6 Tips to Get your Catering Business off to a Successful Start

October 8, 2019


Restaurants already have catering customers integrated into their customer base, and they have all the required resources – food, equipment, and staff – to cater to potential large and small events. Catering at restaurants provides you with an opportunity to increase your sales and customer base. You already have customers who like your food, so why not take advantage of that and offer catering services?

To get started, follow these tips to get your catering business off to a successful start.


1. Gain as much experience as you could:

Never start a catering business unless you have enough experience. The catering business, like any business venture, requires a certain level of experience to succeed. Consider learning from other restaurants’ experiences before starting your business. You may also start by volunteering to cater small events for people you know. Host a birthday party for a few friends or plan for a small charity event. Starting by catering small events enables you to identify and fix potential issues and gain honest feedback from a crowd who would not judge you.


2. Create a Catering Menu:

Before thinking of workspace and equipment, it is important to create your catering menu. By choosing what type of food you will serve, you can choose the suitable type of equipment, appliances, and space you will need to start a proper catering business.

It is true that you should remain faithful to the concept of your restaurant; however, it is important to offer a varied menu to accompany a wide range of tastes, preferences and dietary constraints. Create a range of offers that include gluten-free, vegetarian, dairy-free, or low-carb items. It is better to offer buffet-style and plated dishes so that customers would choose the style they prefer at most.

Creating the catering menu does not require you to reinvent the wheel. Make use of your existing menu and use ingredients that are already in your inventory to avoid purchasing ingredients that you only use occasionally and that may go to waste. Nevertheless, the catering menu and the restaurant menu should be kept separate. Since some items may not be suitable for large crowds. Consider offering dishes like stuffed chicken, pasta, vegetables, and rice and chicken.

It is also important to test your menu on a small forgiving crowd, for example, a gathering of friends or family members, to make sure that your menu is good enough for a catering event. Consider giving everyone a pen and a paper so that they would write down what they think of your offerings anonymously. Gathering thoughts is not enough, you have to keep improving and adjusting your recipes and practice making them repeatedly while focusing on quality, efficiency, taste, and presentation.

What really matters and could increase your revenues is that your catering menu should include one or two of your restaurant menu, apart from a signature dish, to highlight your dishes and attract new customers.

Consider these points when creating your catering menu:

  • How many people you will be hosting: In order to avoid serving dishes that may come at a high cost per person.
  • How long the event will last: In order to determine the types of dishes you will serve and in which order.
  • How the kitchen is equipped: Prep time per each dish should shape your menu design. The more prep time the dishes need, the more labor hours it requires to finish, which definitely affects pricing and profitability.


3. Choose the Appropriate Equipment:

In order to avoid investing in expensive warming equipment, rentals, or portable cooking equipment like a traveling gas stove, some restaurant managers tend to serve raw foods or foods that can be served cold where they would be able to prepare it ahead of time in their restaurant kitchen.

Catering kitchens should be well equipped with hot and cold holding areas. Not to mention that it is essential to quickly cool hot foods or keep them at safe temperatures, as you prepare food before the event starts. In addition, you will need enough equipment to keep your food at the right temperature to prevent it from being spoiled during transportation.

Invest in quality pieces that reflect the brand you have created in your restaurant that will hold up over time.  When purchasing disposables, make sure they meet the needs of the guest. It is better to use heavy plates to avoid leakage or breakage. It will not be comfortable for customers to hold a soggy plate full of meatballs at a party. Consider using branded disposables printed with your restaurant logo in order to leave a lasting impression on the guests at the event.


4. Price your catering program:

It is advisable to have a look at the catering menu format of other restaurants around you to see how they are charging their offerings- by the person or by the pound. Then you get to decide yours according to your brand.
For example, when offering a barbecue, it is more suitable to charge by the pound where you should make it clear for your customers how many people a pound of food will serve.

However, if you will serve plated apps and appetizers, then it makes sense to charge per person. But you shall specify what cost this will cover per person,  such as the cost of food and drink, transporting, preparation time, break-down time, service, linens, trash and disposables, Permits and licenses, labor, and rentals.

Calculating menu prices will let you cover all your costs for the event and make sure that you are generating acceptable profit, where the average profit margin for restaurant catering is between 10% and 12%.


5. Choose the right staff for this mission:

Hire or designate a catering manager:

Start by hiring or designating one person on staff to manage your catering program and to make it run smoothly. You can assign a part-time employee, seasonal employee, or a well-organized and self-accountable staff-member who is great with customers and is able to answer potentially tedious repetitive questions.

Train your Staff on Catering:

Assign enough time to adequately train your staff on your catering policies and expectations, including promoting clothing and grooming standards, proper rest times, cell phone and smoking policies, serving protocols, food safety, and guest interaction. You should also create a dress code or provide them with uniforms.

Let them know what tasks they can be responsible for during the event and how you expect them to act during downtime. Have a catering checklist that identifies what items an employee might need like gloves, side towels, trash bags, and plastic wrap as well as other equipment you’ll need for a perfect service.

According to the size of your operations, you can decide whether you can hire additional employees or not. If not, begin with a temporary agency until you can grow your business.


6. Make a catering marketing and advertising plan:

The most important step you shall take after building your catering program is to market and promote it effectively. Your marketing efforts must be based on who your target audience is.

Here are some marketing strategies to use:

  • Hold a tasting event to share your catering menu offerings with VIP customers, media, and influencers. Take photos of this event to share it on social media and use it on catering marketing pieces.
  • Include incentives for early orders like “Order by $500 or more, and receive $50 off”.
  • Attach your customer’s receipts with a marketing message: “Did you know we have catering service? Visit our website to know more.”
  • Send a press release to local media, including the catering menu, catering manager contact information, and some high-quality photographs.
  • Contact your business owners in your area who are involved in other aspects of the catering business – perhaps some of the people you have interacted with on social media. Find out if they would like to partner up on future events.
  • Spread the word. Give your servers the information they need to tell your customers about your catering service and let your regular customers know about the new service you are offering.