.

    Best wishes!
  16. Glenn, thank you very much for the post. That information is very helpful. I've definitely given thought to some local VFW type places in regards to using their kitchens, but I hadn't thought of offering to cook them food for events they might have. I'll have to look into that. 

    I'm definitely looking to make my menu as refined as possible to avoid over cooking. But, the reality is that the dishes would be order by the pan or half pan, gallon or half gallon, and by the dozen. Any leftovers would be for the customer and I wouldn't have worries about waste.

    I'm still looking for a commercial kitchen to do my work in in the SW or W Chicago suburbs area, so anyone out there that is willing to have a chat speak up [​IMG]
  17. 3montes

    3montes Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Heres what I have been doing. Private parties only. I don't set up at open to the public events. I avoid all the fees and inspections and licenses etc. I'm not a caterer per say and I point this out to anyone who asks me to cook. I don't charge a fee. All I ask is people pay the food bill. But I do accept tips. People are generous. I bet I make more than if I were to  set a price.

    I have done parties up to 300 people. Grad parties, groomsmen dinners, weddings, bachelor and bachelorette parties, birthday parties and just good ol kick ass parties. It's always someone I know or someone who knows someone I know.

    I'm becoming known for my ribs and pulled pork primarily. But I've done briskets, turkey and chicken at some events. Often times sides are provided by the guests but I have done beans quite often. Thanks Dutch!

    I'm gaining quite a reputation and getting asked to do events more and more. I can pick and choose when and where I will go but I think I've only turned down one offer as I already had something planned.

    It's a great non business. I'm not obligated to do anything as I'm not really in the business. Truthfully I don't want to do an event every weekend as I don't want my love of smoking and cooking to become a job.

    Honestly if someone decided not to pay me and just paid  the food bill I wouldn't mind. I just love doing it, meeting people and just love to see people enjoy the food. I did a wedding two weeks ago and had some older gentlemen come up to me and say it was the best bbq he ever ate and he had a lot of bbq. That's what makes it all worth it to me. However I got "tipped" extremely well for that event.
  18. 3montes, that's awesome that you're enjoying doing the private parties route. It's actually a thought I had also. However, I'm hoping/planning on turning whatever route I go into a full fledged full time job, so working for tips wouldn't get me there. Not to say you don't make more money than if your food was priced, but the uncertainty wouldn't be what I'm looking for. 
  19. blacklab

    blacklab Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member


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