What you need to know to launch your culinary business
Are there opportunities to grow a successful business within the culinary industry? Well, the answer to the question, is yes! According to the United States Department of Labor, Employment of chefs and head cooks is projected to grow 9 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.
With an increasing demand for new cuisines such as street foods, including ethnic dishes, entrepreneurs like yourself, have an endless amount of possibilities for exploring business opportunities. Here's a step by step guide on how to turn your culinary concept into a successful business:
The Business Plan
Your business plan is like the “blue print” of your company. It’s the “architectural design” of your business. The key to building a successful business is having a solid foundation to build upon.
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The Business Concept
What is a “Business Concept”? It’s a basic idea for a business that includes a product or service. It is often used as part of the business planning process. From what kind of food you want to serve to deciding on if you want to be a Private Chef or a Caterer.
Another business concept you may want to create is popup dining events rather than owning and managing a full service restaurant. If so, think about the experience you want to create. Remember, this is your brand, with your name attached. How do you want this event to represent you? What kind of ambience are you going for? How do you want your customers to feel stepping into the restaurant? What do you want your customers to walk away with after attending your popup event?
Additional questions to ask when deciding on a business concept as a Caterer/Private Chef:
Who are your customers? Going back to the dining experience paragraph, what kind of experience will your customers walk away with having tasted your food? Will you incorporate meal planning as an added service?
When identifying who your target audience is, ask yourself the following questions: Who is your target audience? What age group do your customers fall in 18-24? Who is your brand designed for? What type of customer attends your popup event, restaurant or, who is your ideal client as a private chef?
Research other chefs and or culinary entrepreneurs, who are your competitors. Not necessarily for the sake of comparing your brand to theirs, but to find out what they’re selling? What’s on the menu? What is their pricing? Where can you add to what already exists in the market? The customer experience? Your menu?
Remember, its not about who does it first, it’s about who does it the best! Even though restaurants or private chefs already exist, don’t let that discourage you! Find out if there are ways that you can “tweak” the business or enhance it. What customers are they not catering to? What makes your food stand out from the rest?
Deciding on a menu can be a little "tricky" considering you don't want to have too many options, and you want to ensure that you get it just right so that it fits your brand and your customer's needs. Here's a few tips for preparing your menu:
Seasonal and Fresh
If all else fails, you can always rely on what’s in season and fresh to create your menu! You can even incorporate seasonal themes, to use as décor for your events.
Explore cuisines from around the world while adding your own “twist” on a unique dish. It’s a fun, way to give your guests a culinary experience they’ll never forget!
Create a "tasting panel""
Create a "tasting panel" or a feedback group to test your menu. Direct feedback from your consumers gives you the opportunity to test your recipes before launching your business. It also saves you from launching a brand that’s not ready for the market, saving you thousands of dollars on costs associated with starting a business and marketing. Create a menu tasting panel of about 10 people max. Include a questionnaire that rates your food. Based on your business concept and the feedback from your tasting panel, you can now create a menu.
Tip: Use Canva: A graphic design service and a great resource for creating professionally designed menu templates. It’s free and will help you cut design costs when creating menus for your business. You can also use the service to purchase business cards, logos, flyers, brochures and social media templates.
Thinking of going the catering route?
Catering is a great way to launch your entrepreneurial career without actually owning a restaurant. Opening a restaurant can be costly however, with a catering business you can get your brand off the ground much quicker and far less expensive.
Location for your catering business
Location is key to attracting the right demographic to your catering hall. A couple of things to consider when choosing a catering hall space, parking, what amenities are nearby, shops, stores, restaurants. If you're in a high traffic area, you may be able to get a lot of foot traffic in your business.
Kitchen Rentals are a “Godsend” to a caterer! You still have access to a fully functioning kitchen and if you travel a lot for your business, there’s usually a kitchen available in a city nearest you. This eliminates time spent on transporting food across town. Some spaces charge an hourly rate to use the kitchen, others charge a monthly or annual membership fee. You can store your food, meal prep, and even test your recipes in rented kitchen spaces.
Licensing and Registration
Check your local city website to ensure that you have the proper licensing in place, as well as business insurance to cover yourself from any liabilities, floods, fire, natural disasters.
Regulations that may affect your business
I strongly suggest, that you look up any laws or regulations related to running a catering hall, home based or Private Chef business especially the food and preparation requirements for your state.
Food and Safety-Home based Cooks and Bakers
Check with your state on regulations regarding operating a home-based food business. In California, you must complete a California Department of Public Health food processor course within three months of obtaining your cottage food permit. In addition, your business must comply with extensive health and safety rules. Trust me, if you're caught doing business without having proper courses, permits or training in place, you could face stiff penalties, or worse, you may not be able to run your business legally even after you've corrected the issue.
Before you hire a team, check with the labor department on minimum wage earnings, workers comp, and employee taxes if you plan on hiring employees.
Costs associated with building your business
Once you have a plan in place, now it’s time to purchase the essentials:
Choose and register your business name
Insurance (yes you need insurance for liability purposes, to cover equipment, or in the event someone is injured while attending your popup event.)
Choose a location (many locations around the world allow you to rent dining spaces. The fees typically start at $75.00 an hour *California locations, up to $50,000 an hour) Look for locations on sites like Peerspace
Rent Equipment: tables, chairs, napkins, utensils, generators, lighting, décor, plates, cups ect
Choose a Point of Sale System (many point of sale systems have low monthly payments starting at $59.00)
Hire Staff (check the labor department’s website to ensure that you’re in compliant with labor laws)
Kitchen ware, plates, utensils, cups, napkins, table settings ect
Prepare for ongoing expenses
Prepare an expense budget for all costs associated with not just starting your business but maintaining it. Your budget should include:
monthly expenses such as rent
credit cards and other miscellaneous bills
retail space and leases
shipping costs (if shipping items)
Prepare for the growth of your company by setting aside a budget for the salary of employees.
Legal fees from advice, to having the proper contracts and documentation in place, as well as the incorporation of your business (sole-proprietor, general partner, limited liability).
Entrepreneurship is about creating opportunities for yourself that no one else may not able to. When you step out on faith to pursue your goals, be sure to have the proper plan in place to do so. For a complete, step by step guide on how to launch your culinary business, grab a copy of the "Open For Business" workbook. This 123 page book is filled with a wealth of information to help you launch a successful career.