Help!!! Need Advice..New catering business took off too fast

Joined Dec 31, 2015
I started my catering company about 4 months ago offering a traditional menu at an affordable price. I’m not technically trained. But I’ve been cooking for over 25 years and catering parties, weddings and church events voluntarily for over 5 years for friends and family.  Any who, I’m a fulltime mother (3 kids 20, 18 & 17), wife and also work as a programmer fulltime (go figure).  Business took off so fast that I’ve hired two on call employees to help prep and drop off food. I’m renting space in a business incubator kitchen working under their food service license, created a website with menu and pricing and purchased 1 million in liability insurance.  I’ve had at least one event per week.  But we have been doing multiple events for over 250 guests per week for the last 3 months. I’m mainly doing drop offs or buffets that don’t require more than 2 staff.  I’ve had some invaluable learning experiences being knee deep into this thing in such a short period of time. 

Most of my business comes from word of mouth referrals and I’ve lucked up a few times on Thumbtack as well.  My issue is things have slowed down within the last week and I can now breathe and focus on what I should have been focused on in the first place as I want the business to grow and sustain.  I’m working on a business plan and marketing strategies. Ha, but what the heck are they… I have no clue on effective marketing strategies.  I know what books tell me, or what Google says.  But, what do the experts say?  1) What marketing strategies have you all used that helped your business in the beginning stages?  2) I would like to tap into the wedding market and was thinking about doing a tasting of a few entrees for vendors within the market.  3) Has that worked for anyone?  4) How did you all keep steady revenue during down times?  My Cajun green beans w/smoked turkey is highly requested.  Maybe I’ll package that up and sell it…I don’t know.  Seems like my eyes are wide open (well barely); but I don’t know nothing, haha.

I appreciate you reading my long winded post and any assistance would certainly be appreciated.

Here's to catering!!
Joined Jun 23, 2015
You should have a business plan first.  Talk to your local SCORE. You can find them through the Small Business Administration.  Your business is going gangbusters that's good, but are you making any profit?  Make sure your insurance is product liability.  Good luck   
Joined Feb 8, 2009
I would say you already went through the perfect storm. Your catering business allowed you little effort for large functions. You being able to drop off the food was a great help. Just think if you needed to have wait staff sit down set-up and service with a staff of 20 people. In almost all cases catering drops off a lot after the holidays. There isn't much you can do unless you can cater to businesses for meetings and luncheons. This is also a time to get your P's & Q's together for the wedding season. I would get your food/plate/buffet photos together in a album to show clients. I would also have a catering menu for Weddings of 5 or 6 items and side dishes you do best. Cater food that you know, if someone asked you to cater a Luau and you have never done one don't practice on them. Be honest, be yourself and do what has got you to this point. When I was promoting my Catering business I catered an open house "small bite" buffet at the Chamber of Congress and invited business owners and city agencies. I also set up small luncheons for key people in the city that either attended a lot of functions or hosted a lot of functions. This way I could have them taste my food see the menus and photo albums and know who I am. I was involved with the larges companies in my area so I already did all the internal catering/cafeteria food for them. Word of mouth is a great tool and one of the best ways of getting the word out. .......The Best......Chef Bill
Joined Jul 28, 2001
At this point in your venture, you should know the food cost of each dish, how much does it does it cost you to prepare that dish-labor- elect. -overhead=delivering-pick-up etc. Once you know  exactly what you're making on products your business plan will follow in time.

Personally, I'm not one to spend a whole amount of time with a business plan. It's great for concepts, but the banks don;t even read them.

For instance, you spend a year with a friend and you design the best chocolate chip business  ever. You open the doors and everyone is asking for lemon squares. "you're now on the lemon square business".

Marketing for catering has been reduced down a bit. Rent out a nice restaurant, preferably a venue (for discount on exposure) misic, same thing, invite the wedding planners in your area to a reception. Flower vendors and other vendors will probably through in free things. Have a local travel agent through in a 3 day cruise as a door prize. Things along those line.

If I did not have my food cost

Labor cost

overhead, ins, drivers, etc. I would not proceed.

Too many places blow up in the beginning and they are so busy they never get a chance to go back and establish the basics.

I've seen caterers just have to close their doors even though you think they a really making it.

my thoughts
Joined Dec 31, 2015
Chef Bill, my oh my - it's been slow as all get out and yes this is a perfect time to do exactly what you mentioned... and I thought I had nothing to do.  Making some of my best dishes and capturing them on camera sounds like a nice weekend.  Your post really helped me look outside of my small lens.

Panini, I worked with a guy whose experienced in assisting restaurants price their menus.  He helped me understand some of the different variables that you mentioned to ensure I'm not loosing money. I came up with my pricing based on those variables.  He still thinks I should charge more..comparing what I offer to the prices of established businesses.  I'm still reviewing this.  i'm a little torn on the whole up charge thing.  I'd rather increase rates as my variables increase.  But, that's my conviction and I'm considering everything the experts tell me :) 

Jimyra, I've forgotten all about SCORE.  Thank you!! 

Whelp, it's time to hit the pavement.  I really appreciate you taking the time out as your insight was extremely helpful.

Here's to catering!!
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