FAQ How to Start Off Premise Catering at a Restaurant

Aline Henda via Pixabay

Question: FAQ How to Start Off Premise Catering at a Restaurant

Dear Restauranting Guide,

I own a small restaurant, which has been open for three years. I would like to start offering off-premise catering for weddings and other large parties, but I’m not sure how to get started. What type of equipment do I need to buy? What should my catering menu look like? How do I know what to charge? Do I need special licenses or insurance, or will my current restaurant insurance be enough?


Rob D.

Answer: Dear Rob,

I think it’s great that you want to incorporate catering into your restaurant business. Catering is a natural extension of owning a restaurant and it makes sense to build your customer base beyond your dining room, instead bringing your food to your customers.

Off site or off premise catering requires organization more than anything. You need to make sure you have everything – from equipment, to food, to cleaning supplies, to transportation - ready to go. Unlike catering from your restaurant, you won’t be able to run to the kitchen if you forgot a carving knife for the roast beef or ladle for the gravy. It is the all the little details that count when you are catering off premise.

Having the right equipment is also vital for off premise catering. You can only borrow so much from your restaurant, without it impacting service there. Along with the basics of plates, glassware and flatware, you will also need a way to safely transport food, keeping it hot and/or cold.

Cambros (big insulated coolers) are an ideal way to transport food for catering. Check out this complete list of catering equipment to help you get started.

It is equally important to consider your location when catering off site. Is there running water and electricity? Is there a kitchen, and if so, how big is it?

As your catering business expands, you’ll find that catering in different locations means no job is exactly alike, even if the menu is the same. For example, you may have a full commercial kitchen at your disposal for one wedding while the following week, you have to bring everything precooked and heated in Cambros. That changes the logistics the job. You need to have all the cooking done before hand.

The menu you offer for catering will most likely differ from your regular restaurant menu. Some items are better suited for large crowds, like stuffed chicken, pasta, vegetables and dips, while other items don’t hold up as well, such as nachos or delicate seafood. As you write your catering menu, try mixing old classics, like cheese and crackers, with some of your signature dishes to set you apart from the competition. Read more about catering menus.

Marketing your new catering business will be easy, since you already have a built-in clientele in your restaurant. Quick and easy ways to spread the news of your off premise catering services include menu inserts, table tents, and flyers. You can also promote it through your social media sites like Facebook and twitter. Be sure at every catered event you snap a few photos for your restaurant website.

Try building a few boards on Pintrest, geared to brides, showcasing any wedding catering you have done. Read more about how to use social media to market your restaurant.

Lastly, you should make sure that you have all the necessary licensing and permits for any catering job. Your business insurance should include off premise catering and if you are planning on serving alcohol, you will need to apply with the local town office for a permit.