Business Idea: Start a Morning Catering Service

I’ve always had this dream of starting an old-style coffee house with shelf after shelf of freely browsable books and … well, it’s a big dream and too closely resembles what some of the corporate bookstores are doing now anyways. But the idea got me to thinking about other ways that coffee (yes, I’m addicted – I even grow my own Arabica coffee plants) could be the base behind a business. Preferrably something that isn’t overdone.

Doing a free association exercise, I quickly paired coffee with that morning ritual so many of us go through the moment we hit our office: head to the coffee counter and fuel up. Sometimes we’re lucky and the coffee’s already made – if we get really lucky, someone will have been kind enough to bring in a few pastries. Always nice when we’ve made it through rush hour traffic only to remember the thing we neglected in morning preparations – breakfast.

Seemed logical that it all clicked for me then – a small business owner could provide these things in a very cost-effective way.

Setting Up The Catering Service

With this type of service, you would essentially be providing a daily “menu” that is delivered to the offices and other businesses that have ordered your help. Ideally, you would set up your delivery contract on a weekly or monthly basis, scheduling what days and times your deliveries of piping hot goodies would arrive.

So how would you go about setting this type of business up? Here’s the steps:

1. Business License and Tax Info – Before you do anything else, save yourself a lot of hassle by securing your business name and setting up your tax license right away.

To operate legally, you will need to obtain a business license, and if you want to use a name other than the owner’s name grab a DBA (Doing Business As) Certificate. Your next legal paperwork would be to obtain a State Tax ID (EIN) and a Federal Tax ID (FEIN). Note that if you are a sole owner and do not hire any employees, these are optional – but by getting them set up now, you’ll have the freedom to hire employees without a lot of hassle and you can use your FEIN to build business credit. Next in the list is your Seller’s Permit – you will need one of these because you are selling taxable goods and services. So do your 5 pieces of paperwork and get them submitted.

Want to grab the paperwork quickly without having to run down to the court house? Hit this website – http://www.businessnameusa.com/info.htm – and scroll down to the pieces you need. Once you hit a link like Business Licenses, for example, you will be directed to a new page that lets you find the paperwork your state requires and gives you all the information you need about that paperwork.

You can also go through the government’s website, http://www.dol.wa.gov/businesses.htm, to get a business license checklist, search for business names, and grab all the printable applications you need.

2. Menu Planning – Now that you’re legally ready to get going, it’s time to plan what you will cater. I recommend doing this before getting any supplies because you really don’t know what supplies you’ll need if you don’t know what you’re serving.

When you create your menus, do plenty of research. Try offering “themed” deals like “All-Natural Selection” that would contain organic goods, or a “Low-Fat Selection” which, predictibly, would contain low-fat foods and fat-free creams for your coffees. So while you’re doing research on recipes for breads and pastries, keep an eye on themes that you can carry through a sub-menu that you will offer.

What, precisely, do you want to deliver? It’s really up to you but I would suggest creating several plans. Offer your potential clients a variety of attractive options and let them decide what will work best – or mix and match on specific days. Your plans might look something like this (though, hopefully, better written and more thought going into them!):

Morning Fuel Special: Three types of coffee from our available selection delivered fresh-ground and brewed in 20-cup thermal dispensers, complimented by a selection of creamers. Delivery and Clean-Up are included, to take place at scheduled times.

Whole Grain Goodness: Three types of coffee from our available selection delivered fresh-ground and brewed in 20-cup thermal dispensers, complimented by a selection of creamers. Provided in earthy wicker baskets is a selection of morning-made, multi-grain muffins and breads, and single-serve butters. Delivery and Clean-Up are included, to take place at scheduled times.

Chocolate Delight: Two types of coffee from our available selection delivered fresh-ground and brewed in 12-cup thermal dispensers, complimented by a selection of creamers. Provided in trendy, modern glass dishes is a selection of delicacies positively oozing with chocolate – made fresh every morning. Delivery and Clean-Up are included, to take place at scheduled times.

What your menu plan should consist of is at least 5 sub-menu selections, and a variety of coffees and delicacies that you have decided to offer. You want to make your menu flexible so that your clients can choose a specific sub-menu, or mix-and-match the individual pieces they like best.

3. Supplies and Ingredients – When you get to this step, think carefully about what you purchase when. You won’t want to purchase any perishable items right now, but instead find the sources you’ll be using and file their information for when you need them. Some of your supplies and ingredients will be an on-going purchase as you need to restock or expand when you get more clients.

To begin with, purchase enough serving items (thermal dispensers, bread baskets, trays, etc.) to accomodate 5 clients simultaneously. If you have 5 clients from day one who you need to have items to at around the same time every day, you’ll be doing fantastic so I say to start here because you shouldn’t count on too much too quickly but do want to be prepared. Two places you will want to check for your serving items online are GalaSource – http://www.galasource.com/ – and Java Stock – http://partner.rescoonline.com/Content.aspx?tid=53

You can also get your preparation equipment right away – coffee brewers and equipment to grind whole coffee beans, baking equipment, etc. Check out Coffee Stuff for most of this equipment – http://store.coffeestuff.com/esmac1.html and coffeeAM for your beans and coffee goodies – http://www.coffeeam.com/

Then, once you’re ready to begin accepting clients, get non-perishable items like whole-bean coffees and flours. Make sure that you store everything in a very clean, organized way so that you can constantly keep track of how many ingredients you have on hand and make restocking a painless process.

4. Advertising – Doesn’t seem like you should be this far along already does it? And yet here you are, ready to start taking on clients.

You’ll want to think carefully about the ways in which you advertise. I recommend trying to be creative – include things like refrigerator magnets with some of your most popular deliverable items and a phone number in your advertising campaign. You might also slip an elegantly laid out business card in with every basket of goodies that you serve, and will definitely want to consider a website that allows your clients to order deliveries online.

By and large, though, your best selling asset is your product. Print out a brief advertising packet with attractive images of coffee and coffee cups, breads, and include your menus and any testimonials you can get. Place your business card and a link to your website (if you’ve got one ready) in the front, and try to hand deliver the packet to several businesses. If you can get in to see the owner or manager face-to-face, you can sell your product with your own winning smile. If not, leave the packet and make a follow-up phone call in about a week, offering to schedule an appointment to allow your potential client to sample some of your goods.

The point is to think beyond what’s normal. You’ll still want the standard yellow-pages ad, but to really get your business kicked off you will have to do a bit of leg work.

5. Customer Satisfaction – From the second that you have your very first customer, strive for complete customer satisfaction. Business owners will talk to other business owners, and employees will definitely pass on the word about your service – make sure that what is being said glows with satisfaction. Always, your best advertising is word-of-mouth because people trust recommendations from those that they know.

Take some time to institute customer satisfaction policies and rewards. Perhaps you can set up a discount system, stating that current clients will receive 20% off their next month of services for recommending a new client. Make it worth it for both the current client and the new one by further stating that the new client will also receive 10% off their first month of service for being recommended by a loyal customer.

When a customer’s service contract is nearing time for renewal, try to set up an appointment to discuss renewal options. If you have any new menu items, this would be a good time to try and get your customer to upgrade – and if you’ve provided a winning, on-time and delicious service, it shouldn’t be hard to get them to spend a few more dollars on something even better than they’ve been getting.

This is a rather straight-forward business idea, making the process of getting going a bit easier than some opportunities might be. Never neglect the importance of setting up your legal paperwork, and definitely spend some time creating a business plan. You might also try creating a cook-book that lists all of your unique recipes. What it comes down to is thinking like a professional – or faking it till you make it… but try having some fun while you do.

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