There’s no denying that the hospitality industry has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With travel on hold, hotel bookings are down and restaurants in many locations are relying mainly on takeout to keep business moving. But this challenge is only temporary, and when the pandemic is over – restaurateurs and hospitality entrepreneurs across North America will be back at it and moving forward with their plans and ideas.
People’s passion for dining will never go away, and if you are someone who enjoys working hard in the kitchen while others enjoy the fruit of your labor (and socialize), then your goal may be to start a catering business. There are so many social and business events that provide caterers an opportunity to cook up delicious meals and turn profits.
The three major markets for caterers are corporate clients, social events and cultural organizations. There’s also a tremendous amount of crossover between these market groups. That means caterers who start out serving continental breakfasts and boxed lunches may move on to handling their corporate customers’ personal social events, such as weddings and parties, as their business grows.
The most successful caterers are organized, creative and know how to roll with the punches.
“Most restaurateurs hate catering for the exact reason that I love it: It’s different every day,” says Ann Crane, owner of Meyerhof’s Cuisine and Catering in Irvine, California.
Like Ann Crane, no one knows catering better than Carlo Parentela, a Vaughan entrepreneur and owner of Château Le Jardin Event Venue. Carlo grew up immersed in his family’s catering business and as he grew older, he became aware of the sociological aspects of the event industry.
For someone who is hoping to break into the business, Carlo Parentela has this advice: “Sure, you obviously have to love food and planning events. But a huge appeal of catering is the strong relationships that you develop with your clients. When you are planning someone’s wedding, this becomes very personal.”
Aside from the social aspect, from a cost perspective, catering is probably the most flexible of all the food-service businesses.
“Yes, you are going to need to rent or buy a location, but you can really start small and build up as you get more clients and events,” explains Carlo Parentela.
He began Château Le Jardin Event Venue as a one-room banquet facility and grew it to a 80,000-square-foot facility.
“I’ve known people who rent an old school cafeteria to operate their business in for ten years before moving into their own commercial facility.”
Getting started, if you need something out of the ordinary for a business event or a wedding reception, chances are you can rent it. Your food inventory is also easy to control, because you usually know in advance exactly how many people you’re preparing plates for.
“There is also much opportunity for off-premises caterers who deliver the food directly to the customers. This may mean offering gourmet dinners for a small group to doing food for galas of hundreds of people,” says Carlo Parentela.
An aspiring caterer should also pick something to specialize in the beginning, such as a specific cuisine, and then build upon it. “Perhaps they pick a taco bar and then graduate into Latin American fare once they get more experience. Some caterers even offer a wide range of services, including floral arrangements, linens and decor.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, caterers have been thinking outside the box and coming up with creative ways to compensate for lost revenue brought in by large events. For instance, some businesses have been offering several days’ or a week’s worth of meals prepared in advance that customers can heat and serve.
Whatever ideas you have for a catering business, it’s best to start by doing some basic research to see what will work best in your area. It’s not uncommon to find out what other caterers are doing either.
Take what you learn and go from there.