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Starting my own Catering Business?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Hello.

 

I'm currently a marketing associate and a marketing firm in Chicago. Over the last couple of years(since I graudated with a bachelors in marketing) I've discovered that I REALLY enjoy cooking, baking, and preparing food for friends, family members, and for big parties. So I've decided to go to culinary school to hone my technique and skills and also to network myself with people within the industry in my city. I'd like to get curriculum that is both focused  on the "food" side of things, as well as "catering" side. Since I already have a business degree, and have experience with business start-ups(took several courses and started my own when I was 20)--I'd like to really find a really good solid culinary arts Associate degree program. I live in Chicago. I've been talking to a rep from art institute--because initially that was my choice. Since the Chicago school is very reputable. But the cost is pretty expensive.  And I won't qualify for any sort of financial aid(I'll have to take out massive loans--without aid). But it will look good on my resume, and probably give me the networking experience I need. I've also looked at a community college where I live (in the surburbs) that will only cost around $5000 for the 1.5 years. But it won't look as good on my resume, and I'm afraid that may "hurt" me when I try to start up my business.

There are other schools around here as well--which tuition ranging from 15k-to 50k. I already have student loans from undergrad (though they are less than 15k). I'm just wondering what would be the best option I should take?

 

Thank you.

post #2 of 16

Can't recall the mans last name but first name was Micheal he is from Chicago. He wrote many books and courses on catering, he has been around as long as me and he knows his business. He is most likely cheaper and better then art institute. The rep you spoke to at art institute is a commissioned sales person and he will tell you whatever you want to hear. Save Your $. The fact that you are doing catering now does not warrant a degree, as being self employed requires no resume. If you want a bit of refinement consider courses at the community college and Good Luck

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #3 of 16

I actually worked in the admissions office of a few schools in Chicago and just started my own site. It's already posted a few times here so I won't spam this joint up. 

 

Ed is right though, well not the commission part, about the job of admissions advisors. Feel free to PM me and I would be happy to give you some info on any school in Chicago.

See the truth about the culinary education industry at www.culinaryschooladviser.com 
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See the truth about the culinary education industry at www.culinaryschooladviser.com 
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post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

Can't recall the mans last name but first name was Micheal he is from Chicago. He wrote many books and courses on catering, he has been around as long as me and he knows his business. He is most likely cheaper and better then art institute. The rep you spoke to at art institute is a commissioned sales person and he will tell you whatever you want to hear. Save Your $. The fact that you are doing catering now does not warrant a degree, as being self employed requires no resume. If you want a bit of refinement consider courses at the community college and Good Luck



No I don't currently have a catering business or any experience in catering. I cook for family and friends for free and because I enjoy it. I have intensive marketing experience(that was my undergrad). So the reason I'm going to school is to "hone" my cooking skills and learn and build upon what I know. Since the Art institute is a popular culinary school in Chicago that is why I was going to go there. Because of how it would look on my resume and how the school would effect my pitch when I did ask for a small business loan to get a commerical kitchen, create a website, and get my name out there. The community college route would cost me no more than about 6000k(including books, and additional courses outside of the requirements needed). The culinary of art institute would cost close to 30k. But would look better on my resume. So my question is--which is the better option?

post #5 of 16

As a working personal chef and caterer for the past ten years, I have NEVER submitted a "resumé" to a prospective client, investor, or lender and I have NEVER had anyone inquire into my culinary training.

 

Think for a moment, "cooking" is a TRADE! When you are looking for a trades-person, i.e. electrician, plumber, mechanic, carpenter, housekeeper, gardener, etc., do you ask to see their "resumé"?

 

For catering, IMHO, potential clients are concerned with:

  • Is the price right?
  • Does the food taste good?
  • Is the food "trendy"?

 

in fact, most potential clients are concerned with the cost first and foremost. Yes, there are some that hire by name and recognition, say Wolfgang Puck, but I'll almost guarantee that no one inquires where he got his training (he DID make a mean Croque Monsieur when I frequented Ma Maison).

 

One thing to consider VERY carefully: a successful catering business, IMHO, depends on marketing, showmanship, and mass food production FAR more than it does on culinary skills or talent. One can ALWAYS hire cooks and other production help as well as servers, menu developers, decorators, etc.

 

If you want to "run the kitchen", learn the fundamentals of culinary, then hire the best you can afford, if you want to "run a catering business", use your marketing skills and experience to hire someone to run the kitchen, preferably someone who has run a catering kitchen for at least ten years or so. Remember, if YOU are  "in the kitchen", you are NOT marketing or selling (creating demand) , you are producing (filling demand) and most supermarkets, delis, and restaurants are really good at that. Do you REALLY want to compete at that level?

 

Take the money you are allocating for "culinary training", put it in a savings account to be used to open your catering business, and go to work for a successful caterer for a year or so. If, at the end of a year, you still believe that "culinary training" is the key to your success, go for it, I would be willing to gamble that you will NOT feel that way after a year!

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post

As a working personal chef and caterer for the past ten years, I have NEVER submitted a "resumé" to a prospective client, investor, or lender and I have NEVER had anyone inquire into my culinary training.

 

Think for a moment, "cooking" is a TRADE! When you are looking for a trades-person, i.e. electrician, plumber, mechanic, carpenter, housekeeper, gardener, etc., do you ask to see their "resumé"?

 

For catering, IMHO, potential clients are concerned with:

  • Is the price right?
  • Does the food taste good?
  • Is the food "trendy"?

 

in fact, most potential clients are concerned with the cost first and foremost. Yes, there are some that hire by name and recognition, say Wolfgang Puck, but I'll almost guarantee that no one inquires where he got his training (he DID make a mean Croque Monsieur when I frequented Ma Maison).

 

One thing to consider VERY carefully: a successful catering business, IMHO, depends on marketing, showmanship, and mass food production FAR more than it does on culinary skills or talent. One can ALWAYS hire cooks and other production help as well as servers, menu developers, decorators, etc.

 

If you want to "run the kitchen", learn the fundamentals of culinary, then hire the best you can afford, if you want to "run a catering business", use your marketing skills and experience to hire someone to run the kitchen, preferably someone who has run a catering kitchen for at least ten years or so. Remember, if YOU are  "in the kitchen", you are NOT marketing or selling (creating demand) , you are producing (filling demand) and most supermarkets, delis, and restaurants are really good at that. Do you REALLY want to compete at that level?

 

Take the money you are allocating for "culinary training", put it in a savings account to be used to open your catering business, and go to work for a successful caterer for a year or so. If, at the end of a year, you still believe that "culinary training" is the key to your success, go for it, I would be willing to gamble that you will NOT feel that way after a year!

 

This is true. I LOVE cooking, that is why I would love to cook as well as run the business--I would obviously hire staff(experienced staff), work in a commercial kitchen, and advertise for myself(with my marketing experience) but I do want to have a role in cooking and preparing the food, and not just on the business itself. I don't plan to compete with supermarkets, delis, and restaurants. I'd like to develop myself within a smaller food niche and compete with companies offering food within that niche--but certainly not supermarkets, delis, etc. From the research I've read--I thought it was normal that a caterer RAN the business, as well as played a role in the "preparing" the food business. Maybe I'm being idealistic to want to do it all: create menus, come up with food recipes, determine price, cost, organize staff, organize event, and market and advertise the business.  I had always figured that part of being in the business was also cooking or being a "chef".

 

What do you recommend I do, to get my foot in the catering field without culinary on my resume? I live in Chicago, where there are a few upscale catering positions that I'd love to have--I'm wondering if they'd still give me a shot without me having culinary experience. I have a great "marketing resume", but I have nothing on my resume about cooking.
 

post #7 of 16

Why don't you go into Catering Sales? with all the marketing background caterers could use you to solicit business.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

Why don't you go into Catering Sales? with all the marketing background caterers could use you to solicit business.


Because I want to cook as well. As I said I have no problems with marketing and the business side of things, but I also want to be able to prepare foods, prepare menus, make recommendations etc. All of that is completely outside of just "catering sales". Ideally in the beginning, at least,  I'd want to be the "head chef" of my business, and then as it grows probably have one of the staff take over(or a person experienced in the industry). But I'm interested in the "food" part of things, not just the business part.

post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

Why don't you go into Catering Sales? with all the marketing background caterers could use you to solicit business.



As I said before since I do have marketing experience I wouldn't mind doing the business side of things(marketing, promoting, soliciting sales, organizing the events, etc) but my main interest in catering is also the "food preparation" and the ability to make recommendations(food) for clients, decide menus, figure out recipes, cook, and deliver service and food to customers. So my interest is also in the culinary part of the field, not just the "sales" side. Soliciting sales would not allow me to do other things outside of the business part.

post #10 of 16

Be encouraged.

 

You can be never be complely prepared, but you should do 2 dead simple things

1) Count the cost  (which it sounds you are in the middle of doing, just complete

before jumping in) and

2) Your not cooking/baking what you want, but what they DEMAND for the cost they are WILLING to pay.

 

Right now, you have stay at home moms, retired grandmas,and yes, even marketing pros like yourself, getting in and lowballing bids getting a job

and either losing money hand over fist while working your butt off, or hoping you can pull it off with lower quality ingredients/shortcuts

hoping they won't notice. They will. They want the best for next to nothing.

It is awesome that you have an education and a passion I hope that you do succeed.

Just take what I told you seriously, I did it and was not aware of desperation of the competition in my area,

and how people are taking advantage of those willing to fight over catering dollars.

 

 

 

You may start slower but you want to grow like a good oak tree something strong

that stands for generations, because any weed can grow overnight!

post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by MzFoodie24 View Post

...What do you recommend I do, to get my foot in the catering field without culinary on my resume? I live in Chicago, where there are a few upscale catering positions that I'd love to have--I'm wondering if they'd still give me a shot without me having culinary experience. I have a great "marketing resume", but I have nothing on my resume about cooking.
 

My guess is that the "upscale catering establishments" really don't care what your resumé says. They are more interested in what you can DO, not what some piece of paper says you have done! Face facts, "cooks" generally do not have "resumés", maybe a "work history", but not a resumé. IMHO, only culinary school graduates and "prima donnas" have resumés, cooks let their work speak for them.

 

Find out the owner/chef's name and figure out when they are NOT busy, then walk in and let them know you want to go to work in the BOH (I'm making an assumption that's where you want to be right?) but you will work ANYWHERE they need you, even if it is in the dishpit!

 

Keep your eyes and ears open, your mouth closed (unless it is to ask a pertinent question) and take notes (mentally, write them down after work) on EVERYTHING, not just food preparation.
 

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #12 of 16
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joyeux View Post

Be encouraged.

 

You can be never be complely prepared, but you should do 2 dead simple things

1) Count the cost  (which it sounds you are in the middle of doing, just complete

before jumping in) and

2) Your not cooking/baking what you want, but what they DEMAND for the cost they are WILLING to pay.

 

Right now, you have stay at home moms, retired grandmas,and yes, even marketing pros like yourself, getting in and lowballing bids getting a job

and either losing money hand over fist while working your butt off, or hoping you can pull it off with lower quality ingredients/shortcuts

hoping they won't notice. They will. They want the best for next to nothing.

It is awesome that you have an education and a passion I hope that you do succeed.

Just take what I told you seriously, I did it and was not aware of desperation of the competition in my area,

and how people are taking advantage of those willing to fight over catering dollars.

 

 

 

You may start slower but you want to grow like a good oak tree something strong

that stands for generations, because any weed can grow overnight!


I'm confused on what exactly you mean(I'm sorry) maybe I'm being slow but can you clarify what those two points mean? From what I understand caterers generally charge 3x the cost of food ingredients. Starting out my plan was to charge 1.5x the ingredients as I make a name for myself(and gradually up the price).

post #13 of 16
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by MzFoodie24 View Post

...What do you recommend I do, to get my foot in the catering field without culinary on my resume? I live in Chicago, where there are a few upscale catering positions that I'd love to have--I'm wondering if they'd still give me a shot without me having culinary experience. I have a great "marketing resume", but I have nothing on my resume about cooking.
 

My guess is that the "upscale catering establishments" really don't care what your resumé says. They are more interested in what you can DO, not what some piece of paper says you have done! Face facts, "cooks" generally do not have "resumés", maybe a "work history", but not a resumé. IMHO, only culinary school graduates and "prima donnas" have resumés, cooks let their work speak for them.

 

Find out the owner/chef's name and figure out when they are NOT busy, then walk in and let them know you want to go to work in the BOH (I'm making an assumption that's where you want to be right?) but you will work ANYWHERE they need you, even if it is in the dishpit!

 

Keep your eyes and ears open, your mouth closed (unless it is to ask a pertinent question) and take notes (mentally, write them down after work) on EVERYTHING, not just food preparation.
 

 

Thank you for the advice. Ideally yes I would like a job cooking or even baking. I'll try what you all say. But the general consensus is that I should not go to school for a culinary education?
 

post #14 of 16


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MzFoodie24 View Post

...I'm confused on what exactly you mean(I'm sorry) maybe I'm being slow but can you clarify what those two points mean? From what I understand caterers generally charge 3x the cost of food ingredients. Starting out my plan was to charge 1.5x the ingredients as I make a name for myself(and gradually up the price).

If you don't "know your costs" then you are doomed to failure, IMHO! And there ARE other costs besides food!

 

A successful caterer probably keeps his/her food costs in the range of 25-30% of sales, hopefully closer to 25% of sales, tries to hold his/her labor costs below 30-40% of sales and hopes that the remaining 30-45% covers insurance, licenses, rent, utilities, etc., and leave, oh maybe, 2-5% as profit.

 

Unless you are working out of your house (generally illegal in any state in the USA), without insurance (not a real smart thing to do), working "off the grid" (that is not paying for electricity, water, gas, sewer, trash disposal), and doing it all yourself (that is not hiring any employees), charging 1 1/2 times your food costs means you'll probably be "out of business" long before you establish any reputation and, trust me, unless your name is Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, or Mario, or you develop a similar reputation, you will NEVER be successful "raising your prices". Even if you charge three times your food costs, you will be lucky to survive the first year.

 

Remember, the "market" dictates your "prices", all you can do is hope to control costs. You said you have a "marketing degree", maybe you need to review what you have learned?

 

The other point being made: your customers will dictate what you will cook, not you! You will "pay your bills" by providing large quantities of food FAST and CHEAP unless you are able to do a real "marketing job", especially as you do NOT have 20-30 years in the business to rely on.

 


 

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by PeteMcCracken View Post


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by MzFoodie24 View Post

...I'm confused on what exactly you mean(I'm sorry) maybe I'm being slow but can you clarify what those two points mean? From what I understand caterers generally charge 3x the cost of food ingredients. Starting out my plan was to charge 1.5x the ingredients as I make a name for myself(and gradually up the price).

If you don't "know your costs" then you are doomed to failure, IMHO! And there ARE other costs besides food!

 

A successful caterer probably keeps his/her food costs in the range of 25-30% of sales, hopefully closer to 25% of sales, tries to hold his/her labor costs below 30-40% of sales and hopes that the remaining 30-45% covers insurance, licenses, rent, utilities, etc., and leave, oh maybe, 2-5% as profit.

 

Unless you are working out of your house (generally illegal in any state in the USA), without insurance (not a real smart thing to do), working "off the grid" (that is not paying for electricity, water, gas, sewer, trash disposal), and doing it all yourself (that is not hiring any employees), charging 1 1/2 times your food costs means you'll probably be "out of business" long before you establish any reputation and, trust me, unless your name is Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, or Mario, or you develop a similar reputation, you will NEVER be successful "raising your prices". Even if you charge three times your food costs, you will be lucky to survive the first year.

 

Remember, the "market" dictates your "prices", all you can do is hope to control costs. You said you have a "marketing degree", maybe you need to review what you have learned?

 

The other point being made: your customers will dictate what you will cook, not you! You will "pay your bills" by providing large quantities of food FAST and CHEAP unless you are able to do a real "marketing job", especially as you do NOT have 20-30 years in the business to rely on.

 


 



Wow--thank you for this information. As I said I don't really have much experience with catering. And in the beginning, the 1.5 that I would charge would be while I'm living at home with mommy and daddy, and building my name. :-)

post #16 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by MzFoodie24 View Post


Wow--thank you for this information. As I said I don't really have much experience with catering. And in the beginning, the 1.5 that I would charge would be while I'm living at home with mommy and daddy, and building my name. :-)

Hm, I'm not sure where you live, but in virtually ALL locations in the USA, it is impossible to prepare food anywhere except in a licensed, inspected commercial kitchen and I'm not aware of ANY jurisdiction that permits such a kitchen within a residence.

 

Even starting out, you will need:

  • a business license
  • a health permit
  • a fire dept inspection
  • a sales tax number (in most jurisdictions, many suppliers require one to purchase at wholesale prices)
  • an EIN (if you have ANY employees)
  • Workers Comp Insurance (if you have ANY employees)
  • Liability insurance ( you don't HAVE to, but it is HIGHLY advisable), especially "product liability"
  • a basic office and supplies
     

Have you worked up a "business plan"?

 

Do you want to know how to "make a million" in the culinary world?... Start with four million!

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
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