Running a catering business is a different beast than running a restaurant. Unlike an eatery with a single location, regular hours and predictable customers, catering businesses provide custom dining experiences at all kinds of venues to a variety of clients with different needs.
Whether you’re serving at weddings, conferences, award dinners or family events, success as a caterer requires preparation. If you’re just starting on your journey to open a catering business, that means creating a strong catering business plan.
Why do I need a catering business plan?
A catering service business plan is important for a few reasons.
First, it helps you figure out your short, medium and long-term goals. Maybe you want to become the go-to catering service for community events in your neighborhood, or maybe you're aiming to build a national brand with big-name clients.
Think of your catering business plan as your roadmap to success. It should include the big picture vision down to the details, covering all aspects of your business operations.
Another good reason to make a catering business plan is that it helps you get capital. Investors and banks usually require you to present your business plan before they’ll offer you funding or a loan.
Likewise, a catering business plan will help you bring on potential business partners — who will want to see that you have compelling and achievable goals before they jump on board.
Many companies use their business plan as a reference for employees and vendors. That helps them understand your company and ensure their efforts align with your vision.
The basic structure of a catering business plan
A business plan will have a few sections. You don’t have to follow an exact script, but here are a few sections you should make sure to include:
1. Executive summary
This is a summary of your business — it doesn’t need to be more than a page long. It should explain what problem you’re solving, your target market, what you’re offering and a few highlights from your financial forecast.
For example, maybe your city has a sizeable vegan population, but there aren’t any good vegan caterers. You want to open an exciting new vegan catering business to address that need.
Try to make your executive summary punchy and memorable. You don’t need to explain everything about your business — just enough to get someone’s attention.
2. Market analysis
Your catering business plan should contain a section that explains why your company will be competitive.
This is the place to show off your research. For example, with the vegan catering service, it'd be helpful to include any surveys showing the number of vegan people in your area. Write about any industry trends that show how vegan options are growing in popularity.
You'll want to describe what the other catering services in your area are like — and then explain why yours will fill the gap.
3. Your service
Most caterers specialize in certain events and certain kinds of food. Here's a good place to go into detail about what you're offering, from the menu options clients can choose from to the equipment you'll use to prepare food and serve guests.
It’s a great idea to include sample menus and pricing here. Remember that the norms for catering can vary significantly depending on different communities and event types.
For example, the services you offer for a wedding will differ significantly from those you offer for a birthday. Your pricing should reflect these differences as well.
This section is about how you'll turn your catering business plan into reality. You should start with operational details like your business's location and how you'll staff it. Demonstrate that you have the necessary catering license, catering insurance and permits.
Then you’ll want to describe your marketing plan and sales plan. One way to organize this section is to write a roadmap: a rough timeline that shows a reader the goals you hope the business will achieve and how soon you hope to hit them.
For example, you might start with small events and take on bigger ones as you become more popular. Or maybe you'll start by preparing the food yourself and hire assistants when you reach a specific goal or have certain gigs.
Try to make the goals specific and measurable to know whether you've achieved them.
5. The management team
An investor, lender or potential partner reading your business plan will want to know how your business is organized. Include biographical information about any owners, managers and advisors, as well as their experience and qualifications.
It’s common to attach people’s resumes in this section.
6. The financial details
Investors and lenders will pay close attention to your financial information, so it's essential to be detailed in this section.
You should include things like your:
- Revenue/sales forecast
- Projected profit and loss
- Projected cash flow
- Break-even projection
To add credibility, include explanations about the projections you’re making. You can add visualizations like tables and charts to help illustrate your points. Here, it’s often a good idea to seek the help of an accountant to double-check your numbers.
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