If you’ve got a flair for cooking and fancy yourself as an entrepreneur, you might have found yourself considering starting your own catering business. And becoming a caterer in the UK is an extremely viable option, with the sector holding a £1 billion market that isn’t dominated by any one business according to a report from IBISWorld.
If you’d like to start a catering or food business from home but you’re not sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need plus a step-by-step guide to getting set up.
Step 1: Decide Who You’re Catering For
First things first, you’ll need to decide what kinds of events, places and people your catering services are most suited to. There are two directions you can choose to go in:
- Personal – such as weddings, funerals, and birthday and anniversary parties
- Corporate – catering for businesses including office parties, award ceremonies, training events and large meetings
This is known as your niche, and will help you to focus in on and target your specific audience and appeal to them as your start your marketing process. It also makes it a lot easier for you to plan how much food you’ll be making and create menus that suit the event.
Step 2: Market Research & Standing Out
Once you’ve chosen the route of catering you’d like to go down, the decisions don’t end there. Now you’ve got to think about how you’re going to stand out from other caterers (AKA your competition) by offering something that they can’t. But conducting plenty of market research will help make those decisions easier.
Depending on your niche, you’ll be expected to offer different styles of catering. Here are a few examples.
- Buffet – guests help themselves to as much hot or cold food as they like
- Wave service – a team of servers moves through the room dropping plated food from a pre-set menu, starting with the head table
- Drop-off – you’ll need to prepare food in advance at drop it off, no other service provided by the caterer
- Full service – set up, cooking and clean up all provided by the caterer
You can offer one or more of these services, but the best way to determine what you should choose is to research what’s already available in the area.
Then, if there’s still a demand for that kind of service, you could compete for it or choose another style that’s not as well catered for but still has demand.
To differentiate yourself, you could offer competitive pricing, flexible payment options, catering for larger groups of people, and offer different kinds of food – for example, catering to different allergies and dietary requirements.
Step 3: Where Will You Cater From?
The catering style you’ve chosen will determine whether it’s feasible to run your catering business from home or whether you’ll need to invest in something a little bigger.
Here are a few different places you can run your catering business from and the pros and cons of each.
Home catering business
If you’ve got the space and facilities, running your catering company from home is a great way to save costs on renting a facility and equipment.
The disadvantage might be obvious here: space. Do you have enough fridge, freezer and pantry space to make large quantities of food for events? For most people, a family kitchen is not big enough, especially if you plan on catering for large events.
Mobile catering business
10 years ago, mobile catering was a title strictly reserved for burger vans. However, there’s a lot more flexibility in what you can offer from a van these days thanks to the growing popularity of street food.
Mobile catering means you can take your food on the go, giving you a lot of freedom to cater events all over the country – whether that’s in a staff car park for sports day or a week-long music festival.
Again, space has to be a consideration here. You’ll need to be able to run on a limited supply of stock and limit the number of people preparing food in such a small space.
Fixed site catering business
Renting out a site is great for keeping home and work life separate, and can give you much more space for storage and preparation. You can either rent an empty kitchen or one that’s fully equipped.
However, there are additional costs involved in this that might not be possible in the beginning of your start-up venture.
Step 4: How Will You Fund Your Catering Business?
There are lots of different ways to fund your business initially while you’re not making any profits to invest back into it. They all have pros and cons and depend completely on what works best in your individual circumstances.
Here are some of the most popular ways to fund a business:
- Bootstrapping – using your own savings to fund your business
- Government loan – apply for a government-backed startup loan
- Bank loan – a traditional way to get a loan for a business
- Crowdfunding – asking a large number of people to donate a small amount of money to get you on your feet
- Investments – secure investment with a successful business owner who will then take a percentage of your profits
- Ask friends and family – see if you can loan some money from your family with the promise to pay them back
Here are the pros and cons of each of these funding methods to help you decide which is the best for your catering business.
Step 5: Writing a Catering Business Plan
Writing a business plan can sound pretty daunting, but it really isn’t. Your business plan essentially describes your business – which should be easy since you’re the person who knows the most about it!
Your business plan needs to outline all the things you’ve already thought of so far in this guide – so what your catering business is, how it operates, why it’s unique, who your competitors are and how you’re going to finance it. So, really, we’ve prepped you for this already!
Here’s a full guide on writing a business plan to help you flesh out your ideas and create a more professional format.
Step 6: The Legal Stuff
Now you’re ready to go from an operational point of view, let’s not delay the inevitable. In this step, we’ll talk you through registering yourself as a food business and the different kinds of insurance you’ll need as a food caterer.
Register your business
To sell food in the UK, you’ll need to apply for food business registration through the government website here. This is completely free, but must be completed at least 28 days before you plan on selling food to the public – otherwise you may face a prison sentence of up to two years.
Set up your business
You’ll need to contact your local environmental health officers to arrange an inspection of your kitchen to ensure you’re abiding by food safety laws. They’ll give you advice on how to ensure you’re compliant with the rules by checking that your walls and countertops are in good condition and are easy to clean and assess your ability to maintain a hygienic cooking environment.
Safely manage food
Before you begin to offer your services to the public, make sure you’re fully up to date on the General Food Law requirements for professional caterers.
You can find a full guide to the basics from The Food Standards Agency here, but you should also make sure that you and any employees have Level 2 food safety qualifications.
You can access food safety courses for around £100 per person from The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS). Please note that it is illegal to prepare food commercially without this qualification.
Due to the nature of the job, you’ll need to protect yourself, your staff and your business from a range of possible scenarios that come about with working in unfamiliar venues, renting equipment and working with the public.
Depending on the kind of catering business you’re setting up, you’ll need some or all of the following:
- Catering public liability insurance – this covers injuries, damage to personal property and covers you against customer claims if they fall ill as a result of eating your food
- Catering employer’s liability insurance – if you’re employing staff, it’s a legal requirement that you take out this kind of insurance to protect your business against claims if the member of staff falls is or is injured on the job.
- Catering van insurance – If you’re operating a catering truck or van business, you’ll need to take out this kind of insurance just as you would for your personal car or van. Your policy should cover you against theft and loss, damage and fire damage.
Step 7: Time to Market Your Catering Services!
Now you’ve got all the legalities out of the way, now all that’s left is to start getting the word out about your new business! We recommend taking a combined print and digital approach to marketing to make sure you’ve covered all bases and got your branding in front of as many eyes as possible.
For example, make sure to set up a website, social media and email communications for customers as well as send out flyers in the local area.
And, of course, you should always remember to keep your business cards handy for those opportune networking moments!
If you’d like some help creating print for your new catering business or need advice on the different print marketing materials that work best for your type of business, make sure to get in touch with our client services team and we’ll be happy to help!