How to Start a Small Catering Business

If you love to cook and are thinking about starting a business, combine the two and start a small catering business. But how do you start a small catering business? Catering doesn’t always mean providing a lunch for 200 business people at a corporate event, or appetizers or a buffet for 100 guests at an anniversary celebration. Start small with dinners for 12, parties for 50, or a dessert and a coffee bar for after-theater entertaining. When your business has been established for a while, then decide to stay small or grow. Below are a few tips to help you start out when opening a small catering business. Corporate Catering is dedicated to serving the highest quality food with impeccable presentation and on-time delivery.

Make an Inventory

Write down the items you’ll need to begin catering. Inventory what you have and what equipment you’ll need to purchase. For example, your current dishwasher may not have the capacity to wash enough dishes to keep up with your business or you might have to purchase a separate freezer. You’ll also need dishes to transport the food, serving dishes, coolers and ways to keep hot food hot.

Find a Niche

Find a market niche that the competition has overlooked or that you feel you can excel at. As a small caterer you might not have the capacity to cater a sit-down dinner for a wedding of 100 guests but you could cater wedding showers, engagement parties, and bachelorette parties quite comfortably. Determine a menu to offer catering clients. Research what your competitors are offering. Check to see which local restaurants offer catering services. Base the menu on your specialties and what your market niche wants. Price the items so that you stay competitive but make a profit. Pricing is always a challenge and is determined by where you live, the time it takes to prepare the dish, the cost of the ingredients and the profit margin you plan to achieve.

Establish Relations with Vendors

Find vendors. “Catering is more than cooking,” says Denise Vivaldo, in her book, “How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business.” Often the caterer is expected to provide the linens, china, glassware, utensils — even the tables and chairs at some events– as well as the food. Research the suppliers in your area ahead of time.

Establish a Business

Develop a business plan that covers the additional investment you’ll need to get started and the first three to six months of revenues and expenses. Obtain the required licenses. You will need a business license from the state and possibly from the city and county where you live. The county or state health department will inspect your kitchen for safety and to see if it meets health codes. Many residential kitchens do not. Plan on upgrading or finding a kitchen that has already passed inspection. A restaurant that operates only for dinner may allow you to use the kitchen in the off hours for a rental fee. A food handler’s license will most likely be required. The local Chamber of Commerce or Small Business Development Center can help you find out what licensing is necessary.

Focus on Marketing

Develop a marketing program to reach your potential clients. Design business cards, stationery and a brochure. Make a few of your signature dishes and take photos for the brochure and your website. Even though you plan a small catering business more and more people use the Internet to comparison shop. ZDNet says that 74 percent to 80 percent of people between the ages of 29 and 69 use the Internet for product research. If you don’t have a website or blog, they won’t find you.


Always dress professionally and not in food stained clothing. When on the job carry an extra shirt or apron in case of messes.

Focus on offering a limited menu of outstanding food rather than a broad offering of many dishes. Of course, if a client has a special request try to honor it.


Call your insurance agency. Since you’ll be using your home as a place of business and your car for business, your insurance coverage may change. Visit our site to see if you need liability coverage for accidents and if someone gets sick, or thinks they got sick, from your food.