A look at catering — from the inside | Rock Candy

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A look at catering — from the inside

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at 6:48 PM

click to enlarge A great plate of 'cue takes a lot of prep and dedication. - LOUIS WILLIAMS
  • Louis Williams
  • A great plate of 'cue takes a lot of prep and dedication.
Are you a food lover who has a passion for cooking? Do your friends always make the statement that you should own a restaurant? Well, you are not alone. But unless you have a few hundred thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, or a really good friend willing to invest, the thought of a restaurant can be just a dream. But there is a way to share your passion and creations with the world.....private catering.

There are so many people who enjoy preparing great food, and have a passion for it. But not many have the resources to open a restaurant. Private catering isn't really hard to get into, but there are steps that are mandatory to be taken. The first step is to decide what type of food will you serve. It is easy to say that you can cook anything, but most foods we cook on a small scale at home may not allow you to prepare them on a much larger scale. Also, certain foods allow you to be able to cook onsite, like barbecue.

The next step is go to your local county health department. They will be able to help you get lined out with all of the health codes and laws that have to be followed. They are more than willing to answer any questions that you may have. Food safety is the most important thing to remember.

A caterer loves to cook and serve their delicious food to others, but it is a business. Pricing your food and services correctly means making a profit and being able to keep business going. Many people use the formula of Cost times 3 when figuring price, which means whatever you pay for your goods and materials, you multiply that times three. In theory, 1/3 will cover costs, 1/3 will cover overhead, and 1/3 will be seen as profit. Of course this is a basic formula to use that can be changed.

Here's an example of what it takes for me to cater an event. After my quote is made and the contract is signed (having a contract is imperative) it's time to prep. I cater BBQ, so let's use menu options of ribs, chicken, BBQ beans and potato salad. Catering BBQ allows me to be able to cook onsite, which customers love. But there is tons of prep work. For a party of 100 people, I would have 25 racks of ribs. The ribs have to be cleaned, and trimmed. The membrane that covers the back side of the ribs is removed, a process that takes a minimum of 2 hours. After the ribs are cleaned and trimmed, I will usually season with my dry rub, wrap them and place them in a clean container on ice to wait for the next day's event. Now on to the chicken. I always brine my chicken with a simple brine of salt, sugar and black pepper. You can use pre packaged food for sides if you choose, but to me, a cook should make his own beans and potato salad. It actually costs less to cook from scratch and the flavors will be your own. So with prep work and sides done, I have a minimum amount of prep work that's close to 8 hours. Since all my meat is cooked onsite, there will also be a few hours of cooking, and possibly serving the next day. Remember to add the cost of your hired help if you need servers also. So an event of 100 people, with only two meats and two sides, consists of 8-10 hours of prep, and another 12 hours total cooking time. It is hard work sometimes, but is definitely worth it.

Food is about passion, and the memories that great food brings about. Whether you cater a kid's birthday party, family reunion, or a large corporate event, let your food be your voice. When I started catering, it became clear to me that the best type of advertising is word of mouth. You only get one chance at a first impression, so put your best foot forward. Keep the menu options small at first. A small menu of great items always beats a large menu with only a couple good items. Also, small menus mean less inventory and less waste. Always keep a special recipe in your back pocket for special occasions. If you cater a wedding, remember, it is the bride's special day. Make her something that is only for her. Trust me, every future bride in attendance will be paying attention and will remember you.

So if you have that passion and fire to create great food, but not the means to open a restaurant, look into catering. Long hours and hard work, but is worth it to help others make lifelong memories. Big smiles and full bellies are the reward! 

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