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How Did You Get Started?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
I'm new to the website and I am looking into venturing in the catering business. I don't know how exactly to put myself out there as of yet...should I go private chef first? Cater friends' parties? Do fundraisers? I live in New Jersey by the way and hope to read some of your stories from your first step into this business! Thanks!

post #2 of 11
Hi Bill and glad you're here. Welcome. I am sorta still new to the site too.

What is your cooking experience and present profession, if you don't mind my asking?
post #3 of 11
Thread Starter 
6 years in the industry, worked mostly in restaurants, going on my second year as sous chef in a growing company in new jersey.
post #4 of 11
Cool well that answers my question! I had a part-time catering company for a smidge over 20 years. It was word of mouth only. I also worked in restaurants (foh, boh) and for a small cooking school (for the consumer not the trade).

The way I got started was through doing parties for friends and their businesses and business lunches. Attorney firms do TONS of entertaining and I was in that niche market. I had as much business as I wanted.

But I also had another day job in advertising that paid the rent. So if I was going to do it full time and needed the money now...I would start differently. Being reticent to cough out a big downpayment for a professional kitchen, I would start out as a personal chef. Join the association. Have some credibility from that association membership (and also get good information). Get registered with your food safety/handling license. Advertise and get a handful of personal chef clients. This can be done with very little money. Take an ad out in neighborhood newsletters in your area. They are pretty cheap (usually around $150 or less per newsletter for a partial page ad). Once you get a full-time set of clients or the amount that pays the rent and is steady...then look at getting a space in an existing kitchen where you can cater. Or consider catering gigs where you can prep and cook at the client's (which is hard). I'd also look at the regulations for kitchens in your locale. If you our in a county as opposed to city, sometimes the codes are looser.

Start building your business that way. Otherwise, keep your industry job and start putting the word out to friends that you are open for doing parties...it carries a much higher risk level if you plan on cooking out of your home without liability insurance, etc. It's a big risk. At least get your food safety/handling license...

Good luck! Oh and also, before you start, read the archives here like crazy and do a search for pricing structures of different caterers here. It will help you know what kind of margin to do for your food if you don't already know that...
post #5 of 11
Word of mouth si great.

Is catering is really what you want to do or think you want to do you can always do some part time work for a caterer and keep your current job. Work with them for a while and see how they run it and get some expereince in it. Catering is a different animal then most other things.

One of my instructers worked for a caterer for a while for years actually and one day hhis wife was like your good at this why dont you do it on your own. he said you know what I will. He had some contact from the previous place. told a few people and had 5 parties booked in the first 2 weeks. the business is booming and i dont think he has business cards printed yet
post #6 of 11

HHow I got it going

The first thing I found was I needed a kitchen I cooperated with a soup kitchen in our city. I got to use the facility free and I aranged a weekly meal service in return. Did not bad but just didnt take off mostly because I tried to be all things to all people, big mikstake. Go with your stroung suit. I have now and have been doing outdoor events mostly BBQ and my reputation has grown. I also suggest a little something to set you apart from others. I use my sauces and the fact that we will feed you anywhere any time. It all comes down to not good but Great Food Great service. Not just marketing but being a good member of a community offer your services to a local charity to help them raise funds if you are catering a donor dinner you are getting to demo for a good money crowd. Know your local regulations and like any great chef remember the money is secondary the real payoff is the joy of the prep and the almost orgasmic feeling of your customers thanking you for a great meal. Feel free to email me. Oh ya and read the posts here best info I have found in ten years of surfing and 15 years of catering.
Cheers fstfrdy
Kill a cow...Light a fire.....The Magic begins
Kill a cow...Light a fire.....The Magic begins
post #7 of 11
As I am prepping for a Sunday brunch at 4 am, after returning from a Saturday night anniversary party, once again I'm wondering why did I go in to this business?It has to be about the food, and the people you are serving. You need to have a passion for it, the money is secondary, you do this because you abosolutly have to.
post #8 of 11
Oops, didn't answer your question. I started out as a personal chef, after several years of doing that I partenderd with a friend who owns a restaurant, and we started our catering business.
post #9 of 11
I was a Sous Chef at a Fine Dining restaurant in Alaska and the Chef and I were partners in a few things we were trying out. The Chef was good friends with the Chef across the street at the Captain Cook hotel. He was into Ice Carving and was teaching my chef. I was doing chocolates on the side. We were doing a lot of catering through the restaurant and becoming disenchanted with the restaurant. We were involved with a local meat purveyor who was opening up deli in his store, so we made a deal with him. We would run his deli and run our caterings out of his kitchen and use his trucks as well. We got a break on our food costs and he in turn got a piece of our business. All 3 of us pooled our resources and incorporated the biz. Slowly we disbanded but the biz still remains with new owners 17 years later.
My latest musical venture!
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
My latest musical venture!
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 
That's great to hear from you guys. I went to cia graduated in '04 and been in restaurants for a while...I get regulars who love specials i come up with...i did banquets for a country club who had weddings every week for a summer season...I have an actual idea on the amount of labor this calls for...just that I didn't have a good insight view on how many succesful caterers started...but you guys answered it.

I will search the website more and read on archives. I just want to take the big step already and plunge into this. I feel success in my future.
post #11 of 11
I'm still new, too (just launched our business December 2006).

We got started when several friends, who we'd invited over and cooked for several times, suggested to us that we become personal chefs. After researching, we decided to give it a go. As people caught wind of us, the response we got invariably was, "That's great - do you do catering, too?"

We heard that so often that we decided to rethink our plan and incorporated catering into our services.

In December, we partnered with a local coffee house that had a commercially graded and approved (but UNUSED) kitchen! We did two free tastings and invited people in to try some of the foods we offer. The tastings were a huge success and the owner of the coffee house actually invited us to share his storefront so now, in addition to the catering and the occasional personal chef gig, we have a deli.

The main thing when you're getting started is that you have to ask around and do a LOT of networking. A LOT. We write letters to newly engaged couples, give out occasional freebies in the deli... you name it; whatever free or inexpensive advertising we can use for the business, we do it.

There's a caveat though that we had to learn the hard way. When catering, do NOT short-sell your services no matter how badly you want to book your first wedding reception!!! We were so eager to book our first wedding that we gave in on MANY points that we never should have agreed to. We gave free bar service, agreed to let them cut costs in several areas, and let them make menu changes right up to 48 hours prior to the event. BIG mistake. We're now paying for our generosity by being slapped with a lawsuit for the full amount of the event plus attorney's fees. We did make one big "newbie" error (my head chef didn't check in the food by taking it out of the box to examine the delivery and we ended up with a few cuts of the wrong meat) but the rest of the accusations are entirely false. Which brings me to my last point:

Be glad, very glad, that you've found this site! The people here have a WEALTH of knowledge to share and they are extremely helpful! I just came here for the first time a few weeks ago after the accursed event and the advice/encouragement I've received has been invaluable.

p.s. although the lawsuit is bogus and is every caterer's worst nightmare, it is the ONLY bad experience we've had! We've done several weddings, graduation parties and even two proms and, while it's certainly been exhausting, it has also been the thrill of a lifetime! You've picked an exhilerating profession!
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