reading01_so_you_want_to_be

Reading01_so_you_wan - CHAPTER ONE 50 YOU THINK YOU WANT A CATERER ne night as dinner guests were leaving after another spectacular party I thought

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Unformatted text preview: CHAPTER ONE 50 YOU THINK YOU WANT A CATERER? ne night as dinner guests were leaving after another spectacular party, I thought, I should get paid for doing this! The next day I made some phone calls from the real estate office where I worked to see how I could realize my dream of becoming a caterer. A year later I was cooking foods I loved to fix and learn- ing how to make catering my full-time job. Now fifteen years and thou- sands of parties later, I’m a home-based caterer. On average I direct five or six events each month, parties ranging from a fund-raiser for several I thousand guests on a Hollywood sound stage to a wedding reception for one hundred guests in someone’s backyard. I also work with people who want to start their own catering busi- ness, and I train other caterers who want to expand. My services include recipe and menu development, public relations and promotional events, marketing brochures and portfolio design, as well as custom-tailored programs designed to solve my clients’ problems. For the last five years, I’ve taught catering courses up and down the West Coast to men and women who want to entertainmpeople just like you. Like you, my students read cookbooks and food magazines the way other people read newspapers. I’ll bet you buy every new kitchen gadget on the market. Chances are you’re already throwing parties for friends, colleagues, and family without getting paid for it. You may even have gone so far as to investigate cooking schools. Bravo! You’re well on your way to becoming a caterer. Of course, becoming a caterer doesn’t happen overnight. As we’ll dis- cuss, if you want firsthand experience, the best thing to do is apprentice with another caterer or go to a cooking school. You will also need to learn the nuts and bolts of running a catering business. That’s where this book comes in. Follow the suggestions outlined here and learn how to I set up your home office I be “the boss” I write a business plan I charge for your talent I bid for and close deals I write a proposal u ask for deposit money up front I package your own press kit u put together a winning team of employees I hire entertainers and musicians I design the menu for a perfect party I find new clients by referrals I deal with elements beyond your control I profit from every opportunity a make money at something you love to do DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES? As much fun as it is to cook and to give wonderful parties, catering is not for everyone. To evaluate your experience, motivation, and interest in this business, look at the following questions. If you can answer “yes” to most of them, you too can be a caterer. Do you have basic cooking skills? Do you have a working knowledge of food preparation and menu planning? 1 So You Think You Want to Be a Caterer? I: Do you enjoy serving people, making them feel comfortable and at ease? I: Do you like to solve problems? Are you creative and resourceful? :5 When you read a recipe, can you “taste” the finished dish before you even begin? Are you comfortable enough in the kitchen to cook without recipes? :3 Do you dine out often and like different kinds of food? C Are you gracious and polite in stressful situations? ‘ Are you good with a budget? : Do you have money set aside to start a new business? E Have you ever worked in sales? Will you be comfortable promoting yourself? Are you willing to leave your current career behind and start all over again as a caterer? OPPORTUNITIES IN CATERING Hotels, country clubs, restaurants, charter yachts, even airlines-—all rep- resent catering opportunities; or you can create your own catering oppor- tunities by “chefing” in private homes or executive dining rooms, direct- ing catering for department stores, or supervising take-out counters in supermarkets. One way to jump-start your new career is to contact an existing food purveyor and offer a specific item you’d like to sell—mocha- chip chocolate cookies, for instance. Hotels Most hotels have a separate catering division to handle banquet rooms. Entry-level positions, which are frequently available, may give you a chance to meet local clientele and thus build a client base of your own. You can also get a close look at how in-house catering works, and you might discover some service you alone can provide. When hotels rent out banquet rooms to outside caterers for a party, they usually let the caterer use the hotel kitchen. I got to know one hotel chef this way and saw what culinary needs he had that I could fill after the party was over. It turned out that he needed appetizers, so I began making them on a weekly basis, and we cut a profitable deal. Airlines Everyone complains about airplane food. Here’s your chance to do some- thing about it. Approach international or charter carriers with ideas for providing first-class dinners every other day. They might welcome the notion of fresh meals from a local caterer. Don’t forget private charters and private planes, for that matter. All pilots and passengers eat. Think of box lunches and creative picnic baskets you could provide. Private Parties Personal catering in private homes is always in demand and is a good source of income. Often big catering companies don’t like to take on par- ties for fewer than thirty people. That’s where you come in. A home- based, one-person caterer can handle a party of five to fifty (buffet) with just an assistant. And because you’re small, you can be ready with only two days’ notice. At the start of my career, I kept private party costs down by using my clients’ kitchens. I could turn out elegant and money-making dinner par- ties for six this way. For more than six I learned to hire a waiter. I calcu- lated my prices with an eye on the competition and charged between $60 and $80 per person. Sometimes this gave me a profit margin of as much as 60 percent! Local Markets and Store: If you have a signature item—a dynamite cheesecake, dazzling cookies— think about manufacturing it. Make a few samples and take them around to local cafes and bistros. If possible, use their facility to produce at least the first few batches. That way you will be cooking in a commer- cial kitchen (which will help you get used to industry standards and health department regulations) while test-marketing your product. If the - So You Think You Want to Be a Caterer? cafe owner needs persuasion, point out that he or she will reap the fruits of your labor without having to put you on the payroll. Special Events I started my home-based catering business by selling food to special-event planners, many in the motion~picture industry. My partner and I split the work. She did most of the food preparation while I did most of the marketing and sales. I made up a promotional package that showed event planners the services we could provide and our wholesale catering prices. I described beautiful presentations, good working staff, superb food. Then I sent this package to public relations companies that hire caterers for press and publicity parties and anyone else connected with special events. It worked. In short order I had a potential client list of people who called me first before looking in the Yellow Pages under “caterers.” In order to be legal (California law requires all caterers to manufac- ture their food in kitchens licensed and inspected by the California State Health Department), we prepared the food in a commercially retrofitted kitchen that we shared with a brownie manufacturer. That way two com- panies split one overhead. By organizing carefully my partner and I made the food for three or four big events a month. Although this sounds like a lot, we managed to do it in fifteen days, cutting expenses in half and showing a 40 percent profit. In order to set up your business, you’ll need to check the city, coun- ty, and state requirements for manufacturing food in your area. Start by calling your health department. Your local restaurant association may also have useful information. In order to protect the public’s safety, many localities do not permit caterers to sell food that has been prepared in a home kitchen. Make sure you find out the laws that pertain in your area. You’ll find tips in Chapter 2 on sharing and renting kitchens. DOES IT PAY TO GO TO COOKING SCHOOL? In my experience, giving parties for friends and family was easy. Nothing was too much work. No mess was too great to clean up. Even asparagus out of season wasn’t too expensive for my taste. I loved it all. When it came to turning professional, however, I realized how much I didn’t know about the business of entertaining. I was scared. My solution was to enroll in a professional chef’s program at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Even though I had studied cooking on my own, the sixteen-month program at CCA taught me how to run a commercial kitchen and gave me good practice preparing meals for the school’s 300 students. Between and after class I worked off-premise parties catered by the school and gained experience being a party manager. In class we studied with expert Chinese, Italian, and French chefs, learning techniques and presentations of classic ethnic dishes. Best of all, the school gave me a degree—recognized credentials to support me when I entered the catering field. (A list of respected culinary schools follows at the end of this book.) Everything I did in school helped me in my career, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to go. Many of my colleagues trained by appren- ticing with experienced caterers, as I did after I graduated from CCA. Catering is learning by doing, and apprenticing gives you plenty of opportunities to do. APPRENTIOESHIPS: LEARNING BY DOING I worked with many different caterers after graduating from cooking school. Some were good and some were not so good, but I learned new menus and dishes from all of them. I made a practice of taking my cam- era along to parties in order to shoot pictures of the way the food was pre- sented and of the decor. Afterward I had two pictures made of each shot. One I gave to my employer, who was so happy that she generally reim- bursed me for the film. The other picture I kept to build my own portfolio. Apprenticing also allowed me to make valuable contacts. As a carer- er’s apprentice, I met and networked with waiters, waitresses, florists, designers, and musicians whom I was able to call on when I went into business for myself. Catering is more than cooking, I quickly learned. Catering can mean furnishing table linens, flatware, glasses, plates, even chairs for some par- ties. Few clients have the makings of a party for even fifteen, let alone fifty. It’s up to the caterer to pull the party off, from colored tablecloths 1 So You Think You Want to Be a Caterer? with matching napkins to comfortable chairs. Fortunately all these things are rentable, as you’ll learn in Chapters 8 and 9. To find a good caterer to apprentice with, call your local rental com- panies and ask them about the different caterers in your area. They know which caterers are busy, organized, and successful. This information will help you decide with whom you want to work. LEARNING FROM THE HISTAKES OF OTHERS The best advice I can give you is to approach every apprenticing opportu- nity with an open mind. Even the worst caterer can teach you something, if only not to make his or her mistakes. For example, early in my new career I got to a job on time and found myself alone with the staff. There we sat eating up time and mOney wait- ing for the caterer, the rentals, and the food. I couldn’t help but see that being late was not only unprofitable but stressful. Another caterer I worked with tried to befriend all her clients. She treated them like family, thinking they would forgive her slipshod style. Imagine how the father of the bride felt arriving an hour before the recep- tion to find tables bare and the wait staff in shorts sitting around with soft drinks in their hands. I discovered on the spot how important it is to create and maintain a professional atmosphere. At other affairs I found out what happens when a caterer runs out of food, fails to set a time for a party to end, is short a waiter, or neglects to set budget limits and stick to them. One caterer I worked for, called “Promise Them Anything” by his staff, always said yes to whatever his clients requested. When these special requests turned out to be impossible to fulfill, his staff paid the penalty. I watched an angry and disappointed client who expected one wine but received another take out his frustra- tions with the caterer, in front of everyone, on an innocent bartender. I made a silent vow never to put my staff in that position. (I wasn’t Surprised two years later to hear that Promise Them Anything filed for bankruptcy.) LEARNING FROM YOUR OWN MISTAKES Of course, you can also learn a great deal from your own mistakes. Working yacht parties right after graduating from cooking school, I L 1 So You Think You Want to Be a Caterer? learned no fewer than ten lessons my first day at sea. The chef had said that he wanted a “pair of hands” to help a party on board over the Fourth of July weekend. What he didn’t tell me was that the yacht was 107 feet long, with the galley situated within the last 7 feet—that’s all the kitchen there was. From that tiny space I was to feed eighty strangers a “make- your—own omelet” breakfast, a lunch of grilled swordfish and barbecued chicken, and two complete dinner buffets that began with appetizers. Against all odds I succeeded, even though I forgot to I crack and strain twenty-dozen eggs ahead of time I slice bagels in half for easy eating I make a backup tray of cooked bacon and sausages I make backup bowls of butter balls and dressing I parboil chicken pieces before the barbecue to cut down on the cooking time I time the appetizers and main course properly I bring cold drinks and food for the crew I turn the leftover swordfish into an antipasto tray I check my equipment when I came on board I bring a second, clean chef ’5 jacket for dinner Catering my first party on my own gave me a new respect for money. Cooking, I learned, was the least of my worries. The party was a financial disaster. I spent more than I collected, my waitress left with the best-look- ing male guest before the party was over, and I had to do the dishes alone. Nevertheless, I survived that first party, and what I’ve learned since then forms the basis of this book. I’d like to spare you some of my disas- ters and share tips for success. I wish I had a dollar for every student who has called me after taking my catering course to tell me that all the forms I provided really worked. You’ll find the same forms sprinkled through- out this book, together with information on catering courses you can take, suggested reading lists, and even tips for “culinary” computer soft- ware. Please write when this book pays off for you! GETTING ORGANIZED Before you quit your day job and leap into catering, yOu need to know how much it will take to keep you afloat, which means considering some things you may never have thought about before. Sit down with pencil and paper and think about specifics. Do you have a spare room or a spare corner of a room where you can set up a home office? Do you already own an answering machine, a big mixer, and a food processor? If not, you’ll need to buy them. You will also need between $3,000 and $4,000 for a business license, insurance, a lawyer, and the services of an accountant. On top of all that, remember that you will need stamps, stationery, notepads, and a calculator. You will also need to pay for your own trans- portatiori, medical insurance, and business calls. Figure how much you need to keep going and to put money away for later. Add in something extra for emergencies and other unforeseen expenses. Ask other caterers how much of a nest egg they suggest you start with. Then make a budget by the week and the month and stick to it. LEAVING THE SECURITY OF A JOB Leaving the security of a paying job is the hardest part of getting started. My solution was to begin to set up my business while I was still employed. My daily calendar read like this: March 1: Purchase a desk and a file cabinet. March 15: Think up a name for company. April 2: Arrange for design of company logo. April 17: Print cards. May 1: Clean out spare bedroom. May 15: Install another phone line. June 1: Quit job. With this system and setting aside half of each paycheck, I acguired a nest egg over several months to meet anticipated as well as unanticipated costs. I also had booked several parties by the time I left my ob. I advise the students in my seminars to try catering small parties for Friends first, before they quit their day ob. Turning a hobby or a passion for cooking beautiful foods into a successful career isn’t going to work for everyone. You need to start small. Of course, it’s no mean feat to cater a party on the weekend and still work forty hours a week, but it can be done; I know people who do it year- round. The trick is to bite off exaCtly what you can chew and no more. Avoid weddings for 250. Instead stick to parties of manageable size. Do a whole series of small jobs well, and before long you’ll have the confidence, the contacts, and the income stream you need to tackle more ambitious projects. At that point it will be much easier for you to figure out whether it makes sense to leave your day job. 1 So You Think You Want to Be a Caterer? HOW THIS BOOK IS ORGANIZED Undoubtedly, you will make mistakes in your business—everyone does— but if you read this book chapter by chapter, you’ll get an excellent idea . of what it takes to succeed as a home—based caterer. You’ll begin by learn- ing what you need to set up your own business, how to research the health regulations that affect caterers in your area, and how to structure your business and create a business plan. Then you’ll learn how to line up work, charge for your services, find good help, and get your name around. Two full chapters discuss what it takes to stage a successful party, from planning all the way through execution. Of course, keeping your books isn’t nearly as fun as throwing a good party, but you’ll learn that, too, along with information on the legal aspects of your catering business. You’re about to embark on an extraordinary adventure. Good luck! ...
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Reading01_so_you_wan - CHAPTER ONE 50 YOU THINK YOU WANT A CATERER ne night as dinner guests were leaving after another spectacular party I thought

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