Running a catering business has many rewards and while it can be a profitable business, there’s a lot entailed. I’m going to tell you how YOU can have a profitable catering business because guess what? It’s not all about the food.

Word cloud around the topic of catering.

Let’s start with the most profitable catering event I’ve ever done. I catered a private family dinner for 6 people and I made $500.00. That’s $83.00 a head. And it was a pasta theme! So can catering be a profitable business, YES! Was this particular catering job labor intensive and extensive in effort, NO!

Catering can be extremely versatile. Depending on what your client is looking for and what you’re willing to provide service and food wise, it can look and feel completely different from one catering event to the other. Personally, I like to cater to my client’s needs. I’m pretty flexible in my offerings and it looks different every time. Examples:

  • I’ve done private intimate family catering events that included a five course meal.
  • I’ve done catering events for 300 people at a seminar where I served soup and sandwiches.
  • I’m in the process of discussing a catering event RIGHT NOW for a local realtor event where they just want appetizers served.

So it can look different every time! But not every caterer wants to be that flexible in their offerings. And guess what…that’s ok! You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t work in your catering business. Let me ask…have you figured out your business strategy for your catering business? What’s your plan for becoming a profitable caterer? A memorable business name? Don’t stress if you don’t have that plan in place yet. That’s what this article is for…to help guide you with some real life experiences from myself and one of my catering friends who has been running her own catering business for 15 years.

Side Gig or Full Time Business?

Is your catering business going to be a side gig or an all in full time business? For me, it’s a side gig. For my catering friend Debbie, it was a side gig that she wishes she would have gone all in on from the start. There’s pros and cons to both.  Let me tell you how Debbie got started with catering. And then I’ll tell you how I got started.

A typewriter typing the following words on paper, "New Business Chapter One"

New Business

Debbie and her husband have owned their catering business for 15 years. It’s called Cotton Jack’s Catering. They no longer have a website and they’ve built their catering business by word of mouth. Every year, they cooked food for their annual family gatherings. They owned an industrial size smoker and they would smoke chicken and pork and make all the sides to go along with the meats. Their family RAVED about their food. A family member made a comment in passing…”you guys should start your own catering business”. And that planted the seed. They got their business license and set up their LLC and got started. And they’ve been catering part time for 15 years while they worked their full time day jobs.

I also got started by word of mouth. People at my church knew I owned a food blogging website and they’d tasted my food at potlucks. I also provide meals for the sick and shut in through our church. Every time I provided a meal, I’d get feedback that my food was amazing. They’d always ask for the recipe and I’d send them to my website over at Recipes Worth Repeating.

One day, the pastor’s wife approached me and asked if I’d be interested in catering a seminar. I told her yes without hesitation. And then I got really anxious because I’d never done anything like that before. She told me it would only be for about 60 people…but it turned out to be 300 people! Yeah – my first official catering job was for 300 people! But it turned out AMAZING! So for me, I cater part time and that works really well for my business model.

So what’s it going to be for you? A side gig or a full time catering business?

Word Of Mouth

You need to know what your marketing strategy will look like so your catering business can be profitable. So this word of mouth thing…that’s how Debbie and I both got started and that’s how we’ve both built up our catering businesses. And let me tell you, word of mouth marketing is POWERFUL.

Image for word of mouth marketing strategy.

When Debbie first started their catering business, they launched a website. They also marketed their catering business in a local magazine. But every catering event they booked was from word of mouth. They know because they asked people how they heard about their catering services and it was always from word of mouth. So they shut down their website and they stopped spending money on ads that didn’t being them any business.

They got creative in their word of mouth marketing strategy. Debbie and her husband had a BBQ sauce product. They decided to approach big name grocery stores and asked if they could set up and give out samples. While they demonstrated their product, they also told everyone about their catering services. While they did sell bottles of their BBQ sauce, they also booked catering events. And some of those booked catering events became repeat customers. Eventually they stopped selling their BBQ sauce because it was costing too much money to make. When they crunched the numbers, they were far more profitable from their catering bookings than they were from selling their BBQ sauce! But they didn’t stop there. Because they had an extensive knowledge base on grills and grilling, they kept working their relationships and they partnered with the stores to help promote their grills and telling people about their catering services. And they continued to book catering events! That’s the power of word of mouth marketing. That’s how they started booking profitable catering events.

Catering Offerings

Have you decided on your catering menu and service offerings? Are you going to only cater very specific events or are you going to open it up to be flexible and broad? What’s your style and creativity going to entail? You need a game plan so you can set your catering business up to be profitable.