Thinking of starting your own food business? Follow our guide to becoming a caterer – including the key skills and certificates you’ll need.
If you want to start a catering company, you’ll need quality customer service, attention to detail, excellent communication and organisation skills, and – above all else – a passion for creating delicious food.
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What does a caterer do?
The answer to this question may seem obvious, but it’s worth making sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for. Caterers source ingredients from suppliers, prepare food for events, transport food to events, present or serve food at events, and clear up afterwards.
If that sounds like the ideal business for you, get a head start on your new venture with the help of our eight-step guide. You can bookmark this article and tick off the list as you go.
1. Create a business plan
It can be easy to get carried away with the excitement of starting a business you’ve dreamed of building, but remember to keep a level head. Beginning with a well-thought-out business plan can help to ensure your success.
Who’s your target market?
First, work out who you’ll sell your services to. Are there lots of offices in the area, which are home to businesses in need of corporate catering? Do you live in a town full of young families, who may be looking for someone to cater birthday parties?
Maybe there are beautiful stately homes nearby, which are perfect wedding venues that don’t provide their own catering service.
What’s your niche?
Second, it’s a good idea to decide on a specialism. You may choose to cook comfort food classics. You could be a posh party food specialist. Or perhaps your skills lie in a cuisine from another part of the world. Specialising is a good way to stand out from the crowd.
What should I include in my business plan?
- Your elevator pitch (a short and snappy sales pitch)
- Your background, including skills and experience
- A description of what your catering company will offer
- A description of your intended customers
- Market research you’ve carried out
- Your marketing strategy
- Details of your competitors
- Your USP (unique selling point)
- Operations and logistics, including equipment and transport
2. Food business registration
The government requires you to apply for a licence if you carry out any ‘food operations’, which may include selling, cooking, storing, preparing, and distributing food.
You need to register at least 28 days before you start your catering business. Don’t forget – if your business operates out of your home as well as a van or stall, you’ll need to register all the premises you use.
Your local council may also require you to register for working with animal products, if you prepare meat, fish, dairy, or eggs.
3. Register your business with HMRC
Whatever the nature of your business, you must register with HMRC so you can pay the correct tax and avoid being penalised for non-registration or non-payment.
The type of business structure you choose will probably depend on how large you expect your turnover to be. Read our article to help you decide whether to set up as a sole trader or a limited company.
4. Environmental health inspection
You can contact your local environmental health officer to arrange an inspection. This will ensure your food preparation facilities are up to the hygienic standards required for preparing food for public consumption.
It’s also worth brushing up on general food law by reading the guidance on the Food Standards Agency website.
Doing these things can help safeguard against compensation claims from customers who’ve become ill due to eating your food.
5. Catering business insurance
With this in mind, it’s worth considering what insurance you’ll need for your catering business. Public liability insurance can protect you if someone is injured or their property is damaged because of your business.
If you have staff – even if you just hire people to cover catering events – you’ll most likely need employers’ liability insurance. This type of insurance is a legal requirement and can cover any claims from employees who’ve been injured or become seriously ill because of your business.
Don’t forget to consult the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website to ensure you’re compliant with the latest regulations – including having the necessary firefighting equipment in your premises.
6. Keep accurate records
There are other things you can do to minimise risks, including keeping your business records in order. This includes everything from your financial records to your ingredients and suppliers.
If you’re investigated, for whatever reason, it’ll help ensure that you can easily prove that you’ve done everything above board.
7. Become a certified caterer
You don’t need any specific education to become a successful caterer, but you do need to know your way around a kitchen and have a real love of food.
You also need a Level 2 food safety certificate, which you can get by doing a one-day course with an organisation such as the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health or the Nationwide Careers Association (NCASS).
8. Catering service equipment
Finally, you’ll need the right tools to make a success of your business. If you’re starting a catering company from home, you’ll probably have a lot of the kitchen equipment you need to prepare for smaller scale events.
However, as your business grows, you may need to think about investing in industrial catering equipment, or doubling up on everyday kitchen tools if you’re preparing batches of a particular dish back to back.
Starting out in your catering business should be fairly straightforward once you have all the necessary registrations and certificates in place. Then it’s up to you to decide how and how much you’d like your new venture to grow.