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Best advice for new caterers

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
I just want to know if anyone has advice for someone who is interested in getting into the catering business. How do you get big clients, sell yourself, etc? I am also interested in working for a catering company before I start one of my own someday. Any advice? I also want to know what your best experiences are? And maybe your worst, too?

post #2 of 5

Start by learning from a pro..

purchase a book from Mike Roman at cater Souce called Catering: the art, science and mystery, the bible has the answers.
post #3 of 5
I second the motion to read MIke Romans book by the way it's catersource
the source so to speak.

Also Bill Hansen of Leading Caterings of America has a good book with lots of useful infor. Both Catersource - who are now aligned with ICA (International Caterers Association) and NACE (National Association of Catering Executives) and Leading Caterers run educational seminars.

Catersource has 2 yearly - one in the summer in a different location every year and a big yearly one in Vegas which is awesome - Godsmax is one of the presenters at that one - his work and his partners displays will blow you away.

Leading Caterers does boot camps around the country

the boot camp may be a good place to start

besides this website forum I have found two others to be particularly useful
read all the archives from all of them and you will have a wealth of info but nothing substitutes for reall experience. Where are you and can you get either a paying job or a volunteer job (to start with) with a good caterer near you - to test the waters?

besides cheftalk.com
the other forums are catersource.com caterer to caterer forums
chef2chef.com professional catering and professional chef forums

everyone looks for the magic bullet on how to get clients. As with anything it depends. It depends on your market, your competition, your skills and your connections. Doing a great job and being talented is just not enough. Plus to run a catering business you have to have business skills not just catering skills. These are things you learn from experience and over time.

But asking questions and observing and learning from others is the first step in the right direction. Go to a site like leadingcaters.com (Bill Hanson's site) and look at the caterers listed and check out their websites - that will keep you busy for weeks alone. Get a feel for what's out there and being offered to clients - see how that might change between a big city and a smaller city, or from state to state.

in terms of getting jobs there are many ways to get exposure - does it pay off? It can but it doesn't always if you don't have a plan in place to follow up (especially if you are in a big city or area where there are so many choices for clients)

so here's a summary

identify your skills and what you want to be ad are capable of right now (but keep an eye on what you want to work to as well)

identify your potential markets

businesses - car dealerships, offices, factories, company picnics, holiday parties,boarad meetings, business meetings, grand openings, client/employee recognition, pharma reps, non profits, churches, synagogues (may require glatt kosher, kosher or kosher style observation or not depending on affiliation), mosques (may require halal observation),

social situations - think of a high end car dealership, would they be likely to have a showroom in the middle of a working class farming community. That doesn't mean that a car dealership cannt do well in that neighborhood but they have to have products that are appropriate to their market. And it doesn't mean that no one in the farming community cannt afford or wouldn't buy the lexus so never judge a book by its cover.

Weddings are a good market but require alot of work and hand holding. and thse are clients to whom it is often their first (and most important) catering experience as a client. They may not realize what it takes and costs. Go on any of the bridal forums like the knot.com and hear the brides complain "why is it more expensive for a wedding" do you know why it is ? That would be a good topic of discussion.

weddings - in some major markets like you cann't do a wedding for less than $ 40 a head, in some that's a top price. Even within a city there are segments of the potential client pool who cannt afford the "going rate" and may be willing to work with you because you are going to give them more than they could get from an established caterer since they cann't afford to pay for the experienced one. YOu get the opportunity to get the experience and get paid at least something to do it. but becareful what you bite off - make sure you can chew it properly - that you have licenses, insurance, safe ways of handling the food, good sources for staffing. Start small - it's not as profitable but it's managable. Again, think of it as a training program but instead of you paying to go to school they are paying at least your expenses. Does that make any sense? There is a fine line between how much you want to tell the client -

another thought is volunteer to help out on fundraisers - not neccessarily donating your food but helping behind the scenes to organize it and see what it takes.

stay away from reunions, and stuff where each individual is paying seperately for the meantime - it's too complicated for a start up and independent caterer.

Maybe start with a bbq party - less complicated in the food side but still have to get the organizational skills going to do it right and successfully. Also the expectation level of the client for a cookout may be more forgiving than for a high end event.

always surprise the client with something extra - either cost it in but don't mention it or just give it to them. Food cost is the minor expense - your creativity is your best advertisement and who doesnt like to get a bonus.

treat each job as an advertisement, so budget for it. Go the extra mile with making the event outstanding beyond the clients expectation. but also do what you promised
keep your word
be early so you will never be late (expecially for business situations)

this may be something you will only learn by experience because when you start out every job seems to be worth it but some aren't. Learn how to say no and when to walk away from a potential job because it isn't worth it.
but that being said, it may be worth having someone pay the expenses at least for you to get the experience.

Just remember that the cheaper the client is the less satisfied they will be at the end of the job - funny as it seems it usually works that way.

when you donate your time, services and food make sure you get the proper acknowledgement and that you have a way of using that to promote yourself. Just having important people at an event doesn't mean that they will know what you did and how to get in touch with you. and even if you can give out cards that's doesn't mean they will remember you when the time comes that they need catering - so pick your promotions carefully.

Free publicity in newspapers, magazines, tv, is incredibely powerful - send articles to your local papers become an expert at something.

I am rambling and am sure that others will jump in
good luck and good catering to you

have a delicious day

(note I moved the bottom piece back into place and added the additional comments so the below post after mine may not make sense anymore)

including demographics
Chef Tigerwoman

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
Chef Tigerwoman

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...
post #4 of 5

Great Summation, Tigerwoman

But what got chopped off at the bottom?
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #5 of 5
I've been to a few of Michael Roman's workshops in Chicago at the Fancy Food Shows.....it's worth it, Michael is not only entertaining but he addresses questions that we all face. Several caterers in STL present or attend Las Vegas....it always falls mid/end Jan when I'm directing the Food and Wine Show......I've really wanted to attend.

Good advice Tigerwoman. I started out volunteer cooking for a wild mushroom group, out in state parks.....many of them were for 100+.....
Then I started catering their weekend events, chairing their gourmet group which met 4-6x a year, talking/demoing at their national conference.....
Hunting mushrooms is a joy to me, cooking them in the woods for appreciative hunters is pretty special. When asked I volunteered to cook at the James Beard Picnic....600 folks each year....one station.
I joined and was on the board of professional groups and gleanned alot of information through those. When a writer calls I make time to talk to them and source them.....most call to talk about local food, wild mushrooms, farmers or farmer markets....I started writing articles on chefs....
It's finding what turns you on and working it.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
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