Edible Endeavors

The caterer's recipe for success requires the right mix of resolve, menus, and clientele

you will need a business plan to secure financing. Entrepreneurs might also consider borrowing the money from family and friends or seeking out micro-lending organizations such as ACCION USA, (www.accionusa.org).

Get proper licenses and certifications. Whether you run a catering business from your home, a mobile street van, or a banquet facility, if you’re preparing food you need to be licensed with the local Department of Health. Beyond having good hygiene, regulators want to make sure food for distribution and sale is safely prepared, handled, protected, and preserved. Before a license is issued, someone from the Health Department will inspect your kitchen to make sure it complies with food sanitation rules.

Get up to code. Your kitchen must also be in compliance with standards of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, to cover employees, and the local fire department depending on the size of your premises. If you are the owner and the main cook, you should attend culinary school or take food handling courses, advises Christine Emerson, executive director of the International Caterers Association in New York. As a caterer, you need to understand the proper way to transport, store, and serve food.

Create various menus. Catering businesses, unlike restaurants, don’t tend to have a single average for food cost. Caterers sell volume, so Roman says it is very important to develop several “levels” of food. “Let’s call them A, B, and C. All of them are great, it’s just that one may offer shrimp and the others do not.” Often, caterers will sell the same menu at a lower or higher price depending on the type of event, total number of guests, an
d amount of money the client is spending.

Set your prices for profit. Develop a pricing structure that will make you money. Take into account the costs of materials, overhead, and labor. “The trick is that a caterer can never sell his A menu for B prices,” cautions Roman. “You have to change the menu to meet the client’s price and not the other way around.” Call other catering companies or check their Websites to see their price lists. Then figure out the cost of ingredients, labor, and company overhead and add in your desired profit-anywhere from 15% to 40%.

Purchase equipment and supplies. Starting out, you can rent items to keep initial costs down. These include the use of kitchen facilities, utensils, tables, tablecloths, serving equipment, and other items. When it comes to storage, the Health Department and OSHA have refrigeration standards. Also, your storage _facility will depend on your market. “If you’re only catering for about 100 people, you don’t need a 200-square-foot walk-in [refrigerator],” says Matthew Raiford, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America and owner of Satin and Savory in Atlanta. If you are transporting food off premises, you need a small delivery van or vehicle that can pass health inspections.

A good way to save money is to look for a restaurant that is _closing and buy its equipment. That’s how Nikki Shaw, chef and

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