How to start a catering business from home

If you love to cook, have an entrepreneurial streak, and want to take your career in a new direction, starting a catering business could be the perfect fit for you.

It might be an extremely lucrative move, too: the catering services sector is a £1 billion market that isn’t dominated by any one company, according to a report from IBISWorld.

Alongside all this, you already have everything you need to start your own catering business in your home kitchen, so you can get your operation up and running in no time with very little upfront cost.

We’ve put this guide together to help you make your dream of starting a catering company into a reality. So, if you’ve got a flair for cooking and a drive to start your own catering business, read on to find out:

What do you need to start a food business from home?

Before you can start your own catering business from home, you’ll need:

  • a business plan
  • the right licences
  • the right equipment

Let’s take an in-depth look at each of these crucial components one at a time.

How to create a business plan for your catering company

Before you take a risk on any business venture, you need to have a solid business plan in place. Of course, if this was all it took to launch a successful business, there’d be a lot more Richard Bransons walking around — the really hard part is executing the plan.

Nonetheless, if you don’t have a well-thought-out and realistic business plan, you’re doomed to fail. Here’s how to create one for your catering business and give yourself the best possible chance of success.

Find your target market

First, you need to find your target market. Weddings, parties, and business conferences all need catering, and you’ll be a lot more likely to succeed if you focus on one niche.

It’s important to pick one clearly-defined target market and build a business around solving one of their specific pain points. You can then build your brand around this sector, which will influence the tone of all your marketing efforts and the way you interact with your customers.

Think of it this way: If you were planning a wedding, would you go with a generic catering company that doesn’t really seem to address your needs, or a caterer that exclusively caters for weddings and has a website full of testimonials from happy brides? You want to be the latter for whatever niche you choose to serve.

How do you decide on your niche?

Homing in on a niche is the clearest path to success. But how do you decide what niche to serve?

Consider your connections

Start by thinking about your existing connections. If you have several friends and acquaintances with weddings coming up, it could be a good idea to build a reputation as a wedding caterer, while you might be better served focussing on conferences if you know the owner of a local hotel.

Follow your experience

If you don’t have any existing connections you can leverage, consider your experience and interests. If you’ve attended plenty of business conferences during your career, you’ll already have an understanding of what’s expected from the caterer. This makes it a niche you’ll know how to serve, giving you a greater chance of success.

By the same token, if you’ve never been to a wedding before, it’s probably not a good idea to go into the wedding catering business. No matter how accomplished a chef you are, you’ll find it a lot harder to succeed if you don’t move into a niche you’re already familiar with.

What are your skills?

You should also take your skillset into account. If you excel at making delicious and beautifully-decorated cakes, you won’t be playing to your strengths by catering for business events. Even if you have more connections in the corporate world, you might still be better off catering for weddings.

Is there an unserved niche you can move into?

The last piece of the puzzle when it comes to positioning your catering business is to pick a niche that isn’t already being served. For example, if there’s already a well-established party caterer in your area but no one specialises in corporate catering, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding if you focus on business functions.

In a crowded market, the more targeted your niche, the more successful you’re likely to be. If there are already a handful of wedding caterers in your area, you could specialise in either formal or casual weddings. In metropolitan areas with lots of competition, you could even specialise in a particular cuisine.

If you’ve found a gap in the market, it’s important to do one last bit of research before you jump in. You need to decide whether the niche is big enough to give you a steady stream of clients. For example, if there are no corporate caterers in your area, that may be because there aren’t enough companies hosting conferences and meetings to sustain a business.

Expanding beyond your niche

Apple is one of the most successful companies of the 21st century, but they had to establish a fantastic reputation as a desktop computer manufacturer before they could move into bigger and more profitable niches like mp3 players, smartphones, and tablets.

The clearest path to success when starting a catering business is to follow Apple’s example (although on a much smaller scale) and dominate one niche before leveraging your reputation to expand into others.

For example, if you have a lot of success as a caterer, you’re in a great position to take advantage of the current street food craze — just follow the tips in our guide to starting your street food business and our tips for attending a festival as a food vendor.

Once you’ve considered all these factors and decided on the niche you’re going to serve, it’s time to register your catering company and get all your licences in place.

How to register a catering company

To operate as a caterer, you’ll need to register your business and get licensed to sell food to the public. Here’s a step-by-step guide to registering your catering company.

Apply for food business registration

If you want to sell food in the UK, you need to apply for food business registration through the government website. This is free, but needs to be done at least 28 days before you plan on selling food from home. You can be imprisoned for up to two years if you’re caught without one, so make sure you register in plenty of time.

Set up as a sole trader or limited company

If you’ll be running a solo operation, you’ll need to register as a sole trader — take a look at the government’s guide to setting up as a sole trader to find out how. If you’ll have employees straight off the bat, you’ll have to incorporate as a limited company instead, which you can do on the government website. This costs £12 and is usually completed within 24 hours.

Contact your local environmental health officers

To ensure you’re abiding by food safety laws, it’s important to contact your local environmental health officers and ask them to inspect your kitchen. They’ll advise you on any upgrades you need to make to your premises in order to comply with food safety laws. They will typically check that your walls and countertops are in good condition and easy to clean, as well as assess your ability to maintain a hygienic cooking environment. Stock up on equipment from our range of kitchen cleaning supplies before the inspector arrives to increase your chances of success.

The hygiene standards for a commercial catering business are rigorous, so you will also want to read our guide to commercial kitchen cleaning procedures to learn exactly what you need to do to stay on the right side of the law.

Brush up on General Food Law

Before you begin trading, you should brush up on the General Food Law requirements you’ll have to abide by as a professional caterer. The Food Standards Agency has a guide that covers all the basics you should make sure to read.

Learn how to safely manage food

A crucial part of staying in line with health and safety regulations when selling food from home is following safe food hygiene procedures. Read our commercial food storage and safety guide to get up to speed on the best practices, and stock up on food storage containers so you have everything you need to store and transport your food in accordance with the regulations. You’re also required to clearly label all your food and ingredients, so be sure to pick up our wholesale food labels too. You’d also be well advised to read our advice on colour-coding in a commercial kitchen, which will help prevent cross-contamination.

Get your food safety qualifications

You and all your staff will also need Level 2 food safety qualifications to sell food from home in the UK. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) run day-long food safety courses that cost around £100 per person. It’s illegal to prepare food commercially without this qualification, so make sure you and all your staff earn their stripes before you open for business.

Keep detailed records

You also need to keep a written record of all your food and ingredients suppliers. Each entry should include:

  • the supplier’s name and address,
  • the date you accepted the delivery, and
  • the contents of the delivery.

It’s also important to keep all the invoices and receipts for any food you buy for your business, whether it’s come directly from a supplier or you picked it up from the supermarket. If there is a safety issue with any food you serve, this will help you track down the offending supplier.

Get the right fire-fighting equipment

Lastly, as a business you’re required to have the correct fire-fighting equipment on-site at all times. Find out what you need to provide on the government website.

In summary, you’re ready to trade as a catering business when:

  • you’re registered as a food business,
  • you’re set up as a sole trader or limited company,
  • an environmental health office has inspected and approved your premises,
  • you’ve brushed up on the General Food Laws,
  • you and any staff have Level 2 food safety qualifications,
  • you keep detailed records of all your food and ingredients suppliers, and
  • you have the necessary fire-fighting equipment on-site.

Investing in the right equipment for your catering business

The beauty of starting a catering business from home is that there are very few upfront costs, as you already have all the equipment you need in your existing kitchen. However, as your operation grows, you’re going to need to invest in bigger and better kit to keep up with demand.

Once you’ve set up your catering business, your kitchen is going to be used a lot more. When you’re cooking multiple dishes a day (and sometimes at once), you can quickly run out of utensils if you don’t stock up at the start of your journey. Make sure to get multiples of all the tools you’re going to use most often from our ranges of wholesale chef’s kitchen utensils and wholesale cookware. If your menus are going to include homemade cakes and pies, you’ll find what you need in our collection of wholesale pastry and baking equipment too.

One of the first things you should upgrade is your collection of kitchen knives. You’re going to use these for hours every day, and only a top-quality blade is going to stand up to professional use. The earlier you upgrade your knives with a set from our range of professional kitchen knives, the longer you’ll reap the benefits from a truly top-shelf blade, which will help you speed through prep. Take a look at our guide to different types of knives to learn more about which blades will be most suitable for your kitchen work.

When you run a business selling food from home, it can be hard to separate your work life from your home life. It’s therefore a good idea to invest in some chef’s clothing you can wear as a uniform: taking it off will signal the end of the workday and help you switch off from work.

As your business grows, you might struggle to meet demand with consumer-grade appliances. When the time comes, it’s a good idea to invest in upgrades from our range of wholesale commercial cooking equipment, which includes everything you need to take your kitchen to the next level. As the orders keep coming in, you can cut prep times with our commercial food preparation equipment and keep up with the dishwashing with our commercial dishwashers, while you’ll also need our wholesale refrigeration equipment to safely store all your food and ingredients.

Follow the advice we’ve laid out in this guide and you’ll be sure to get off to the best possible start with your home catering business. Who knows – with some hard work, and a pinch of luck, it might not be long until you’re opening your first brick and mortar food business or eatery! If this is something you aspire to, you might want to take a look at our guide to opening a restaurant to help you make some plans. As your business grows and the time comes to invest in bigger and better appliances and equipment, be sure to shop our wholesale kitchen supplies and commercial catering equipment, where you’ll find the perfect upgrades at great prices.

Here at Alliance Online, we have a wealth of tips and advice for food professionals in our knowledge hub and blog, so be sure to check these out to find more useful information on starting a catering business.