To ensure that you cover all the necessary steps in setting up your new business you can make use of all the information that is freely available in various books, articles, on the Internet, DVD’s, etc. Nowadays all the major banks have their own small business sections with consultants who can assist you with almost all the information you may need. There are also numerous private consultants, and government initiatives who can assist you.
Most probably the most important step you must take will be to compile a detailed Business Plan. Not only is it a pre-requisite if you want to apply for financing, but if you do it properly you will, when it is finished, have everything in place to make a success of your business, providing it become a working document and not something to get financing with, and then stash away in a drawer. In light of the importance of the Business Plan we will look at it in much more detail later on.
Our next step is now to make a list of everything we need to open the business, whilst at the same time establishing which of these are possible problem areas, and determine how we will go about overcoming them. Most of this information will be used in our Business Plan, which we can do ourselves, or get professional help, if we want to, and of course if we do have the necessary funds to outsource it. We prefer to do it ourselves, for the simple reason that it allows us to get to know all aspects of the business we would like to startup or buy in detail, rather than getting a finished document from someone else who will most probably not be involved in the daily operation of the business.
You will need a menu to present to potential clients when they require a quote for a catering service. So if you have already decided which niche of the catering market you want to start with, you have to do a lot of research, by talking to friends, family, catering people and potential customers to determine what exactly the latest trends are, and what the potential market would be interested in should they require catering services. Also look at what other caterers, and even Restaurants, in the area you would like to target have on their menus, and what their prices are. Other sources are food- and catering magazines, recipe books, again the Internet, TV programs, etc. One thing that you can be sure of is that there is definitely not a shortage of information on this subject.
Once you have gathered some information, draw up sample menus, and attach the recipes to it. You will later use this to determine your costs and selling prices. Show your menus to potential customers, preferably not your family or friends, because they will most probably not really give you an unbiased opinion, and some of them can even be more demotivational than helpful. Prepare all the dishes on your menus that you have not done before and test it yourself and with some of the people mentioned above. The moment you are happy with the results you can finalise your first preliminary menus.
Now you must establish exactly what kind of equipment and utensils you will need to be able to serve your menu. So make a list, and if you are unsure talk to other people in the catering industry. There are many people who will be willing to assist you, especially catering equipment suppliers. Just a word of warning, some of these suppliers can maybe convince you to overcapitalise. So listen to them and then talk to people who are in the business of doing catering themselves, to get their opinions on cheaper options, like good secondhand, older models, that will maybe do exactly the same job. Remember also that if you are not going to do everything physically yourself, it can be costly to let people who maybe do not care about the business as much as you use and/or abuse brand new “Rolls Royce” equipment if the same job could be done with much cheaper options.
At the same time you must start to source your ingredients. Prepare a shopping list of all the ingredients you need according to your recipes. Get at least two or three quotes, because we found over the years that it’s worth your while to shop around for the best prices and quality. Remember although keeping your food cost as low as possible is very important, you cannot afford to chase away clients as a result of bad quality ingredients, and there are often substantial differences in the quality of the “caterers grade” ingredients, if compared to price. All this information must also be kept together for your Business Plan.
Make sure that the size of your premises is adequate for your needs and especially that the rent is affordable. Rent can be a business killer. Although location is one of the most important factors for a business, we believe that for a catering business like the one you would like to open, you do not really need space in a fancy shopping centre. You can in actual fact, in certain circumstances, even do it from your home. Just make sure that you are complying with your city’s ordinances, and make very sure that you get approval from your local Health and Safety department, because you don’t want to be closed down as a result of that. Another alternative could maybe be to, especially in the beginning, get involved in some kind of joint venture, as far as the kitchen is concerned, but we would not highly recommend that, although it could be a viable option for a few months.