By Andrew Shim
With most households being double income families, there is hardly enough time to cook tasty dishes let alone wholesome, nutritious meals. That’s why there is a growing need for caterers who can serve healthy, home-cooked meals daily. Home based caterers provide more than just hot, delicious meals - they allow couples and families to escape the daily stress of shopping, cooking and cleaning and concentrate on quality time with one another.
Who’s the cook.
The first requirement to starting your own daily catering business is at least ONE of the partners MUST be a cook. Fortunately, for most home-makers, this is a skill that comes naturally. If you must hire a cook, make sure he or she is dependable.
Working out your startup cost
A home based daily catering business is easy to set up even with very minimal capital. Starting out with just a handful of customers, it will be like cooking for extra guests or family members. You can use your existing equipment until your customer base grows to the point where you will NEED bigger, better and more efficient equipment. Make sure to set aside funds for this from your profit. Since customers will usually need to pay in advance, there should not be any issue of not having the funds for raw products.
What type of menu to offer
There are two basic menu systems that you can offer, depending on how big an operation you intend to run :
The basic no-choice menu is where you serve 3 or 4 dishes daily. You decide what to serve every day. This method is easier for the small two-person operation, but the drawbacks are that customers will naturally be served with dishes that are not exactly to their liking. However, this isn’t a major problem if you serve dishes that are generally popular.
In the 3-choice menu system, you will prepare a menu consisting of 3 choices each of meat, veggie and side dishes. Your customer will then tick their preferred choice for the 30 day period. This method requires more manpower and involves a lot of planning and cost control, but the advantage is that your customers get to choose their dishes, which in turn means that they will probably retain your services longer.
Pricing your service
The key to making a nice profit in this business is keeping your costs as low as possible. This is truly possible if you source for the cheapest raw products and buy in bulk. Many dry vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and carrots can be stored for a long time if sealed in an air tight bag, avoiding moisture so they be bought in bulk. Of course this isn’t possible when you first start out, but as your customer base grows, you will be buying almost everything in bulk. You’ll also want to call existing caterers to find out how they price their service. Then you’ll need to decide what profit margin you’re comfortable with. Too high and you will probably not get as many customers as you’d like. Too low and you risk being badly affected when your raw product costs fluctuate.
Getting through the red tape
Visit your local health and food administration authorities to find out about the laws governing your home based daily catering business. It’s best to get all the appropriate permits and licenses before you start. This may include health screening for yourself and anyone involved in your catering business and cleanliness checks for your cooking area.
Advertising your business
Advertisement costs will depend on how big a catering business you want to have. Flyers, posters and banners will probably work for mom and pop teams that want to grow at their own pace. Newspaper or magazine ads will give you a wider exposure and probably a quicker surge in your customer base but they obviously cost more. The best type of advertising though, is a satisfied customer. Nothing beats word-of-mouth.
Getting the food to your customer
Customers can pick up their meals from your home or have it delivered to their place at a determined fee. Packing your meals in standard sized food containers is best. Having to deal with too many odd shaped containers is cumbersome and slows down delivery. Stainless stell tiffins are probably the most appropriate. Remember that your customers will probably want to re-heat their food so make sure your choice of packaging is microwave safe. You’ll need to plan your cooking and delivery schedule carefully. Give yourself a delivery window of about an hour or an hour-and-a-half. Longer than that usually means that the food has to be cooked too early and gets cold.
What you want to do is make every meal count. Here’s how :
- Plan. Lack of planning makes for hasty decisions and hasty decisions affect your final product.
Cleanliness. Make sure all your raw products are cut and cleaned properly and your cooking area cleaned and sanitized daily. The quickest way to kill your home based catering business is having your meals be the cause of health-related problems.
- Cost Control. Keep an eagle eye on your costs. You’ll find the optimum balance between quantity and quality soon enough.
- Customer Relationship. Customers who get to know you tend to stay longer. Cater to special requests if you can but keep it within reason.
Supplier Relationship. Your suppliers are an important part of your business. It’s amazing what you can get if you yourself are a good customer – preferential treatment, freebies and volume. All this goes to keeping your costs down.
So, is it that simple? Well yes and no.
Yes, because it really IS that simple to start a home based daily catering business. If you just want a small side income, then keeping your business small makes thing a lot easier.
No, because like all other businesses, your “problems” start when your business starts to grow and you’ll have other things to consider like staffing, accounting, tax and administrative issues, marketing, advertising and competitors. But remember – these are GOOD problems to have!
Andrew Shim is the owner and editor of PositiveMoneyIdeas.com a website which offers home business ideas to Make Money and PositiveTones.com, a resource for Positive Living.
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