How to Start a Catering Business in the USA: Business Plan, Setup Cost, Profit, and License

Starting a catering business in the United States can be rewarding and profitable. Catering businesses will provide food and beverage services for events. This can include everything from weddings to corporate functions and parties. With the right skills, planning, and determination, you can be well on your way to becoming a successful caterer.

How to Start a Catering Business in the USA

When choosing a catering company, you must consider the type of event you are hosting, your budget, and the number of guests you expect. There are many different catering companies out there, so it is important to research to find one that will meet your needs.

How to start a catering business in the USA

Catering business ideas in the USA

  • Catering businesses are extremely popular in the United States, and there are many different ways to get started. One option is to start your own catering business from scratch. This will require some planning and research, but it can be a very rewarding experience.
  • Another option is to purchase an existing catering business. This can be a great way to start quickly and avoid some pitfalls that new businesses face. Several franchise opportunities are also available to get involved in the catering industry.
  • Obtain the licenses and permits from your state and local government. You will also need to find a good location for your business and secure funding if you are not self-financing your venture.
  • Once you have everything in place, it is time to start marketing your business. There are several ways to do this, but one of the most effective is through online platforms such as social media and online directories. You can also distribute flyers and brochures to local businesses and promote your catering services at local events.

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Catering Business

The profit margin for a catering business in the USA

The average profit margin is 10-15%. However, this percentage can vary greatly depending on the size of the catering business, its overhead costs, and the market’s competitiveness. Therefore, the best way to determine your potential profit margin is to speak with experienced catering professionals in your area and develop a realistic estimate based on your circumstances.

What is needed to start a catering business?

First, you’ll need to develop a catering menu. This will help you determine the cost of your food and the types of events you can cater. Next, you’ll need to secure a commercial kitchen space. This can be rented or leased from a restaurant or other food service business. Finally, you’ll need to purchase supplies like serving platters, utensils, and table linens. With these basics in place, you’ll be well on your way to starting your own catering business. Next, you’ll need to hire experienced staff and market your business to potential customers. 

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Outdoor Catering

The different types of catering businesses in the USA

  1. Full-service catering company – This company provides complete event planning services, including food and beverage, event coordination, and management.
  2. Restaurant catering company – These companies provide food service for special events held at restaurants. They often work with the restaurant to create a customized menu for the event and coordinate with the kitchen staff to ensure that the food is prepared and served correctly.
  3. Mobile catering company – These companies bring their kitchens and staff to cater events held at various locations. Mobile caterers typically specialize in a particular type of cuisine, such as Mexican or Italian, and they often have the signature dishes they prepare for each event.

The catering market in the USA

The catering market in the USA is huge, and there are many opportunities for those wanting to start their own catering business. However, it is important to research the market and understand the competition before starting a catering business. There are numerous catering businesses across the United States, with some being more successful than others.

Therefore, it is important to understand what type of catering services are already being offered in your area and what type of niche you can fill. For example, if there are already many established Italian restaurants in your city, you may want to focus on starting a catering business that specializes in another cuisine. There are different ways to market your catering business in the USA.

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Indoor Catering

You can start by creating a website and listing your business in online directories. You can also promote your business through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can distribute brochures in local businesses and supermarkets. You can also offer free samples of your food to potential customers.

Licenses needed to start a catering business

Obtain a business license from the federal government. Next, you can register your business with the Small Business Administration (SBA). Once registered with the SBA, you can apply for a business license. Next, you will need to obtain a state license. The requirements vary from state to state, but you must submit an application and pay a fee.

Once you have obtained your state license, you can operate your catering business within that state. Finally, you must obtain a local permit from your city or county. Then, you can operate your catering business within that city or county.

Requirements to start a catering business in the USA 

  • You’ll need to have a clear understanding of the food safety laws in your state. Depending on where you’re based, additional regulations may exist around handling and storing food. 
  • You’ll also need access to commercial kitchen space by renting or owning your premises.
  • You’ll need to invest in key catering equipment, such as ovens, fridges, freezers, and preparation surfaces. It’s also worth considering investing in serving trolleys and tableware to ensure your food presentation is up to scratch. 
  • Don’t forget about marketing – you’ll need to let people know about your business if you want it to be successful.

Key rules to start a catering business in the USA

Develop a business plan: You must research and develop a business plan. This will help you find the feasibility of your business, as well as what type of catering services you will offer and what kind of marketing and financial strategies you will need to succeed. A business plan includes an executive summary, market analysis, competitive analysis, sales, and marketing strategy, operational plan, financial projections, and an appendix with supporting documents. 

Do your research: When starting any business, it is important to research and understands the market you are entering. The catering industry is no different. Research the local catering market in your area to see what competition exists and what types of catering services are in demand.

Create a niche: One way to set your catering business apart from the competition is to create a niche. Find a unique angle or focus on making your catering business stand out.

Develop a strong marketing plan: A well-executed marketing plan is essential for any successful business, especially catering businesses. Ensure you develop a targeted marketing strategy to reach your potential customers and get them interested in your services.

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Invest in quality equipment: Another important factor in ensuring your catering business’s success is quality equipment. This includes everything from commercial kitchen appliances to serving ware and table linens. High-quality equipment will give your customers confidence in your ability to provide excellent service and produce great food.

Hire reliable staff: For your catering business to run smoothly, hiring reliable and professional staff is essential. 

Some tips for running a successful catering business

  1. Offer various menu options to appeal to a wide range of tastes and dietary restrictions.
  2. Make sure your food is fresh and high quality; this will keep customers coming back.
  3. Pay attention to detail, from the presentation of your food to the way you interact with clients. 
  4. Stay organized and efficient behind the scenes so that everything runs smoothly on the day of an event.

Catering business plan in the USA

Research the Market

Take a good look at competitors in your area. If it helps, make a spreadsheet or document with the following:

  • Competitor’s name
  • Type of food
  • Demographic
  • Price
  • Size of Company

Next, evaluate whether there’s demand in your area for another catering business or if you’re sufficiently different to make an impact.

Create a business plan

Your business plan should include the following;

  • The menu
  • Costs, such as labour, ingredients, marketing, transportation, etc
  • Margins on food sold
  • Projected earnings

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Business Plan
Get the most important equipment

Catering requires a lot of specialized equipment, from chafing dishes to serving platters. You have everything you need before your first event. Once you have enough capital, you need to invest in this on-site equipment for your kitchen. Fryers and refrigerators, storage cabinets, a few burner stoves, 2-3 compartment sinks, and stainless-steel prep tables are the major requirements for a base kitchen. Below is a list of other equipment that you would require.

Cooking OvenTin Foil
Serving EquipmentPlastic Wrap
Coffee/Beverage StationGarbage Bins
CambroDisposable Containers for Storage
Develop your menu
  1. Start with the basics – Decide what cuisine you want to offer, and then create a list of basic dishes you can build off.
  2. Consider your target market – As mentioned above, the type of cuisine you offer should be based on who your target market is. Keep this in mind when creating your menu.
  3. Make it unique – There are thousands of catering companies, so making your menu stand out from the rest is important. Offer unique items that excite your clients and make them want to use your services again.
  4. Don’t forget about dessert – Dessert is often an afterthought when it comes to catering, but it’s one of the most essential parts of the meal. So be sure to include a few delicious dessert options on your menu.

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Catering Business
Licenses and permission for starting a catering business

Every state has a set of guidelines and policies for licensing and permits for catering companies. Depending on the state you want to start your catering business, you may or may not be allowed to use your kitchen and equipment to start a small catering business. Every state also has different requirements for liquor licenses. Below is a list of licenses and permits that are common across all states;

  • General business license 
  • Zoning permit 
  • Health Permit

To learn about the licenses and permits that you need to start a catering business, you will need to contact the Secretary of State and the local health department. 

Hire a great team

A catering business is only as good as its team members. So make sure you hire people with experience in the industry and a positive attitude. 

Get insured

Business insurance will protect your catering company from getting sued if some mishap occurs. Buy as many insurance types as you need to protect your assets and shield your business and employers. These are some types of insurance that you can consider – 

  • General insurance 
  • Commercial automotive insurance 
  • Commercial property insurance 
  • Unemployment insurance 
  • Wrongful termination insurance 
  • Key person insurance

Catering business setup cost in the USA

Catering businesses in the USA can be expensive to set up. The average cost of a catering business setup is between $10,000 and $50,000. This includes the costs of renting or purchasing a commercial kitchen, outfitting it with the necessary equipment, hiring staff, and marketing your business.

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Catering is a service that provides food and beverage services for events and occasions. It can be provided by restaurants, caterers, or event planners. Catering can be used for business meetings, parties, weddings, and other events. Catering businesses can be small, home-based operations or large companies with multiple locations. Catering businesses usually require a license from the health department and may also need a permit to operate.


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