The Caterers Corner
Home Based Catering Response Caterers Corner: Home Based Catering Response
By Mannish (Mannish) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 08:14 am: Edit

WOW, I read the repsonse to someone asking about home based catering and it was disheartening to say the least.

Today I was going to check the laws (Alabama) on home catering but that response made it sound impossible. I had read The Complete Caterer which was very interesting and was ready to jump in.
I had talked to friends with some experience. Summer and Bar Be Que was going to be the time I hoped to gain clients. I am musician and thought music would also be an option to include.

The response was also not 'in line' with what I had read about the demand for catering and the rate of success of good caterers. I am of course not disputing anything, I don't have the knowledge
to know either way.

I was in the Information Tech industry for 20 years, recently laid off, too old to be very marketable (apparently). The catering idea hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought it was prefect for me. I was not looking to get rich in the monetary sense but I did want to come out ahead of course.

Anyway that discouraging response (I think the old forum maybe) really put a damper on my day.

I am not so sure anymore.

Advice on giving up or continuing to investigate would be appreciated.

Any knowledge of Alabama laws and catering would also be appreciated. Thanks

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 09:51 am: Edit

I guess if you can get access to a commercial, inspected kitchen you have a fighting chance with catering. Some kind of a course offered by the local health authorities dealing with how to avoid contamination, proper holding temperatures, and a general background of food borne diseases would also be good.

If catering would be easy, everybody would be doing it...

By Catergreat (Catergreat) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 02:23 pm: Edit


I would lay money on it that what you read from many years ago was written by me.

What is more disheatening?
being told upfront to be very careful, gain training and a FULL understanding of this very complicated business...... or to go into it and lose your shirt????

The statistics are true. Now, you said something very interesting, "rate of success of good caterers". How would you define a "good caterer"? I think they are referring to good caterers as those who have the training, the capital (money), the business acumen, and a great product.

Yes the success rate of those people is higher. The advice given is to encourage a catering wannabe to become "good" as listed above. It is also to discourage those who are thinking this would be a fun business to get into. Those people will more than likely (95%), fail.

Catering from home in Alabama is only legal if you have a separate commercial kitchen with NSF approved equipment, coolers, sanitation etc. all of which must be "permitted" by the state department of health. That is your first call to make. Then check with your zoning board to see if you can legally run a catering business from your neighborhood. Very few allow it.

By the time you retrofit your house with the necessary modifications, you would come out much better to rent or build a commercial kitchen. Buying a refrigerator and putting it in your garage to hold the food you prepare in your home kitchen is never legal in any state. And the risks of a lawsuit is staggering.

if you have any specific questions, I would be more than happy to help.

what is your foodservice training? Your education? Your experience in this field?

By Mannish (Mannish) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 04:51 pm: Edit

Thanks for the responses. Actually the only things I have out of all that is mentioned is cooking skills (no formal training)and I do have the money.

Don't get me wrong I didn't think it would be easy in the least but it would be doing something I actually like. I hate computers but did that over 17 years and that was not easy.

I am a very good musician played around but that life is tough on a family person. I can not do that for a living. Actually I play some at a catered dinner theater this weekend. I thought to myself, I could have catered that.

As far as foodservice training..etc I have none but was planning on taking courses to get some education. I am a creative person, I think that is why I am able to cook well...I also took the time to know the various/basic spices (so-to-speak)

My wife had suggested a coffee shop since I home roast and make great Espresso & related. I ruled that out based on the cost of renting a 'shop' that would have to be located in a prime area.

I thought catering would be less expensive and easier to do in the business sense.

I am really glad I found this forum. I been reading/researching for a while, I was THIS close
to trying to get started, TODAY.

Thanks although it did ruin my day :-)

By Catergreat (Catergreat) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 05:09 pm: Edit


What impresses me about you is your attitude and your passion. You home roast? Anyone who does that is passionate about life!

I think you could do a great job based upon the questions, the statements you made and a strong work ethic.

This is not rocket science, nor computer science for that matter. It IS a science in an of itself. The science of catering food service is so different than that of a restaurant. You can learn it if you go to the right place for training/learning.

By the way, I didn't have any formal training either in culinary arts, but my 25 years in the business allows me to have a little knowledge. I have had much advance culinary training in the past 8 years, however.

Don't be discouraged. I have some ideas that may be of great interest to you.

By Chefjoannam (Chefjoannam) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 05:17 pm: Edit

Awww! Don't let it ruin your day! Why don't you consider working for a caterer in your area for a while? Ask them to let you work in any position that they have open... just don't let on that you're doing the research to have your own business: I've got people emailing me left and right, saying flat-out "I want to be a Personal Chef..." and "I want to be a Caterer..." and I have to admit, I'm not all that keen on training my future competition!

If you want to hang on to this dream (I'm not discouraging you!) you should pursue some formal culinary training, so that you're more likely to be taken on as a trainee at one of the bigger catering companies in your area.

Catering has many levels, Here in Los Angeles, you can do Craft Services, which is very low-scale because nobody wants to pay for it, but it's a good way to get your chops. Let's call that one-star.

If all you want to do is sell prepared food to people, you're going for 2-3 star. But you're also in competition with Costco and the deli-department of the grocery stores in your area. And what they lack in quality they make up for in low prices.

The level of catering that I do is always 4-5 star. Uniformed servers and uniformed kitchen staff. Silver serving trays lined with doilies. Giant cater-trays. Polished chafing dishes. Coffeemakers and hot carafes. Crystal water pitchers and imported China place settings. Tables and tablecloths and flowers and candles and all that... There's a whole world of planning that has to happen before you even start talking about menu!

You can make delicious food, but until you get the "circuses" part of the "bread and circuses" nailed down and elevated to a certian level of perfection, you won't get far. Learn from the big guys (every major metro area has them) then refine it and make it your own. --JoAnna

By Mannish (Mannish) on Tuesday, March 22, 2005 - 06:34 pm: Edit

Right I knew about the different levels. I did not want to be 4 star. Although if asked to do a cocktail party, I could do the silver trays, doilies, gotta have the coffee/espresso (serious about that stuff) course rentng tthat type of stuff.

I do have access to a commerical kitchen more on that in a minute.

I looked at this way I could do the basic 1 star ones (like the catering brought in where I worked)
I could get the mobile grill, do the summer Bar Be Ques (I did partly cater my daughters wedding reception about 150 people I smoked many pork butts, made my sauce...etc it was great) so you know serving the Bar Be Que 'circuit' maybe vendor at festivals. Then also I'd like to please people with a Shrimp Newberg, Lemon Dill Fish, herbed new potatos, Chicken k Ench..das in a Salsa Verde sauce, avacodo/guacamole dip - salsas - ..etc

I make most all of my own sauces, salsas, dips, rubs,

So not just chicken fingers & fries but also not
cavier stuffed items

There is a local resturant that I could probably
cook for with some creative freedom. I could also rent their kitchen. I have played lots of music there for him when he started up so he would defintely help me out. I would be limited though, presentation or anything very adventurous would
be foreign to them

I appreciate the help/advice. I did call a caterer friend to ask about how they were doing but no call back.

I have a musician friend that started culinary school got a prep job at 4/5 star establishment, he could not take the abuse the chef offered. I think that is part of it...?

I think it was that book the Complete Caterer that sort of misled me.

By Foodpump (Foodpump) on Wednesday, March 23, 2005 - 08:02 pm: Edit

Like I said above, if you have access to a commercial kitchen, you're halfway there.
I guess the best way to describe on-site catering is to compare it to an Army manoevre: Briefing, site inspection, list of equipment to be taken from the stores, round up the manpower, organize the transport, organize the ordanance (food, in this case) start the manoevre, finish the manoevre, break down the equipment and return, etc.
Here's the important part: If you have a list of potential clientele, it could be profitable, especially if you still have a day job and can cater on weekends/holidays. Not impossible, but a lot of hard work. Oh, and your caterer friend won't return any calls if he figures that there's a new kid on the block who's gonna trim down his slice of pie...

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