What Qualifications Do You Need to Start a Catering Business?

Upon starting my catering business, there were many things I was concerned about.  I had a kitchen that simply could not accommodate my culinary ambitions, not to mention my lack of equipment.  I was also overwhelmed with questions of business licenses, food safety permits, food handling licenses, and every other legal hoop you can imagine jumping through.  At a certain point I almost felt resigned to the fact I would be filling out paperwork for the rest of my life and not actually cooking food.  Throughout all of this, not one person asked if I was “qualified” to start a business, or even paused to ask for my resume.  As far as job applications went, this was actually relatively simple; everything was up to me.

Make no mistake, catering any event is a difficult operation to pull off.  You’re asked to cook for tens, hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, and you usually have to do all of it away from the kitchen you prepared the food in.  You’ll spend hours in a kitchen, on your feet, peeling various vegetables, wondering why you thought this would be fun.  And then you’ll see people’s faces light up as they take a bite of food and immediately remember why you’re here.  However, unless you’re in a meeting with a client, not one person will ask you about your qualifications.  That being said, you shouldn’t just dive into this without any experience at all.  I had worked in a kitchen for several years, and headed up two separate catering operations before I started my own business.  You’re not required to have any certificates, education, or work experience, but it’s helpful to have a little bit of each of those.  At the very least, I would recommend a class at a culinary school just to get your cooking up to a more professional standard.  You can cook all you want at home, but having someone stand over your shoulder will really get your poop in a group in the kitchen.

As if organizing a menu, preparing a venue, bringing food to said venue, and serving food wasn’t enough, catering also requires an understanding of budgets, completing costs, organizing wait staff, marketing a business, and a host of other business-related organization.  While you don’t need any experience to try your hand at this, it could be helpful to take a class in business management, or take a course specifically designed to teach the management practices of a hospitality or catering business.  After realizing my own assets weren’t going to fund my catering business, I started applying for a loan.  To feel better prepared to get funding, I took several courses on business management with a focus on the hospitality industries, and took a culinary class designed specifically for caterers.  Did I need to do this? No.  Did it help me?  Absolutely.  By taking these classes I had a better understanding of what to do in nearly every aspect of my business.  You really don’t have to do this, but it’s not going to hurt.

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