How to Start a Mobile Catering Business

Tool of the trade
Tool of the trade (Image: (c) 2009 Jeff O'Kelley)

Mobile catering businesses date back to the early days of hot dog vendors and roasted chestnut wagons, and they still offer a wonderful business opportunity for many culinary entrepreneurs. Operating a mobile catering business eliminates the need for the space and expense usually associated with traditional restaurants, and allows business owners to expand quickly as business grows. With some simple steps, nearly anyone with a little kitchen savvy and business sense can start a mobile catering business.

Things You'll Need

  • Kitchen facility
  • Catering equipment
  • Catering vehicle

Set up catering kitchen facilities. If you plan to use your home kitchen to prepare food, check with the local health department for regulations and any inspections they may require. Most home kitchens are not up to basic health department standards and will need to be modified. Some common issues involve segregated storage and refrigeration facilities, dish-washing space, easily cleaned and sanitized surfaces and water temperature levels.

Establish menu and price list. Identify the type of food that your mobile catering business will offer, and put together a menu with prices. When complete, this menu will help you compute a food cost percentage for each item and establish inventory needs. This menu can be designed as a brochure, which can also double as an advertising flyer for your business.

Secure transportation. Mobile catering businesses can be operated using many types of vehicles, such as a personal automobile, van, truck or trailer. The type of vehicle necessary will depend on your menu, size of events you wish to cater, distance you expect to travel and any on-site preparation needs. If refrigeration is a concern during transport, plan room for large coolers or a portable cooling unit.

Advertise business. Market your catering business by handing out menus and brochures to local businesses. Make contact with the person responsible for booking company parties and holiday events, and ask about the bid process for upcoming events. Use your email list and the Internet to network with friends and family who might be able to help bring in new business. Set up a professional website to use for marketing and promotion of your catering business and events.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some restaurants do not use their kitchens during the early morning hours and may be open to renting the space by the hour. Inquire with local churches or event halls about the possibility of renting their commercial kitchens to prepare your food. Most of these facilities are not in use full time and will rent the space by the hour or day. Food cost is calculated by dividing the total cost of an individual menu item by the retail price. Total cost includes the cost of raw ingredients, packaging and labor. A food cost of approximately 30 percent will offer a good profit margin for your business. Painted or stick-on logos on your catering vehicle offer a cheap way to promote your business.
  • Don't forget liability insurance for your business and vehicles. Be prepared for periodic inspections by the health department.

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