The world of food service is quite dynamic. From fine dining and hotel food service - to concession and the food truck business – no establishment is exactly the same. In such a broad industry, one might guess that there is also an abundance of information and ways of getting things done. In this piece, we sit down with two industry professionals to ask the questions you’ve always wanted to know about the catering business.
Q: How should one go about obtaining their catering licenses (in Georgia)?
Ned: Here in Gwinnett County it’s the City of Lawrenceville, and you’ll need to go the business licensing office for whatever municipal you are in and apply. Depending on what kind of catering business[it is will] determine what kind of business licensing [you’re] going to have.
Q: What’s important to know about starting a catering business?
Ned: What your demographics are, where you’re going to be operating, how you’re going to be operating. [You'll want to know] what your equipment needs are, what your overhead is, what your starting costs are going to be. It's also important to find a good accountant, get yourself incorporated, and make sure you understand the basics as far as what a corporate umbrella is.
Q: What are some good ways to advertise a catering business?
Ned: Bridal Expos are really good, word-of-mouth is really good… Flyers, website building…Marketing with other business. Small businesses tend to support small businesses, so making sure you’re working with your local people to help promote.
Q: Can you talk about staff retention and ways to combat turnover in the catering industry?
Ned: Hiring the right people. It’s sometimes very, very difficult. Making sure you’re getting rid of the bad eggs, don’t be afraid to fire anybody. Making sure that your pay [rate] is within line. Treating people with respect. Making sure that you’re asking their opinion, make them a part of the business. Training also is huge as well. People don’t want to work for a company where they’re set up for failure. People want to succeed.
Q: How do you plan a menu for catering?
Ned: I sit down and talk to my customers. I’m different than everybody else in that a lot of other catering companies have set menus, so they know what the set food cost is, they know what labor is going into it, they know where their overall head is. In my case, I have no set menus so I go out, I actually sit down with my customers - What do they need? What do they want their guests to experience? Does the bride have a favorite menu item? Someone may have food allergies we have to take into account or [be] allergic to seafood. It’s a matter of finding out what they want to experience.
Q: What are some challenges and/or risks in the catering business?
Ned: You always have to be thinking ahead. You always have to anticipate the unforeseen. When you are onsite you always have to make sure you have backups of everything…The biggest fear of any owner or any chef is running out of food, especially at a wedding or an event. You have to give yourself enough time to react. Other risks in the business are dealing people having food allergies but you’re not aware of them. So you have to be ahead of that curve- taking a look at food trends, taking a look at what’s going on with food allergies –peanut allergies, dairy intolerance, and things of that nature.
Q: Talk about the types of events you cater for and how they differ.
Ned: We do everything from couples dinners, Lunch and Learns, weddings, corporate events, holiday parties of over 500+s, backyard barbeque parties [and more]. It’s a large gamut of what different companies are willing to do and what they want to take on. For me, I want to cater for everybody. I have no minimums and can build menus or a budget around all of it.
Q: What are some reputable places to shop catering equipment?
Ned: I’ve shopped with other companies, but outside of some specialty equipment I need, ACityDiscount has really been the "all-all" with customer service, finding the right equipment for my company, finding out what my business needs are, and they’ve always treated me fairly. I have shopped with competitors where I’ve felt taken advantage of or I’ve paid out extra thousands of dollars.
Q: What are the average catering business start-up costs?
Ned: On the low end, between $50-65K and on the high end it can be over a quarter of a million dollars depending on set up and what you’re looking to do with equipment. I personally have over $100K invested in my company of my own personal money from my trailer - to all of my catering equipment, to equipment I’ve sold [in order to upgrade my equipment]. Then there are insurance costs, costs for food production, overhead and employee wages. When you start a business you want to try to have enough overhead to keep you in business for 6 months to a year if you can.
Q: How did you come up with your catering business slogan for your establishment?
Ned: My company is attributed to my grandmother and mother [so] Honest, Fresh and Family Run is our company mantra. Our 5 key pillars are: Safety First, Customers King, Do the Right Thing, and Never Be Satisfied. [Looking at] what I want our company to be is how I came up with our company slogans.
Q: What other advice can you offer about starting, owning, or running a catering business?
Ned: The biggest part is what sets you apart from everybody else. For us we’re 100 percent green catering company, all the chemicals we use are environmentally safe, our generator’s EPA rated in all 50 states, all of our disposable stuff is made for 80- 90 percent recycled material - and it’s recyclable. We use sustainability. We buy locally all over Georgia with organic farms. We also do on site fresh cooking, cooked to order so food quality is there as well as flavor.
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