I know a woman who turned her nighttime dinner menu into a profitable food truck and home catering business.
The Cook is a married woman with an army of football-playing sons. She, like many women, prepares meals for her family with plenty of love and a little money. Early in her marriage, The Cook developed the habit of setting aside a portion of dinner each night for her husband to eat for lunch the next day. After years of sharing his lunch plates with the guys at work, her husband decided to see if he could market his wife’s good cooking to the guys at work.
One Tuesday evening, he created a simple menu with an order sheet at the bottom. He printed 10 copies of the order sheet and took them to work with him the next day. Just before lunch, he went around to his friends distributing order forms with a 5-item menu at the top. Co-workers could choose one of two meat entrees from the menu and select two of the three sides listed. There was one dessert listed that he included with every meal. He asked co-workers to submit all orders and payments by noon on Thursday.
His friends didn’t say much about it Wednesday, but by noon on Thursday, he had over $100 in orders. During his lunch break, he carefully discussed the idea with his wife. She thought the idea was worth a shot and they were in business. Over the next two years, the coupled grew their Thursday night hustle into a successful home catering business and soul food truck.
The ability to cook the food your audience wants (and I strongly recommend choosing a specific type of food – Caribbean, Thai, Soul, Cajun, German – and creating a small menu of the items that make you a BOSS in the kitchen)
Every home-based catering business NEEDS access to a clean, sanitary kitchen; in some towns, you’ll need to stay under the radar if you’re not cooking from a commercial kitchen; cooking utensils; pots and pans large enough to accommodate large amounts of food. In major markets like Atlanta, you can rent commercial kitchen spaces by the day, week or month.
Assuming you have the cooking utensils, it’ll cost you 90 cents plus tax at FedEx Office to make 10 order sheets if you don’t already have a printer with ink. A membership to Sam’s Club, BJ’s or Costco will be less than $40 a year, and you can usually purchase 100 Styrofoam food containers with a hinged lid for less than $10. As long as the orders are in before you buy food and cook, you don’t have to underwrite the cost of actually buying the food.
Get menu flyers if you’re going to be taking orders from people you know like our caterer’s husband did. If word of mouth is key, Instagram is your lock. Otherwise, an amazing Instagram feed stuffed with amazing-looking dishes will quickly help you boost your profile on the platform. AND if you can learn how to make good use of hashtags, you can help locals find you without strangers having to know your home address.
A Piece of Advice for Your Home Catering Business
Make sure you charge enough per meal you sell to cover the cost of cooking and packaging the meals, but don’t overdo it. I would say for most meals, staying under $10 is fair. Soul food tends to get pricey.