How to Start a Party Tray Business

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Rent kitchen space to keep your expenses low.
Rent kitchen space to keep your expenses low. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

A party tray business is a catering operation that supplies pre-made trays of finger foods, hors d'oeuvres, sandwich makings or fruits, veggies and desserts. You can solicit clients such as party planners, corporate event sites, wedding reception halls or private parties. Due to health regulations, many states require that your party trays be assembled in a commercial kitchen, either in your own leased space or in a sublease from an existing commercial operation. Your local public health department is a good resource for helping you understand the food handling requirements in your area.

Licensing and Permitting

Check with your state attorney general's office and local business licensing bureau to learn what type of special use permits and licenses you'll need for food handling and catering. You may be required to carry specialized insurance, particularly if you employ others or lease a refrigerated vehicle for your business. Also prepare to have your operations inspected by and overseen by your local health department.

Secure a Location

Look at large commercial kitchens in your area and inquire about leasing space for your party tray business. Some restaurants may be willing to rent out space, particularly for use in off-hours. Local food production facilities, culinary schools and educational institutes are good places to look. Ideally, you'll want room to store supplies like covered plastic trays, utensils, paper plates and napkins as well as refrigeration or freezer storage for perishable goods. Adequate prep space is also a requirement.

Restaurant Partnership

It might make more financial sense to operate your party tray catering business through an existing restaurant. You could handle the party tray marketing, order taking, tray assembly and delivery while the restaurant would provide space and potentially even handle a portion of the food preparation from its existing menu offerings. If you decide to go this route, consult an attorney to draw up a partnership contract that outlines the terms of the agreement and stipulates the rights, responsibilities and financial obligations of each party.

Secure Vendors

Interview food vendors and restaurant supply companies to find the best quality food for your budget. The more professional and inviting your trays look, the more impressed customers will be and the better your odds for repeat and referral business. Save money by purchasing nonperishable items like paper and plastic products in bulk. Seek out vendors that will allow you to place small orders as you get your business off the ground. Take note of order delivery turnaround time to help you manage your time and schedule.

Advertise Your Services

Create marketing materials like business cards, a brochure that has a breakdown of services and menu items, party package descriptions and price points. You may opt to charge per person or by providing various-size trays -- for example, a small cheese tray that serves 8 to 10, a medium one for 12 to 20 and a large for 25 to 30. Create a colorful website with lots of photos so potential customers get an idea of what your party trays will look like. Offer to make up sample trays for potential clients to test. Leave cards at every event and ask for referrals from satisfied clients and guests.

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