New to Catering

Discussion in 'Professional Catering' started by triddick1, Feb 3, 2014.

  1. triddick1

    triddick1

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    Hello Caterers,

    I am planning on attending culinary school to learn the basic techniques of the art.  I am currently an at home cook, and am planning on opening a catering business in the next year or two.  I am in the process of doing my research, and am planning on getting education that will set me apart from local competition.  I am looking for as many tips, and words of advice you are willing to render.  

    A little background, I am an accountant, with a bachelor's degree in business administration, and a master's degree in accounting.  I am planning on attending classes in the evenings, and will operate my business while working.  
     
  2. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    Rule one when you cater, don't make the (common) mistake of underpricing in order to

    "build up some clients, then I'll raise my rates after I get more established."

    It rarely works that way--raising rates just ticks off repeat clients and referrals alike.

    Once a low priced caterer, always one.
     
  3. mikeswoods

    mikeswoods

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    Have you ever worked for a caterer?

    I'd suggest you find one or two that do the type of service you hope to do and get some experience.

    That business has a large overhead----I don't see a way for that to be a side job and stay afloat--

    Getting part time,on call ,work with a caterer is easy enough to do--
     
  4. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    Yeah I didn't read that post well enough--was tired from work, and sort of put the

    cart before the horse there...was thinking you were already catering. 

     Mike is right of course, you can't really want to be a caterer until you really KNOW what

    it is to BE a caterer. And I've said it before, culinary school does not a caterer make--get

    at least 10 or 15 events under your belt before sinking  any time or money into this business.

    Personally it took me over 50 before I really knew I could do it on my own.
     
    triddick1 likes this.
  5. mikeswoods

    mikeswoods

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    Bingo----We considered a worker to be a novice until they had at least a dozen jobs under their belt---

    In full service catering there are a large variety of party styles---

    Buffet--throw away--and formal

    Cocktail parties

    Tent parties

    open houses

    promotional events

    picnics

    And the list goes on----like Mezenplaz said---50 parties is about when I could trust a person with above average intelligence and common sense to actually supervise an event.

    We did a lot of complicated serving and many parties over 2000 guests---this requires an experienced team---

    Without real world experience you could be limiting your growth--Jump into the pool and learn to swim where there is a life guard----your employer---
     
  6. triddick1

    triddick1

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    I haven't dished out any money yet, and should have mentioned I plan on gaining experience by working under a caterer. I haven't decided on whether or not I should start looking now, or wait to get employed as part of my required externship. I am currently trying to do my research and soak up as much knowledge and information as possible for my future endeavors. Thanks for your advice!
     
  7. triddick1

    triddick1

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    Might I ask how you got involved in catering? What made you decide this was the business you wanted to be in? Did you go to school, gain real world experience, or both? What tools did you find helpful? Would you rather be doing something else with your life? Also, how would you suggest someone with no catering experience gain the attention of a caterer (for hire)? I have no "kitchen" experience but am not above washing dishes just to get in the door.

    Excuse all of the questions. I'm curious by nature.
     
  8. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    Mike I believe you posted your roots story in here a few months ago....

    but you can tell it again. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/tongue.gif

    Or you can  click Mike's profile and search out some of his earliest posts,

    so he doesn't have to write out his long, fascinating career again. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

    I don't know if I ever said how I got started, got to be friends with an owner

    of a café we frequented, he was event catering out of the kitchen there,

    and apparently concluded I was "above average intelligence and common sense" :p

    and started sending me out. But I'd also had some kitchen cooking and food factory

    experience by that point. (which you dont NEED, all that stuff just helps a little)

    I got thoroughly hooked on the business, especially the aspect of no 2 events ever

    being the same, and that you never know whats gonna happen.

    I was running events after the 3rd one, but to get a well rounded knowledge,

    and a feel for what may 'spring up" ,  it takes a while.

    Starting from scratch and learning lessons the hard way equates to learning by

    going broke. I can honestly say if I'd started one with no experience on a shoe

    string budget, I would've fallen flat on my face.
     
  9. triddick1

    triddick1

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    I'll check out his profile. Thanks for the posts.
     
  10. ed buchanan

    ed buchanan

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        Having been iin the upscale high volume catering busines for over 50 yers I can tell you the business angle is the most important. I can teach anyone cooking and food decortating but I can't teach  them business smarts Learn how to buy, how to figure quantities , and how  much you need for x amt. of guest..

       You do not want to overproduce or not have enough both ways. Sales is also very important, get a good salesman and put him on a percentage of sales. He will try like crazy.

       The one place I ran in NY  grossed  17 million $ per year with 6 on premise ballrooms and som outside gigs.  OFF Premise is the hardest as it requires more time and effort

          I wish you luck and make sure you are in good health(you will need it)  EDB
     
  11. pollopicu

    pollopicu

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    I haven't read all the responses, but you will need more experience than just culinary school to open and succeed in the catering business. My suggestion is to work for a good catering company or two before opening up your own business right out of the finish line. Trust me, it will be invaluable.
     
  12. mikeswoods

    mikeswoods

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    My story is a long one---I will give you this learning tip---

    Search out the types of caterers that you think will let you experience the best parties---

    Call them and then go visit---this is the slow time of the year--but they all have a list of potential help---get on the list-

    call once a week or so to see if they have any parties that fit your schedule---

    Don't get chatty and mention that you want to start a business----

    Really,all they want to know is if you are available and will you show up.

    We had four different kitchens over the years--the last one was a good one---

    We handled the training classes and meetings for large corporations--usually about 14 a day--

    We also catered the big fancy affairs---I've served in almost every museum and auditorium in Chicago--

    It seemed that the fancier the show the better our business became--often we had multiple buffets --and lots of cooking right at the buffet--

    One of those was at the Field museum for a little over 2000---7 buffets and five bars---Each buffet a different theme--

    A good time was had by all (except I ended up working till 5 am with a broken hand and wrecked knee)

    It's an exciting trade---That's why I suggest you get some experience----

    I was at it a long time, perhaps to long----We had a big picnic for a company every five years--the last one was 7200 people

    We were given a parking lot--and provided tents,fencing stages and bands petting zoo ,you name it--all cooked on location--

    We also took on another party the same day----You now it's time to change when an event like that doesn't make your heart beat faster.
     
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  13. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    Most people in catering know how to cook. The trick that most of them don't get is, how a cooked and hold food that tastes and looks like it has just been cooked. ...........Good luck......Chefbillyb
     
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  14. triddick1

    triddick1

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    @mikeswoods I'll check some companies out and start calling.

    @ed buchanan Valuable information. I'l look into it. I'm an accountant, so numbers are always on the mind.

    @ All caterers, how did you start your businesses? I mentioned before I am going to get the experience, as I am only in the preliminary process of gathering info, field opinions, and research but I know you had to have started somewhere. There has to have been something that let you know you wanted to run your own business, and I'm assuming you started small and grew over time.

    I'm aware that culinary school will not make me a caterer, or even a chef. I'm aware businesses don't magically become successful. I'm aware experience in any field, not just catering, is valuable especially in operating businesses. I want to learn the business, every aspect of it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2014
  15. triddick1

    triddick1

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    @ chef billy Good point. ;)
     
  16. flipflopgirl

    flipflopgirl

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    Geeze you guys are dragging up some great memories.
    Mike was right on point with the word exciting as a descriptor of catering.
    Never know who you will meet next...or where.
    The adrenaline rush of working as a team at a huge gig.
    Reading each other's minds.....
    Moving like one huge brain with 50 bodies lol.
    Sorry OT.

    mimi
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2014
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  17. triddick1

    triddick1

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    I'm looking forward to the journey. A deviation from the monotonous office lifestyle is what I'm looking for. I appreciate all of the insight.
     
  18. gaelynne

    gaelynne

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    Hello all!  I am loving reading the posts from this site!  I am new to the catering world.  Growing up, my parents owned a restaurant so I grew up cooking.  Currently I am a family childcare provider.  After my daughters wedding a year ago, people commented how good everything was (I did all the food and reception myself) and I should become a caterer.  I LOVE to cook!  And any reason to make a list & a spreadsheet make me happy.  So I took my food service manager (required in MN not sure about other states) and received my certificate.  I've talked with my licensor about what is needed to become a full Licensed Caterer.  Well, it's that darn commercial kitchen that is holding me up.  So he suggested "practice" catering.  I've had lots of friends/family allowing me to practice at their events.  NOT a money maker but what a learning experince.   And boy has it been a learning experience!  The best thing is learning what works, what doesn't work, what I need to have at every event, how to figure out costs/time management, a world of things!!!!  I was so naive and thought I would be up and running within a few months.  I'm so glad I've still been at it a year later!  I really hope in the next year I will have my commercial kitchen and be able to really cater events.  In the meantime, I practice!

    I sure hope this makes sense.  Well, back to reading posts!
     
  19. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    So far it sounds like you may already possess one of the most important prerequisites-- passion.

    We all pretty much suggest here to anyone aspiring to enter catering to seek out and actually work WITH

    some established caterers to see what it's all about. Get at least a dozen or so events, pref of various types

    under your belt, before proceeding--you'll be glad you did.

    As to kitchens, there are commercial kitchens available everywhere, not just restaurants, many built and maintained

    for the sole purpose of booking out to caterers. There might also be options in your state/county to start out without

    needing a full fledged catering license.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2014
  20. chefbillyb

    chefbillyb

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    Be a person and hire people that are perfectionist's. When you do off site catering, you can't afford to forget anything, it could make or break a function. I never had a bad catering, I made sure everything that needed to be brought was there, I also made sure the food was cooked, held, and served properly. I had good people teaching me the importance of doing it right, no mistakes. I learned my trade in Hawaii under very caring people, people that were out for me. On one catering, I wasn't involved in this one. I was in the office when the Chef called and asked me to check the oven, I came back with the answer, yes, there are 8 lobsters in the oven. The party was being served at the Governors Mansion, the 8 lobsters were for the head table.

    On another catering, Not mine, I was doing one of my own that night. My boss was stressing to me about not for getting things, I never forgot anything, I guess he just liked giving me the speech. I stopped by to see him at his catering, The people were about to arrive. He was outside with the Valet guys that he hired. All the fancy cars came rolling in, he told his Valet guy to park the car. The Valet guy said, I can't drive, I don't have a license. I just smiled and walked away, I guess he didn't check everything. I learned, don't leave anything to chance. During that week we were training over 150 people to work at 4 different parties for the American Bakers assoc, they were all fine dining set ups, platted meals, full service.......Catering was my first love in this business, I loved doing them, I was good at it...................ChefBillyB