Lunch Catering Business Idea
The desire to learn how to start a lunch catering business can put you on the right path for joining the profitable food industry. Food service is an industry that enjoys continued economic growth. Driven by both businesses and consumers, the demand for catering services is strong. The range of specializations and food options gives caterers choices when it comes to competing.
The art of catering and serving others has a long history. The earliest recorded occurrence of catering was in China during the 4th century. The ancient Greeks turned catering into a business. Today, there are over 8,000 catering companies in the United States alone.
How to Start a Lunch Catering Business
Deciding how to start a lunch catering business begins with asking yourself some important questions. Think about the following:
- Who is your target market? Business clients often require meals for meetings, luncheons, and conventions. Consumers contract caterers for social gatherings, such as weddings, receptions, and club meetings.
- Will you hire employees?
- Is it better to make lunches in your home kitchen or lease space?
- How will you serve and deliver your catered foods? Will you offer boxed lunches? Will you provide servers and tableware? How will you transport your lunches so that the food stays fresh?
- What types of foods will you offer? Will you start with a few food selections, such as sandwiches, and add more items later? Will you focus on healthy lunches?
- What do your catering competitors offer? Can you find a niche market that is not being served? Is there a place for your company to step in and successfully compete?
The definition of catering is “taking care of.” Catering business owners take care of customers primarily by:
- Preparing tasty, healthy, and safe lunch selections
- Packaging food in a safe and attractive manner
- Transporting food to client location
- Meeting with clients to discuss food options and services
A lunch catering business owner is responsible for all aspects of running a business, not just the act of catering. Other areas you’ll be responsible for include:
- Purchasing food ingredients and packaging supplies
- Menu planning
- Marketing your catering business
- Ensuring safe food handling practices
- Invoicing clients
Getting Started as a Lunch Caterer
Food industry businesses must comply with state health department laws and regulations. Laws vary by state, but typically a business owner must obtain a food safety certification, work with code-approved equipment, and meet specific food preparation area and transportation conditions. All of the requirements are necessary to guarantee the safe handling of food as it is prepared and transported. Expect ongoing inspections to ensure compliance. Some states allow caterers to work from a kitchen in the home, but even a home kitchen is required to comply with health department regulations.
Learning how to start a lunch catering business involves the purchase of specific equipment and supplies. These include:
- Commercial grade appliances
- Code approved cleaning solutions
- Food packaging materials and containers
- Dishware, drink-ware and utensils
- Vehicles for transporting food
Building a customer base is essential in order for your business to make money. Meet with corporate administrative personnel to discuss your services. Give discounts for initial orders. Offer free samples. Network with business professionals in the community. Form strategic partnerships with event and wedding planners. Man booths at community fairs and events. As you gain a customer base, ask for testimonials and referrals to use with prospective clients.
Your ultimate goal as you learn how to start a lunch catering business is to succeed. Success is more than making money. Enjoying your work and feeling good about what you do is just as important as the financial aspect. Finding ways to succeed is critical. Keep the following in mind:
- Maintain the highest food quality standards. Clients will judge your business the minute they open the food container and see what’s inside. Brown lettuce and cold soup do not make a good impression.
- Ensure the highest safety standards. Along with high quality food, safety is of the utmost concern. Food that has not been prepared or handled safely can cause illness. It’s likely you will not only lose customers, you could also lose your food handling license or certification.
- Excel in customer service. Learning how to start a lunch catering business is not just about food. It’s also about treating people with respect, listening to their suggestions and concerns, and making things right when problems arise. Keeping customers once you have them is much more cost-effective than constantly finding new ones.
- Deliver meals on time. Many of the events that require catered lunches are tightly scheduled. Customers have every right to expect on time delivery and will find another caterer if you fail them.
- Diversify your menu and try new things! Clients, especially your regulars, love choices and new options. The more you can provide, the better.
Expanding Your Lunch Catering Business
Learning how to start a lunch catering business and building a network of satisfied customers gives you a solid foundation on which to build. Think about these expansion ideas if you’d like to grow your lunch catering business:
- Expand your catering beyond lunch
- Begin a lunch cart service for corporate clients
- Add event-planning services
- Branch off into coffee kiosks
- Offer personal chef services
- Package and sell your own food products
- Open a deli or restaurant