February 18, 2016
Catering is just about good food as it is managing deadlines.

Catering is just about good food as it is managing deadlines.

Some chefs will spend their entire careers in the kitchen, working their way up the ranks or eventually starting their own eatery. Meanwhile, other culinary graduates may want to keep cooking but do so outside of a traditional kitchen. One way to do just that is to start your own catering business. According to IBISWorld, as of December 2015, there were 111,909 such businesses in the U.S., generating some $12 billion in annual revenue. Successful catering takes more than just knowing how to cook, though. Here are some handy tips if you decide to go at it alone and become a master caterer:

“As of 2015, there were 111,909 catering companies in the U.S.”

Seek out experience
Just because you excel at cooking doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have such an easy time with catering. That’s why Investopedia suggested that all would-be caterers get some real-world experience before starting their own business. By working for someone else for a short time, you can see what you excel at and where you may need extra help. Plus, you’re getting a realistic idea of what catering means in regards to potential opportunities, management issues and other challenges you might encounter. If nothing else, it’s a good time to see if you have the skills and passion necessary to succeed in the catering world.

Deadlines are key
Effective catering isn’t just about delivering the best dishes at the right time. Caterers also have to deal with deadlines associated with ordering ingredients, ensuring they’ve booked enough serving staff and for billing. Staying on top of deadlines is crucial when you’re the centerpiece of someone’s birthday party or corporate event. To help with properly tracking everything on your plate, you can use one of many calendar apps available on your smartphone. If possible, bring someone else into the fold who can set deadlines and help maintain  progress.

Promote yourself
As a rule, networking is good for all chefs, as it gets your name out there and helps you properly market yourself with very few added costs. This tactic is especially important for caterers, as so many people hire based solely on recommendations from previously satisfied friends or family. Beyond social media, it’s a good idea to join professional organizations, like the National Association for Catering and Events. The NACE’s annual conferences are a great place to meet vendors, potential clients and, of course, your fellow caterers. Other important groups include Meeting Professionals International and the International Special Events Society.

Find your own niche
As mentioned above, there are thousands of caterers across America, many competing directly for the same parties and events. To succeed, the Houston Chronicle said that all caterers must effectively understand their individual marketplace. Who are your immediate competitors? What kinds of food do they serve? How long has each company been in business? What events do these companies specialize in, like anniversary parties or  Bar/Bat Mitzvahs? By understanding these facets of your local market, you can target the culinary genres that go underserved and find other ways to set yourself apart. Plus, you can adapt effectively when another caterer tries out a new strategy or promotion.