Webinar Contact Login English

How to Start a Catering Business (12 Steps & Checklist)


Starting a catering business is an enticing prospect for many. However, the challenge of embarking on this venture with limited financial resources can be a significant obstacle.

In this article, we’ll delve into how to launch a catering business when you’re working with a tight budget. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur with modest financial means or you’re exploring various financing options for your catering venture, we’ll offer valuable tips and strategies to help make your dream of owning a catering business a reality, even with limited funds.

What Is Catering?

Catering businesses play a crucial role in the event industry, offering comprehensive catering services that include preparing food, presenting, and serving it at various gatherings, especially corporate events.

A catering company is tasked with not just cooking and delivering food, but also with understanding the nuances of different events and tailoring their services to meet those specific needs. Whether it’s a formal corporate function or a casual social event, the expertise of a catering business ensures that the food and service enhance the overall experience, contributing significantly to the event’s success.

What Is the Cost of Starting a Catering Business?

Starting a catering business involves various costs, primarily around acquiring catering supplies and catering equipment, which are crucial for any catering company.

The investment in these supplies and equipment is a significant factor in the overall expense of launching a successful catering business. The total cost will depend on the scale and scope of the services you plan to offer.

how to start a catering business - what are the costs of starting a catering business?

We can’t give you the exact startup cost as it varies greatly depending on the region. However, we can share some estimates as well as what you need to research in order to establish the costs of starting a business in your area.

You should be prepared to procure about $10,000 – $50,000. However, that is just an estimate, and in the end, you will not be able to avoid coming up with a better number when preparing your business plan. We’ll go over the different costs you must consider when starting a catering business in the next parts of the article.

How To Start a Catering Business?

Now that you have an idea of what the costs of your catering business may include, let’s get you going with 8 steps to starting a catering business.

Step 1: Do the Initial Research

Begin your journey by researching cost-effective opportunities in the catering business that offer flexibility in financing. Seek out catering companies or businesses that provide reduced initial investment requirements or innovative funding options.

In a nutshell, make sure you understand whether your business is actually doable. If you’ve read the initial part of this article, you should have a huge chunk of this already covered.

Initial research ideas:
  • Market Analysis: Research local demand for catering services, including target demographics and competitors.
  • Trends and Preferences: Stay informed about current food trends and dietary preferences (e.g., vegan, gluten-free) in your area.
  • Supplier Relationships: Identify potential suppliers for quality ingredients and catering equipment.
  • Regulatory Requirements: Understand health and safety regulations, as well as necessary permits and licenses.
  • Pricing Strategies: Analyze competitor pricing to establish competitive yet profitable rates.
  • Customer Feedback: Gather insights from potential customers or through surveys about what they seek in catering services.
  • Networking: Connect with event planners, venues, and business groups for partnership and referral opportunities.
  • Marketing Techniques: Learn effective marketing strategies specific to the catering industry, including social media and word-of-mouth.
  • Financial Planning: Understand the initial investment, operating costs, and expected profit margins.

Step 2: Develop a Business Plan

As an aspiring catering business owner, you’re going to need to craft a comprehensive business plan that outlines your catering concept, target audience, and financial projections.

A well-structured plan not only serves as your roadmap but also enhances your ability to attract potential investors and secure financing. Check out our helpful guide on How to Write a Restaurant Business Plan

how to write a catering business plan

Step 3: Secure Funding

Explore a range of funding sources, including personal savings, loans from family and friends, small business grants, and bank loans, to acquire the necessary capital.

Consider the possibility of partnering with investors who share your vision or explore crowdfunding opportunities. Make sure to check out our article on 18 Ways How to Open a Restaurant With No Money.

how to start a catering business - how-to-fund-a-catering-business? 

Step 4: Securing a Commercial Kitchen for Your Catering Business

Choosing the right kitchen space is essential for any catering business owner. This space is crucial for food preparation and plays a significant role in the efficiency of your catering operation. 

Renting a kitchen, either from a restaurant during its off hours or a dedicated commercial kitchen facility, can be a cost-effective solution. This option avoids the large upfront investment of buying or building a kitchen.

how to start a catering business - finding a commercial kitchen

Renting offers catering business owners flexibility. It allows you to allocate more resources to other parts of your business, like marketing and equipment. Typically, the rental cost includes utilities, which simplifies budgeting. When choosing a kitchen, consider factors like location, size, and available equipment to ensure it fits your catering operation needs.

For a catering business owner, like with any other food business, the quality of food preparation directly impacts success. A well-equipped, professional kitchen enhances your food quality and allows scalability as your business grows. Finding the right kitchen space is a strategic decision that supports your business goals and operational needs.

If you are short on cash and don’t feel like you should rent kitchen space right away, you might want to learn how to start a food business from home first.

Step 5: Obtain Licenses and Permits

You’re going to have to obtain a hefty amount of licenses before you can start with your own business. Below are some we are certain you’ll need, but they may vary by state and region. Make sure to ask the appropriate authorities and include the licenses in your business plan.

Ten catering licenses:

1. General Business License:

  • Required at the local city or county level.
  • Ensures compliance with local zoning ordinances.
  • Costs vary by state, typically ranging from $50 to a few hundred dollars, plus renewal fees.

2. “Doing Business As” License (DBA):

  • Needed if you operate your catering business under a different name than your legal name.
  • May require registration at the county or state level.
  • Filing fees range from $10 to $100 depending on location and business structure.

3. Employer Identification Number (EIN)

  • Necessary for tax purposes, hiring employees, opening bank accounts, and obtaining catering licenses.
  • Free to apply for an EIN once you have an existing business.

4. Home Occupation Permit (if running the business from home):

  • Required if you plan to run a home-based catering business.
  • Costs vary by state, typically ranging from $50 to a few hundred dollars.

5. Caterer Permit:

  • Depending on your county and state, you may need a specific caterer permit that goes beyond standard food handler or food safety certification.
  • Obtained as part of the health permit or health inspection process.
  • Costs vary by locality and are often associated with food, zoning, and liquor codes.

6. Building Health Permit:

  • Required to demonstrate compliance with sanitation regulations for your catering operation.
  • Costs range from $50 to $1,000 depending on building age and location. 
  • Find information at your local health department.

7. Catering Business Insurance:

  • While not a license, it is crucial for protecting your business and may include the following policies:
    • General Liability Insurance
    • Commercial Auto Insurance (if using vehicles for transportation)
    • Workers’ Compensation (if you have employees)
    • Commercial Property Insurance (for equipment and inventory).

8. Food Handler Permit:

  • Essential for catering businesses and employees handling food.
  • Issued by the state’s department of health and often requires training.
  • Costs vary by state but are typically $100 or more.

9. Restaurant Food Service License:

  • Required to serve food to customers, even for catering businesses.
  • Check with your state’s department of health for specific requirements.
  • Costs can range from $100 to $1,000 depending on state and restaurant type.

10. Caterer’s Permit with Alcohol (if serving alcoholic beverages):

  • Separate license needed to serve alcohol alongside catered meals.
  • Costs vary by state and can be a few hundred dollars or more.

Step 6: Vehicle Procurement and Costs

Research purchasing, leasing, or renting a suitable vehicle for your catering business if you do not already have one. A van makes the most sense for transporting food and equipment efficiently. 

Additionally, factor in the ongoing expenses, including gas, maintenance, and insurance costs for the vehicle. Ensuring you have a reliable and well-maintained vehicle is essential to your catering business’s smooth operation.

When considering a vehicle for your catering business, anticipate costs ranging from $5,000 to $30,000, depending on whether you purchase new, used, or lease. Monthly expenses for gas, maintenance, and insurance can total around $300 to $800. Ensuring you have a reliable and well-maintained vehicle is essential to your catering business’s smooth operation.

Step 7: Rental Expenses for Linens and Tableware

Call local party rental companies to inquire about the costs of renting linens, silverware, and serving dishes. Particularly when starting out, it’s often more economical to rent these items rather than making a significant upfront purchase. Renting allows flexibility and minimizes the risk of being stuck with excess inventory if your business faces challenges or changes in direction.

how to start a catering business - renting event equipment

Rental costs for linens, silverware, and serving dishes can vary depending on your location and the quantity and quality of items needed. Typically, renting can cost between $300 to $1,000 or more per event. Starting out, this approach is often more economical than purchasing, allowing flexibility and mitigating the risk of excess inventory.

Step 8: Insurance Requirements and Costs

Contact your insurance agent to determine the type of insurance coverage needed and associated costs. In addition to insuring any vehicles you acquire for the company, you’ll likely require business liability insurance to protect against potential accidents or liabilities. Depending on your business’s size and the equipment you use, consider other insurance options to safeguard your assets.

how to start a catering business - costs of insurance for a catering business

Insurance costs can vary based on factors such as your location, business size, and coverage needs. On average, business liability insurance can range from $500 to $3,000 annually, while insuring a catering vehicle may cost approximately $1,000 to $2,000 per year. Be sure to consult with your insurance agent to determine your specific insurance needs and associated costs.

Step 9: Hire Employees

As a catering business owner, you have to consider that clients may ask you to organize and provide food for outdoor events. In that case, you might have to either hire or know how to cooperate with event coordinators.

The catering business requires a lot of flexibility, which shows in a wide range of catering jobs. The specific roles you’ll need to fill may vary depending on the size and scope of your catering business, but here are some key positions to consider.

  • Chef/Caterer
  • Kitchen Staff
  • Servers
  • Event Coordinator
  • Event Staff
  • Bartenders (if offering bar services)
  • Administrative Staff
  • Administrative personnel handle scheduling, accounting, invoicing, and general office management tasks.
  • Delivery and Transportation Team
  • Dishwashers and Clean-Up Crew
  • Event Planner/Coordinator (optional)
  • Pastry Chef or Baker (if offering desserts)
  • Dietary or Nutrition Specialist (optional)
  • Cleaning and Maintenance Staff (for kitchen and equipment upkeep)

When hiring staff for your catering business, focus on individuals with relevant experience, excellent customer service skills, and a strong work ethic. 

Training and certifications may also be required for certain roles, such as food handlers’ permits or bartender licenses. Ensure that your team is well-trained and aligned with your business’s values and standards to provide exceptional catering services to your clients.

Step 10: Use Restaurant Technology

how to start a catering business - best catering ordering system

Leverage catering technology solutions to streamline your business operations and drive growth.

For instance, consider implementing an online ordering system on your website, allowing customers to place orders conveniently. This expands your reach to a wider audience and enhances the customer experience.

Learn more about setting up an efficient online ordering system for your catering business.

Another valuable catering technology is table ordering. Utilize QR codes placed on tables to enable clients to place orders and make payments effortlessly from their mobile devices while dining.

Here you can check how to set up an online ordering system.

Online Ordering System
Start selling food online
Set up commission-free ordering for your restaurant's website in minutes. Boost revenue while saving on third-party fees

Another restaurant solution is table ordering. You should generate QR codes and place them on tables to employ this restaurant technology. This allows clients to place orders and complete payments effortlessly from their mobile devices while seated at their tables.

Step 11: Create a Marketing Plan

Develop a restaurant marketing plan tailored to your catering business that prioritizes cost-effective or free marketing channels.

Leverage social media, local advertising, and community outreach to connect with potential clients.

Harness digital marketing tools to target specific audiences without substantial upfront costs.

Consider implementing a customer loyalty program to encourage repeat business, offer discounts, and gain a better understanding of your clientele for more effective promotions.

A well-executed loyalty program not only fosters customer goodwill but also generates positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

Explore helpful resources for effective catering marketing strategies and ideas.

Loyalty Program
Create a Loyalty Program for Your Restaurant
Boost customer loyalty and transform one-time restaurant guests into regulars with an easy-to-implement loyalty program

Step 12. Prepare a Launch Plan

Prepare a launch event to generate excitement and attract initial customers to your catering business. Utilize word-of-mouth marketing and local partnerships to promote your grand opening without the need for an extensive marketing budget.

Check out our article on 14 Best Restaurant Grand Opening Ideas.

Key Takeaways

  • Starting a catering business on a budget requires careful planning and research.
  • Understand the local market, trends, and competition to identify cost-effective opportunities.
  • Develop a comprehensive business plan to outline your catering concept, target audience, and financial projections.
  • Secure funding through various sources like personal savings, loans, grants, or crowdfunding.
  • Find a suitable commercial kitchen space, either by renting from a restaurant during off-hours or a dedicated facility.
  • Obtain the necessary licenses and permits, including general business licenses, “Doing Business As” licenses, EIN, health permits, and more, with costs ranging from $50 to $1,000.
  • Factor in insurance costs, such as business liability and vehicle insurance, with annual premiums ranging from $500 to $3,000.
  • Hire a diverse team, including chefs, kitchen staff, servers, event coordinators, bartenders, and administrative personnel, based on your business’s needs.
  • Utilize restaurant technology like online ordering systems and QR code-based table ordering to enhance customer experience and streamline operations.
  • Develop a cost-effective marketing plan that leverages social media, local advertising, and community outreach.
  • Consider implementing a customer loyalty program to encourage repeat business and positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • Plan a budget-friendly launch event to generate buzz and attract initial customers without extensive marketing expenses.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

To manage a small catering business effectively, prioritize efficient kitchen operations, strong supplier relationships, and a competitive menu. Corporate catering can be a growth opportunity. Focus on marketing, exceptional customer service, and staff training. Implement sound financial management, monitor inventory, and consider diversifying services. Adapt and innovate for success in the catering industry.

The revenue potential for a catering business can vary widely depending on factors such as location, market demand, services offered, and the size of the business.

  • Small catering businesses might generate annual revenues ranging from $50,000 to $250,000.
  • Medium-sized catering businesses can earn anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million or more annually.
  • Larger catering companies serving corporate and high-end events may have revenues exceeding $1 million.

To manage a small catering business effectively, focus on delivering high-quality food and service, maintain strong supplier relationships, and market your services to attract clients. Efficiently handle finances, control costs, and adapt to client needs to ensure growth and profitability.

To write a catering business plan:

  • Start with an executive summary outlining your business concept, goals, and financial projections.
  • Describe your catering services, target market, and competition.
  • Include details about your team, pricing, and marketing strategies.
  • Outline your funding needs and financial forecasts.
  • Include a SWOT analysis and contingency plan.
  • Finish with a conclusion that summarizes your plan’s key points.

Ensure it’s clear, concise, and well-structured. For an in-depth guide, check this catering business plan article.

The profitability of a catering business depends on various factors, including location, market demand, and competition. However, some catering types tend to be more profitable than others:

  1. Corporate Catering: Serving businesses and offices for meetings, conferences, and events can be profitable due to recurring orders and larger group sizes.
  2. Wedding Catering: Weddings often have higher budgets, and catering for these events can be lucrative, especially for upscale weddings.
  3. Event Catering: Catering for special events like galas, fundraisers, and parties can be profitable, especially when targeting high-end clientele.
  4. Drop-off Catering: Providing ready-to-serve meals for small gatherings or meetings can be cost-effective and profitable with efficient operations.
  5. Specialty or Niche Catering: Focusing on a specific cuisine or dietary niche, such as vegan, gluten-free, or ethnic cuisines, can attract a dedicated customer base willing to pay a premium.

Ultimately, the key to profitability is efficient cost management, effective marketing, and delivering excellent service to your target market. Conduct thorough market research and tailor your catering business to the specific needs and preferences of your chosen niche to maximize profitability.

Picture of Emil Gawkowski

Emil Gawkowski

Creative digital writer and marketer. A caffeine-fueled madman who loves to make things better.

How helpful was this post?

Share this article

Try for free,
no commitment!