So, you think you can cook? Do your friends vie for invites to dinner or heavily hint that a cake might go down well as a birthday gift? If you’re consistently cooking up great food even when you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed and you’re able to do so with restrictive budgets, you might be considering making the move into mobile catering.
Before you pack in the day job and put on your pinny, you’ll need to do some planning! This post talks you through the basics – from the regulations you’ll need to consider to the changes you may need to make in your home to accommodate your new venture. Read on and you’ll be saying “ready, steady, cook!” in no time at all!
Registering your business
Before you start trading you are required to register with your local council at least 28 days in advance. Failure to register carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and you could face even harsher consequences if you fail to register and go on to make someone ill through consumption of your food.
You’ll also need to register with HMRC – either as a sole trader or limited company, you can find out more about this here. You should investigate the world of tax and expenses as soon as possible as you will be able to claim for the use or purchase of much of the equipment you need and may even be entitled to claim for any necessary changes to your house too. Speaking to other business owners to ask questions about potential obstacles and assistance available locally is a good idea, whether they are caterers or work within another industry they will be able to highlight potential issues you may not have considered. Your council may be able to put you in touch with a business mentor locally in order to give your start up a boost.
Researching your market
You may already have in mind the type of catering you’d like to offer and whether you plan to offer a dinner party service in your clients’ homes or you’d like to forge links with local businesses in order to cater for their meetings, you will need to do some market research. As well as checking out the menus, prices and services of competitors in your area you should speak to people you would like to have as customers – are the services you are planning to offer something they would pay for? Does the pricing structure and offering you have in mind fit with their expectations?
While you may plan to concentrate on a particular area of catering it can be beneficial to have more than one string to your bow in case of quiet periods. For example, wedding catering may be your bread and butter but there’s no reason you can’t cater for parties and funerals too. You don’t necessarily need to commit to high end or budget catering either – you’re mainstay might be in home dining but that needn’t stop you showing creative flair at street food festivals when time allows, you may just need a little extra equipment.
Preparing your premises
Renting premises for your catering business can be expensive and often unnecessary, which is why many traders opt to cook from home at first. Wherever you set up, your home will need to be checked and approved for suitability. Your first step will be to put a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system into action, this guide will help get you started.
You will need to be able to show officials that health and safety regulations will be easy to enforce. This means putting in place separate hand washing facilities and having your gas and electricity equipment certified. Your kitchen facilities will need to be in a good state of repair and the area laid out in a way that will allow you to avoid cross contamination. Your washing machine may need be moved out of your kitchen if it’s near your food storage point as will any rubbish bins. Pets shouldn’t roam in and out, so if you have a kitchen diner you may need to think about keeping the kitchen more secure – either through erecting a wall or perhaps with the help of some internal bifolds that can be closed when required. The latter will allow your family to see when you are at work so they won’t disturb you in the kitchen.
If you need any further equipment to help you on your way, you’ll find eBay and the classifieds of the Nationwide Caterers Association to be good spots to pick up affordable second hand items.
Theoretically speaking, all you’re waiting for once your business is researched, registered, checked and fully equipped is customers, which may mean putting in some extra effort with marketing. Word of mouth marketing can have a large part to play in winning business for caterers once you’re established but local press; online advertising and social media can really help you get going. Are you ready to take the first step?
For more tips on developing a business from your hobby check out my book “Crafting a Successful Small Business”.
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