How to start a catering business (with little or no money!) from home or a rented kitchen

I interviewed 3 people who run very profitable catering businesses, and asked them what you need to know about starting a catering business.

Updated September 9, 2021

Written by

Benjamin Davis

Contributor

How-to-start.org

Experts interviewed:

Ellie Zarraga-Mullins - Owner, EZ Events Catering in Covington, LA

Robin Jackson – Owner, Saucy Savories in Plano, TX

Spencer Upchurch, Owner, Fried Chicken Kitchen in St Augustine, FL

NOTICE: This is a long article. You can skip directly to the guide if you prefer.

I spent many hours talking with the founders and owners of three successful catering businesses.

I wanted to understand how they came into the business, what challenges they had experienced, and importantly – what their advice is to anyone who is thinking about starting a catering business.

I first wanted to know what background my three founders came from, so I asked them – how did you get started in the catering business?

How did you get started in the catering business?

Do you have catering industry experience? or did you just get started?

Ellie: I was working for a company – a restaurant that was going out of business. And they catered their thanksgiving for their families and I had been working there for five years. It was a barbecue smoking business – and they closed down. So, I decided to buy a smoker own my own, and I catered 35 families that Thanksgiving. From there, a month later, I decided to go on my own and start catering. So, that's how I started my own catering business from scratch. No help, nothing. I just started.

Robin: I've dabbled in it for years – and you know, I had people call me for anything from small parties to larger parties, to weddings. So, starting a catering business was just sort of a natural transition when I left corporate. A couple of my bigger clients at my job were food industry clients. So, I had learned a lot from that experience. I just knew I did not want to work in the corporate sector any longer. And so, jumped right in. COVID did throw a little bit of a monkey wrench into things. We had been invited to host several events that just ultimately cancelled. So, we pivoted pretty quickly, and we started doing weekly meal delivery. We found that a lot of people were shut in during COVID, and in a lot of people needed – you know – just need good home cooked meals. So, I just jumped from one thing to the other!

Spencer: Actually my background is logistics and operations so I used to work for the railroad and I used to manage their operations in various cities throughout the Eastern United States. The company had gotten taken over by a hedge fund and they were going through – like a lot of companies do – a cleansing, if you wish, and cutting back. It just wasn't the right place for us. So we moved back here, which is where I'm from, Northeast Florida, St. Augustine. Really didn't have a plan. I didn't know what I was going to do. Then I just saw an opportunity.

We were a little skittish getting into the business because I don't have a culinary background and obviously restaurants have the highest failure rate among businesses in the United States.

That was a little intimidating so we started with a food truck idea, and the idea being that we can start a food truck and I don't have as much money on the line out of pocket, so if I fall on my face, which is possible, we're not out $200,000 to 300,000, we’re only out $100,000. It was also an opportunity for us to test the concept and see if there was a need for it.

So we're a few years into it now and it's great — I don't know if you've ever been to Florida or the south, but people love fried chicken!

TipYou don't need a background in the industry if you're willing to spend the time researching and learning everything you need to know. Two of the three experts I spoke with didn't have any experience at all working in the hospitality, restaurant, or catering business – they came from regular jobs, and now they run very profitable catering businesses.

Like so many business owners in various industries that I talk to, my successful trio came from very different backgrounds, and as often happens, two of them didn't even have any experience in the industry. It's not unusual that an idea starts in someones mind, and then they act on it – and each of these three have turned their idea into a successful business.

But the catering business is all about making and serving food, and, people expect good quality.

So do you need to be a chef? Or have some commercial kitchen experience?

I asked the three successful founders the question that was at the top of my mind:

Do you need to be a chef to start a catering business?

Or can you hire a chef as needed? or do you even need a chef at all?

Ellie: Well, you do not need to go to school. You don't need to be a chef. But in my case, I have had experience in the culinary field which helped me – but you definitely do not need to be a chef.

Robin: I think you could hire someone – you don't need to be a chef. I think it would make it easier if you are a fairly decent cook yourself. And one of the main things that I think would be important is just educating yourself on food safety rule, regulations for your city and state.

Spencer: No, you don't need to be a chef. I think we're all different, and I was very fortunate and very lucky to have that instilled in me at an early age – so I have fully believed my entire life – that if I want to be an astronaut I can do that. I don't want to be an astronaut, but I could if I wanted. And if I wanted to be the garbage man, I can be a really good garbage man. I can do anything I want to do. So it's never crossed my mind I can't do this. I just always believed that hard work inevitably pays off.

I think there are obviously a significant amount of positives associated with having a culinary background. You cannot belittle that by any means but that's one thing that we've been blessed with is I just do things the way that I think they should be done and it's a little out of the ordinary sometimes, but I think as long as you have those core beliefs, and that's putting out a good product and offering good customer service. If you can offer those two things and treat your people well, you're going to be successful in any business that you are.

In this case, it’s cooking.

Tip: I wrote the worlds easiest step-by-step guide on How to Start a Catering Business. You can check it out >here<.

So my three experts all agree – you don't need to be a chef or formally trained in culinary skills to start a catering business.

You just need to take the time and effort to learn the job, and make sure you're doing things safely.

Most people starting a catering business don't have a lot of money to spend, and some people want to start a catering business with no money.

I asked my three experts how much you need in order to get started.

How much money do you need to start a catering business? And what equipment do you need to buy?

Can you get started with almost no money? What are the must-have things, and what can wait until later? Can you rent some equipment until you can afford to buy it?

Ellie: Well, from my personal experience, I would estimate about $5,000 to get started. And that would include your licensing, your permits, your certifications, that your state, the parish or your county requires. And the equipment – you're going to need your cooking equipment, your refrigeration storage. At least one hot holding unit to keep your food at food safety temperatures, then you need to get some type of delivery bags. And those things I would not rent – I would buy those.

But there are things that you could rent, like your chafing dishes, because those costs a little more, your tables, you know, just depending on your specific event. You don't need to outlay the money to buy everything – you can rent some things when you need them.

Robin: You could get started for $500 to $1,000. That being said, it would be important to find a good commissary kitchen that has a lot of your larger food prep, utensils, and equipment available, so that you don't have to invest in that upfront. So that's a huge piece of the pie. These are usually rented by the hour. And I've just found that to be a godsend for us.

Spencer: If I said tomorrow I wanted to start a catering business, I don't know – I've never really thought of it that way. Maybe $75,000 to $100,000.

But you don't have to go that way.

I know a lot of young chefs that work with restaurants. Let's just say you have a breakfast restaurant. At night time they don't use the kitchen, so there's a lot of young chefs that are saying, “Hey, let me get in there from 5:00pm to 10:00pm at night. I'll pay you rent,” or whatever, because you have to have a certified kitchen to prepare the food for the general public.

So from that standpoint, you'd be saving yourself a tremendous amount of money.

Tip: In my guide, I show you exactly how you can get up to $20,000 worth of catering equipment for as little as $500. You can check it out >here<.

The two founders who started without much money both said that it's possible to get started in the catering business for a very small amount of money.

The third founder, who runs a successful food truck with a catering business, estimated a higher number based on building out a commercial kitchen – but then also pointed out that you don't need to do that. It seems the three founders were all saying the same thing.

If you're selling catering services, you'll need a menu of options for your clients to choose from.

I wanted to know how to approach designing a menu. How can you avoid things that are difficult to prepare, or things that cause a lot of food wastage.

I asked my three successful founders: 

How do you decide on a menu when you're starting a catering business?

What are the things you should consider? what type of menu items should you include or avoid?

Ellie: So, if you're starting a catering business, the first thing you need to do is you need to figure out what type of event you want to cater. So, like myself, I specialize in smoked meats, so I started a menu based on that.

After that, I wanted to get into wedding events. So, I started opening up the cuisine on my menu. I mean, you have to figure out first what type of cuisine, what type of event that you're going to cater so you can come up with your menu. Approach that question in reverse, figure out who you're catering, and then figure out what you're going to offer to them

Robin: So, I think there are two different ways to approach it. The way we went about it was we sort of started out in a Southern Cooking niche. We're in Texas. We are really proud of our southern heritage. And I know that's funny to a lot of people but it was a good hook for us because people like that. And we also leaned on a lot of family recipes, recipes that had been handed down from my mother, my grandmother, and my husband's family. So, that was kind of a good marketing angle for us. We did that for several months just focusing on that, and keeping our menu very small. Just to get our comfort level up, and get our feet under us. Then we researched what a lot of the other caterers what we were doing, what we were seeing as popular in restaurants at the time, and we created our version of those things.

But I would say, especially if you're going to be doing your own cooking and not hiring a chef, start with what you're good at.

Spencer: I've always looked at it from two different standpoints. One, you can do like a lot of caterers do. You do a lot of things okay. Or you can do like we do – and we just do fried chicken and southern comfort food and we do it really well. That's what we're known for. That's just more my thought process that I'd rather be known for something being really good than just a lot of things okay.

So if you could find a niche, I almost think that would be more profitable – you could demand more because you're the only one that's doing it and you're doing it really well, rather than, hey, I can do baked chicken, green beans and rolls. Well, everyone does that, so you can't charge any more than they do.

Tip: Start collecting menus from caterers serving your area. You'll easily spot what's popular and what sells well, and then you can start to build your own menu around that. Start with the easiest things first, and things that can be prepared in advance.

The three experts all agree that starting with a limited menu – and perhaps even sticking with that well into the future – is the best way to go. It gets you established, and lets you and your team get a good routine going, and helps you produce high quality food for every event that you cater.

But – how do you make sure you're actually making money?

How do you come up with the prices on your menu? It can't just be guess work, right?

I asked the three successful catering business owners how to set prices in a way that guarantees you're making a profit.

How do you set prices on your catering menu?

Is there a set formula? Or is it just based on what others are charging? How can you make sure you're not losing money?

Ellie: Well, first of all, there is a formula, and it just depends on the business. They can do 25%, or they can do 35% of what you buy. So your cost of ingredients should be 25-35% of your menu prices. But the reason why you're marking up, is because you need to add your overhead and you need to make money.

Who's the person who's going to cook? Who's the person going to prep it? You know, things of that nature.

You've got to add that cost factor. So, let's say I buy a rack of ribs for $7.99.

I'm not going to sell it for $7.99. You need to come up with something simple. So for me, if I bought it for $7, I would charge, say, $21. Why? Because you need to add something in there and make a profit too.

Robin: So, we stick to pretty much three times the food cost (ingredient costs) unless it's something that's very tedious or time consuming to prepare, something that has a lot of little details. Then we'll go up to four, sometimes five times ingredient cost. But it makes sense for those items and people understand the higher cost for those things.

Spencer: Typically, catering has a little bit higher margins than regular food service. But you're anywhere from like 25% to 35% net profit depending on what you're doing.

Again, all three founders were saying roughly the same thing – the easiest way to set your prices is to calculate your exact food costs per dish, and then charge around 3x that amount as a menu price.

If there's more time that goes into it, charge more – somewhere around 4x or 5x ingredient costs.

And – on the note of ingredient costs – I wondered if catering business buy food cheaper than everyone else.

Where do catering businesses buy their food and ingredients from?

Are they buying from a regular supermarket, like you and I? Or are they buying from a food service supplier like Sysco or US Foods?

I asked my trio:

Where does a catering company buy their food from?

are you buying from a supermarket? or a food service provider? or somewhere else?

Ellie: Okay. And I'm talking. Yep. I'm going to talk to you just like if I was just starting out. What I did, I went to Sam's, Restaurant Depot. Because Sysco, Reinhardt, US Foods at that point, it wasn't worth at me doing that, because I would have too much waste. I'd have to get a whole case, and wouldn't use it all.

And Amazon Prime for disposables and catering equipment.

But – if you're reading this – I would have loved for somebody to tell me go to Restaurant Depot, use Amazon Prime. That would have saved me tons of time and money.

Robin: I would say, we're pretty much just half and half between grocery stores and food service suppliers. For our larger items, our meat, our breads, things that we know we're going to use a lot of. We go through the food service providers. But then the things that we're going to need smaller portions, we definitely go to the grocery store. Because you have to buy in such large quantities at the other places that it goes to waste.

I have found – and this was something that I just kind of stumbled on after I realized – well, I have all these half-used packages of things – that I should go to a store that has a bulk section where you can weigh what you need. And just buy the amount you need specifically, particularly with spices, and rice, and those kinds of things.

Spencer: You absolutely have to go with like the Sysco, Cheney Brothers, US Foods. That's the only way to do it.

Just because it's just lower cost. I can buy a hundred chicken breasts from Sysco cheaper than you can buy a hundred chicken breasts at the supermarket. But you got to understand that the markets are trying to make money. If it's a high-end market, it's probably the same chicken breast as the cheap market but you're going to pay a little bit more there.

thousands of people

have used the worlds easiest guide on How to Start a Catering Business. It has literally everything you need. You can get it for free, or you can buy it

available for free or to purchase

So you get a good menu together, you buy your ingredients just right so you don't have leftovers or food waste. Then you're winning business and catering events, and suddenly, you're running a profitable business.

The question everyone wants to know the answer to is – how much money should you expect to earn with a catering business?

I asked my three founders to tell me how much a catering business could make.

How much profit does a catering business make?

Is it a super profitable industry? can you start a catering business and replace your current income?

Ellie: I’m gonna tell you after three years, and after five years.

So, after three years, and owner operator can easily make $90,000.

After five years, you're a little bit more established, you could expect to make $135,000. Easy.

Robin: I think that easily, first year could be six figures easily, you know, over $100,000.

I've kept my events per month to just one to two at this point, just as we're only two years in as we're learning, and don't have a lot of staff. And so, I just don't want to overwork everyone.

So that being said, if you were willing to host an event every weekend or multiple events a week, then upwards of $300-400,000, even $500,000. I mean, there's a lot of money to be made.

Spencer: I know established caterers in my city that have been around many years, and they're easily pulling in $100,000 or $150,000 or $200,000 because they've got that fine-tuned machine.

Tip: One badly-catered event could be enough to ruin your reputation, especially when you're new in business. This is why you should keep the workload manageable. Don't take on more events than you can comfortably accommodate. Considering sticking with just one or two events a month for at least the first 6 months, until you and your team have a smooth flow going, and can deliver great food safely and reliably, every time.

The catering business seems to have a huge amount of potential. Most of the experts I interviewed said you could easily make 6-figure incomes relatively soon in the business.

With a big earning potential, and relatively low startup costs, I wondered how a new catering business would attract clients.

I asked my three experts how they got their first few clients and customers, and how they built their business from there.

How can a new catering business get customers?

what methods work well for scoring your first few clients as a new catering business?

Ellie: I started out bringing food and samples to businesses, and I started doing farmers markets every Sunday. And my first organic customer was a phone call from that – from the business because they had samples and they wanted to order. And then my people from the farmers market would call me, and place family orders. That's how it started. It was me going out.

Robin: So, we approached several of the breweries here in the Metroplex, brew pubs, places that served a regular clientele but didn't serve food themselves. And we did pop-ups at those locations. So, people were able to try a small serving of our food. We of course had our collateral – cards and things – that we passed out. So that was a way. And then we also did – and still do – our local farmers markets.

Spencer: So we've been lucky because we have the food truck restaurant associated with the catering business. A lot of our business is, “Hey, I had you for lunch last week. We eat you every week. We love you. We're getting married. We want you to cater.” They know what we're capable of and they've enjoyed the experience and they want that to parlay over to their cater to them.

One of the three founders has a food truck attached to his catering business, which seems to be a great way for people to try and enjoy the food. The other two both said they did farmers markets, and got a stream of customers that way.

I wanted to know if the industry was competitive, and what customers care about when they're choosing a catering business.

I asked my three experts:

How can you make sure customers choose your catering business, instead of someone else?

what do customers care about when they're choosing a catering business?

Ellie: I'm going to tell you this, it's blowing my mind, but it's the truth. It's reviews. The reviews, reviews, and reviews. The customers will Google you. Word of mouth, the internet. And to me, it's crazy. From my perspective, what matters is the menu, the cost of the menu. The options that they can get, and the quality of the service. But customers do not tend to care about that — I offer tastings to 100% of my customers ahead of booking, but only 10% will do a tasting.

Robin: Of course they want good food, but budget is the pretty much the top priority for everyone that we've talked to. And the willingness to be flexible. We may have something that they want, that they can't necessarily afford on their budget. And we work with them to come up with an alternative that would meet their needs and still help them stay within their budget. So keeping prices competitive is key for us.

Spencer: For catering weddings, it's an incredibly intimate, special moment for couples and they want everything to be exactly right. It can be demanding and challenging but, they've got to like the food, the bride and the groom, obviously, because they're the ones picking it, but, more than anything, they want their family to enjoy it, because it's reflective of them. So they want their families to have a good time, to enjoy the food.

But really, to get into the largest segments of catering – corporate and weddings – there's three people that you got to impress: the secretary, the bride and the groom. You do that, you're fine.

Start a Catering Business

in one week

with Little or No Money

available for free or to purchase

Good food and good reviews seems to be the winning formula, as told by the three industry experts.

When you're new in any industry, it can be tempting to think that you need all the fanciest things, and you might end up buying a bunch of things that you'll never actually use.

I asked my three catering business founders – is there something they regretted spending money on, that someone starting a catering business could just avoid?

What is the biggest waste of money for a catering business?

is there a piece of equipment that is just unnecessary? or a service from a service provider that should be avoided?

Ellie: I wasted $4,000, two years, and probably 40 hours (a week!) of wasted time for a service, for a website, and a server domain that they've never ever, explained to me how to use.

And also Yelp was a complete waste. I never got a single return back from Yelp.

Robin: Well, this is not a huge thing. But I invested in a number of portable little toaster oven type things. And they were so clever, they did air frying, and they were warmers – and my vision was that I would be able to transport these to wherever I was serving. And, you know, either crisp food or reheat. And while they worked great for really small, more intimate parties – once we got into volume, they were just an absolute waste because really, we were only able to warm one serving at a time. And when you're serving 200 people, that's just more trouble than it was worth to even take them. So that was one thing that I spent a chunk of change on that I've ended up giving away, because we just don't even use them anymore.

Spencer: Using those wedding websites, the WeddingWire, The Knot. It's a relatively small sum of money. It's 200 bucks a month but it's one of those things where in hindsight I wish I didn't do it.

The catering business seems like the type of business where – if you get the basics right – you can have a successful and profitable operation that just grows and grows each year as you accumulate more and more happy customers.

I wanted to know what a typical work day is like for the three founders now that they're into the established stage of their business. I asked them:

What is a typical work day for the owner of a catering business?

are the hours long? is it relaxed? what about days when you have no events?

Ellie: So, let's say, 8:30 AM – I'm already in my catering cafe. I'm either going to start the day for prepping for an event, or I'm going to start returning calls sending estimates. So, depends what's happening. This is a typical day, right? Either prepping in the morning, or getting everything ready. And I'll work till 5:30 or until the event is scheduled, and we get back from the event maybe 11:30. Now, like I said, if there's no event, I will still be here until 8pm or 8:30. I'm returning calls, sending estimates, I'm going to venues, like – I just don't stop.

Robin: Planning, planning, planning. I cannot stress that enough.

Making lists for all the staff. Lots of emails back and forth with the client, even though you've covered all the bases, and everyone has all the answers, there's still going to be a lot of back and forth communication as you're leading up, that's just something to be expected. And it is often a little bit of a drag because you're in the middle of actually doing work and prep. And you know, they've got a million questions.

And next is lots of shopping. If you can delegate that, that's great. I am at the point that I still do a lot of that myself. I like to pick my own ingredients. And I also know how much I want to spend and that kind of thing. So, shopping is a huge one.

And also working on layout, and making sure that we have the right size serving utensils, dedicated to these certain dishes because when you get to the event, it's a frenzy and people are grabbing everything. I've learned to label every single thing. You know, I might have 15 bowls that are going to be for different little condiments and that type of thing. And we label every single one of them so that anyone, even someone from the venue can grab those and knows exactly where they go. And then the two days before an event, it's all about food prep and just getting everything ready.

Spencer: So we're closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but as a small business owner there's no such thing as closed. Typically those are my days to do payroll and things like that, and then various advertising and marketing and whatever we can do.

Then – I'm still very much an owner and operator, so as we get later into the week, typically Wednesdays we're getting ready for the weekend, which is going to be your busiest time for any sort of food service. People eat out on Friday and Saturday. They don't eat out on Monday. So we typically spend Wednesday prepping, getting ready.

Then that pushes us through to Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, which are our busiest days.

Sometimes, knowing what type of things to avoid as someone entering a new industry can be just as important as knowing what to do.

I asked my three experts what they've seen other catering businesses do that is just madness. Things that shouldn't be happening in the industry, but still happen.

What are some of the craziest things that catering businesses get wrong?

what mistakes can make a catering business look unprofessional, and earn them a bad reputation?

Ellie: Well, the first thing is they run out of food! How do they run out of food? And that is like the number one thing. The other thing that I've noticed that's a very big problem is the way some caterers leave venues. When you go to a venue, so many caterers – and I've seen it – they leave the place, dirty, dirty, disgusting. One, they get to create a bad rep for themselves, and two, their client loses their deposit!

Robin: A lot of chefs have pretty big egos. And not being flexible is just something that I do not understand at all. I mean, we're working for our clients. They're paying us to provide a service – and having such a strong feeling or a strong inflexibility towards exactly what they do – it's hard for me to understand. And I have even seen on some websites, “No we cannot substitute X” So, that's something where I can't imagine us ever behaving that way. But who knows, maybe they've had a bad experience and they had to make that their rule of thumb.

Tip: Avoiding mistakes can be as simple as being fully prepared. I have dedicated an entire section in my guide to the topic of preparation for an event, including checklists – you can check it out >here<.

Some industries are wildly competitive, with vendors and suppliers keen to outbid each other and win the deal. That can lead to shortcuts and bad customer experience in the long term – and I wondered how that sits in the catering industry.

I asked my three founders whether they're actively competing against other businesses, or, they just have their offering and stick with it.

How do catering businesses compete against each other?

is it intensely competitive? or do most caterers just stick with their offering, and let customers choose whoever they like?

Ellie: You know, I gotta be honest. I know there's other catering companies out there. But I really am not saying to myself, “Oh, my God, let me look at what they're charging. What did they–?” I don't.

I do know that I'm competing against some. And when someone calls me, they're like, “Oh, we contacted this company.”

I'm like, great – well, let me just give you an estimate from me. No worries, I'm not wasting my time.

So, I guess I'm kind of confident where I stand in that aspect.

That I'm not like out there going. “Oh, my God. Let me hunt somebody down and see what they got.”

I just don't do that.

Robin: I feel like the people that want to work with us are going to work with us.

So, I don't try to match prices.

I've had some people come back and say, “Well, so-and-so can do this for X number, X percentage less, can you meet that?”

And I know that our pricing is really good, particularly in the Dallas, Fort Worth area, it's a big foodie area. And I know our pricing is good.

So, if they find someone else that's going to provide them what they want at a better price then I suggest that they go ahead and go with them because I'm confident in where our pricing is.

That being said, if they have a specific budget that they're trying to stay within – and this happens a lot with brides – then we look at, “Okay, well, we could, let's tweak the menu here, so that we can stay within your budget.” But the customers who say another caterer can do it for X amount, and asking us "Can you meet that?" – that just is a huge turnoff to me, and it's probably not someone I'm going to want to work with anyway.

I've seen some businesses that make more money from add-on services and selling extras and upgrades than they make from their main business.

I wondered if there's anything like that in the catering industry – are there services or products that can generate additional revenue for a catering business?

What additional services can a catering business offer?

any add-ons, up-sells or cross-sells that can increase the invoice total for an event?

Ellie: One for me – which is big in my whole area – is I have a full liquor, alcohol license. If you're a cater, and you want to be in the wedding business, you can be a wedding coordinator/event coordinator, and do event decor, you can jump into all of that. I rent out the event staff, I rent out my chafing dishes, my tables, and my linens. So yes, I do all of that.

Robin: We are slowly adding in as we're growing – we've added table covers and linens. Along with that comes storage, so you have to weigh the pros/cons, you know, is it worth it to store all of that equipment versus what you could make on it? So, we're still dabbling in that, finding our feet. There are two things that we're doing that are in addition. We offer mobile bar service. So, we have certified there, certified here in Texas with TABC Licensing. So, they're licensed bartenders. And we purchased a vintage camper and converted that into a mobile bar, so, we can either set up as a stationary bar indoors, and offer a bar service, or we can use it outdoors.

Spencer: People don't like to shop around so I always tell them I can do a little or as much as you need. And if you need me to just supply food, I'm going to do that really well. But if you don't want to deal with trash, we can do this too. We don't really offer a lot of rentals. We do like chafing dishes and some tables, but if you need 50 to 60 tables, I don't have those. We're still too small for that.

My three experts have generously shared their wealth of experience. You can take their tips, tools and strategies and implement it in your own catering business startup, and probably save yourself many years of learning things 'the hard way'. I wanted to know their final thoughts, and summarize them in a bullet-point format.

I asked the three successful founders – what final advice would they have for someone starting a catering business?

Advice for starting a new catering business, from industry experts

the three successful founders share their keys to success in this industry, based on their own experiences

Ellie: Well, I would tell you to make sure you know what type of events you want to cater, what you enjoy – and look, I catered funerals, okay, and I will tell you, I didn't really enjoy it, okay… So that's what I came from.

The other thing would be to thoroughly go over the cost of your menu items and the cost of goods. Just so you can, you know, make sure you're doing ok.

And then, always, always, always be involved with the food quality, your staff and your clients. You've got to care about all three. Stay involved 100% and you will be successful.

Robin: take some food safety courses. You can take those courses online, and it's really enlightening around things that you wouldn't think about otherwise. Also, learning about the permitting and licensing, I think that gives you a lot of insight into the expectations. And just gives you an insider view into what's expected.

And then secondly – expect to work seven days a week for the near term. I would say, at least for the first 12 months there's going to be something every single day. So, if you're used to having two days off a week, and you still expect to have that, it's just not gonna happen. Even if it just turns out that you're answering emails and making lists, you're still gonna work every single day.

And thirdly – just be flexible. You may have a business plan that you've set out, and you know this is the way that things are going to work. But without fail, you're gonna have to pivot.

Spencer: I personally believe that people are incredibly important, especially when you're dealing with large catering events where you've got 20 staff running around. They're interacting with the customer. And if you've got a jerky employee that is jerky to any person at that party, it's not perceived as ‘Bill had a bad day’. It's perceived as 'that employee from Fried Chicken Kitchen was a jerk to me so therefore everyone must be'. And it's representative of the company.

So I think hiring is just paramount and that plays into how you pay people and treat people. If you want to pay someone minimum wage, you can do it. You're going to make a little more money. You're going to have higher staff turnover and you're going to get minimum wage work out of them.

Without needing too much money, it seems possible that anyone can start a catering business if they have the time to put into learning and researching and understanding what they need to do. The biggest thing that the three catering industry experts kept repeating to me over and over again was that you need to do your research! I have spent over 100 hours learning everything there is to know about the catering business, by talking to industry experts and caterers. I have compiled it into the worlds most useful guide, How to Start a Catering Business. You can check it out here.

Now Get the Guide

I wrote the worlds easiest-to-follow guide on How to Start a Catering Business, with little or no money. It's available for free or for purchase.

available for free or to purchase

You might also like:

Business Startup Study 2021

We reveal what people REALLY thought about starting businesses during 2021

Sales Letters: do they still work?

A deep-dive into a $10,000 sales letter experiment

Ranked: The Easiest Businesses for Women

We show you the girl-bosses absolutely KILLING it